Monday 18 November 2019

Trap lost in translation

FAI move to make sure Irish boss brushes up act off the pitch

David Kelly

David Kelly

"My hovercraft is full of eels." As anyone who ever purchased a second-hand Hungarian phrase book can ruefully attest, translation can often be a fiendishly difficult operation.

Giovanni Trapattoni has stepped upon so many linguistic landmines at this stage of his tenure that his press conferences have acquired the status of even the most surreal Python sketches.

It reminds us of the sign in the Tokyo bar during the 2002 World Cup that related the availability of "special cocktails for the ladies with nuts."

When a group of Irish journalists first visited Trapattoni in Salzburg to proffer our thousand welcomes and offer him a Stephen Ireland voodoo doll, even then it was difficult to ascertain precisely what he was trying to say.


Then, during the first international trip away, when balladeer Andy Reid was drummed out of the squad -- a recurring dream sees Il Trap battering the bejaysus out of the Chapelizod crooner with a rolled-up 'Gazzetta Della Sport' -- there was a press conference between the Georgia and Montenegro away games.

Trapattoni played an imaginary violin and a cluster of hungover journalists -- in the interests of research we feel it appropriate to drink as heartily as the players -- struggled to comprehend whether the Mozart-lover's wielding of the imaginary instrument was supposed to signify sympathy or define disdain.

Even though Ireland's backroom team was more elaborate than that of Kylie Minogue, Liam Brady would be the crucial intermediary.

Sophisticatedly sashaying upon the tightrope between translation and interpretation, Brady would be the Tom Hagen to Trapattoni's Don Vito Corleone, a steady conduit between a septuagenarian sage of stern discipline and pupils devoted to the Maserati and the Mojito.

A steady routine developed; Trapattoni would pitch up in Dublin, parade his vast experience before our eyes before opting for a midfield including someone the Irish public had never heard of.

Ireland would win a series of matches 0-0, Trapattoni would express his delight in several languages other than English before Brady would then be sent out to clarify/re-interpret his boss' message.

In between days, Trapattoni would be fed grapes and wine in his Milan apartment while fast-forwarding DVDs of Stoke v West Bromwich Albion, while Brady headed a platoon of scouts who would demean themselves by actually attending football matches - particularly those not involving Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland or Steven Reid.

The cosiness of the understanding bred complacency; when Sam Allardyce and Trapattoni became embroiled in their public scrap, the details that slipped through the cracks revealed -- alarmingly -- that neither man had ever met, let alone spoke on the telephone.

For Brady, it was a neat little re-arrangement, but you always felt he would tire of wallowing in such habitual and banal circumstances; one day, he had to protest loudly that he had no direct input to a management team he was supposedly assisting.

And so, despite the encouragement of Il Papa and Monsieur Wenger, Brady took his leave, clearly feeling that his initial task of acting as Trapattoni's consigliere in all such matters had run its natural course.

That left Trapattoni more front of house than ever which, given that he was once referred to by an FAI official as someone who "likes to do things his way," contained enough peril to merit concern.

Much of this apprehension has been justified, whether one refers to the ignorant treatment of loyal servant Kevin Kilbane, the increasingly preposterous public tango with James McCarthy or the declaration of minor war with his captain.

A popular theory might propose that Trapattoni has veered increasingly out of control since Brady's departure; in truth, Brady had little interventionist scope when it came to his career-long mentor.

Hence, it took a couple of stern words from Trapattoni's employers in Abbotstown to address a worrying malaise that has forced the Italian to start justifying his elaborate salary.

Instead of forelock-tugging, the FAI's head honchos have quietly intervened to persuade Trapattoni to change tack; hence, he spoke in Italian, at least for a short while, when introducing the Ireland squad last week.

Yesterday once more, the Italian was at pains to ensure that if his audience required any clarity, they would be afforded it; there has been an obvious instruction from upon high that a clearer message needs to be conveyed.

And that goes for the players too -- those within and without the squad.

Hence, he deigned to take himself north of London to meet up with James McCarthy having earlier satisfied himself with a weekly dialogue via megaphone. A potentially damaging loss to the Scots has thankfully been avoided, but only when Trapattoni was prodded into action by his paymasters.

His previous indifference to the sensitivities of the cosseted modern professional needed to be radically overhauled.

Sadly, the game has changed and Trapattoni's idea of human resources has been for a while now clouded by the whirling fug of the agent's cigar smoke and the swirling delusion of player ego.

Ireland's tenuous position in this qualifying campaign and this week's revelation that the playing resources are as threadbare as ever have urgently obliged the manager to avoid the glaring faux pas that have dogged him in the past.

Sure, the Andy Reid and Stephen Ireland cheerleaders may have had their cough softened by the pair's decline in status, but the perilous prognostications in the McCarthy affair were clearly the final straw.

That Trapattoni has now clearly been advised to brush up on his act is a belated acknowledgement by the FAI top brass that they require some bang for their buck.

And yesterday's welcome boon to the FAI's finances from UEFA indicate that, regardless of the success or otherwise of this qualification campaign, the organisation can afford to stick their chests out a bit more.

Calling their highly-paid manager to order is a welcome first step.

However, Trapattoni will still rule his dressing-room with an iron fist.

He may change his style off the pitch. But it is much too late to change his ways on it. He will still have the last word in the dressing-room.

That is something that will never be lost in translation.

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