Thursday 22 March 2018

Tommy Conlon: It all ends in tears but don't blame the troubleshooter

The Couch

Tommy Conlon

He left Dublin on Wednesday with tears in his eyes, more coin in his account and no regrets on his conscience.

Typical Trapattoni: emotional, financially enriched and immune to self-doubt. In fact, not alone had he no regrets, he apparently made no mistakes at all during his five years as Ireland team manager.

Speaking to a reporter for the Irish Daily Mail outside his Milan home on Thursday, he said: "I don't believe I made any mistakes – we were 'just a bit unlucky'." He spoke in Italian before lapsing into English for the 'just a bit unlucky' part, as if it were a colloquialism he'd picked up here.

Now most people, football managers included, will admit to making mistakes in their work. And maybe something was lost in translation but his reported comments very much chime with a man whose intransigence bordered on the pathological.

Perhaps he was feeling a bit raw on the day, but one could easily imagine him looking back on his tenure five years hence and still saying, "I don't believe I made any mistakes". No mistakes, no regrets, no surrender.

He was only 24 hours gone out of our lives at that stage but already there'd been many fond tributes to his warmth and charisma and general likeability.

But this was a flashback to the other side of his nature, and a swift reminder as to why it was such a relief to finally see the back of him. Like a couple whose relationship had long ago soured, the Irish public and the Italian veteran were fed up of the sight of each other. It had reached the end of the line 12 months earlier but they'd been forced to remain under the one roof until the money could be sorted.

But all the while, despite the mounting hostility, he wanted to hang on. He was never going to be the one to utter the dreaded line: "It's not you, it's me".

No. So he came back with his beaten team from Austria in the early hours of Wednesday morning to find that the FAI had packed all his belongings in a few suitcases and left them on the doorstep.

At which point he toddled back to Italy with, by his own admission, those tears in his eyes. One would venture that they were genuine tears too. One would venture also that he wasn't long in drying them. He might be an emotional man but he's no sentimentalist. In his mind the Ireland years are probably already consigned to his past.

After Ireland had beaten Estonia in November 2011 to qualify for the European Championships, he didn't bother basking in the euphoria. "You become old if you dwell on your achievements," he said at the time, "and you stay young if you keep on searching."

Essentially he has become one of football's international fixers, a high-end troubleshooter who travels light and charges a lot for his services wherever he goes. It's a lucrative and rather flattering line of work. People come to him; he doesn't have to go to them. And if this confers a certain superiority complex upon him, then it can only be exaggerated when a minor football nation like Ireland comes calling.

Trapattoni never really bothered to hide his presumption that he knew what was best for us. We could jump up and down all we liked but he wasn't going to listen. We just should've been grateful that he'd deigned to share his expertise with us at all.

In their 2009 book Why England Lose, the authors Kuper and Szymanski use a good analogy to describe the job of Fabio Capello, the then England manager. But they could easily have been talking about his fellow Italian. Capello, they write, "is like one of the overpaid consultants so common in development economics, flying in on business class to tell the natives what to do".

And if they don't listen, or can't do what he wants, then it's their fault. In other words, "It's not me, it's you".

So for example when Trapattoni's two-man central midfield was regularly outnumbered and overrun, he wouldn't countenance a change. Perhaps to change would be to admit he was wrong about such a fundamental issue; and this was out of the question.

Time and again he stood on the sideline and watched the

likes of Whelan and Andrews drown under the pressure; and still he refused to throw them a lifeline. When the problem was so obvious, and he failed so repeatedly to address it, one sensed his personal ego was more important than the team. Which, if true, is unforgivable.

On the other hand, it was this implacable conviction and authority that rescued a dire situation in the first place and drove a mediocre team into Euro 2012 on the back of a 14-game unbeaten run. At their best they were hard to beat; good or bad they were always hard to watch. It got results, it was a formula of sorts. And in the record books he will be ahead on points, just about.

A genial sort of autocrat, Trapattoni will in time be judged kindly enough by Ireland supporters, now that both parties have gone their separate ways.

Who knows, they might even meet up for the odd dinner and swap a few happy memories about the good days. Give us a call some time, Trap, don't be a stranger.

Sunday Independent

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