Sport Soccer

Monday 11 December 2017

Trap to carry on regardless as FAI gamble on status quo

Association stand by their man after dramatic turnaround but, with fans unconvinced, it could prove a costly decision

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"THEY could have let us go after the Euros. Was better, I don't know."

It was late after the game in Torshavn when Giovanni Trapattoni finally gave some indication that, perhaps, just perhaps, he sees a reason why it might have been better for all parties if he had moved on after Euro 2012.

His words are open to interpretation, of course. Syntax is not his friend and even now, four and a half years in, his use of the English language is capable of breeding confusion.

What it does make clear, however, is that the 73-year-old is aware of the school of thought which argued that he simply shouldn't have been allowed start another campaign as manager.

He disagrees with the point, of course, but his basic argument is that if the FAI let him start this campaign, then why were they preparing to show him the door early this week?

Now, after a dramatic change of heart brought about by a 4-1 dismissal of the Faroe Islands and an intervention by senior players on his behalf, in addition to the realisation that Trapattoni was digging his heels in to fight, the men in Abbotstown have decided to proceed with the status quo. The contract that they offered 12 months ago will continue.

Remarkable

It is a remarkable gamble and, ultimately, it completes a dramatic 24-hour turnaround in terms of the relationship between the Irish manager and his employers.

Earlier this week, Trapattoni acknowledged that the decision about his future was out of his hands. Now, the board members who pushed for the retention of the Italian will have to take equal responsibility for whatever happens in the rest of this World Cup qualifying campaign.

The strongest argument against showing Trapattoni the door post-Poznan was the limited window between then and the beginning of September. August friendlies are often a waste of time, and then it was straight back into the serious business.

It provided the man at the helm with a shot at redemption that appeared to have been lost in a grim display in Kazakhstan and a humiliation at the hands of the Germans.

Liam Brady, a long-time friend of the manager, said on Tuesday night that the rest of Europe would think it was ridiculous if Trapattoni was sacked.

In this part of the world, we laugh when England go to a major tournament and get carried away on the basis of a victory over mediocre opposition.

It is scarcely believable that anyone who has watched all of Ireland's games in 2012 could think it is time to head into 2013 with the same battle plan on the evidence of a 45-minute domination of the Faroe Islands.

Ireland did alright on the night, and have generally proved quite efficient at seeing off the underdogs in Trap's term. Considering what he inherited, the record of only losing two qualifying games -- to Russia and Germany -- is a positive statistic.

Flip it around, and the list of teams that Ireland have scored qualifying victories against is hardly stellar: Georgia, Cyprus, Armenia, Andorra, Macedonia, Kazakhstan and the Faroes.

Sweden's amazing draw in Germany has given them a point that nobody expected to be on the board. Austria's drubbing of Kazakhstan in Vienna indicates they have something to offer.

To finish in second, Ireland will have to do more than just secure honourable draws against mid-ranked teams, starting next March.

Trapattoni's favoured players wanted him there, and made their feelings clear. Skipper Robbie Keane is thought to have led a delegation that approached the FAI hierarchy, telling them that they wanted the manager to stay. Keith Andrews who, like Keane, is 32 years old, gave the strongest endorsement of the manager on Tuesday night.

These are not the key players of the future and many questions linger after this turnaround. Trapattoni argues that he is working on a rebuilding project, citing the responsibility given to Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Robbie Brady, who was taken off at half-time in Torshavn.

MASTERPLAN

The problem is that this masterplan has been created by a combination of injury, suspension and recognition of the obvious. While Coleman became a more viable option with a run in the Everton side at right-full, the other pair have hardly popped up overnight.

McCarthy missed the Euros due to family illness but, like Wilson, he was a Premier League regular through last year and there was never any indication that management were prepared to give them a proper opportunity to be a serious part of the Polish adventure. Wilson only came into consideration late in the day -- Trapattoni had mistakenly placed him in the bad books due to a disciplinary offence committed by another player.

Considering that the Italian stuck with his tried and trusted XI throughout the finals, and ignored the claims of Shane Long, James McClean and Darron Gibson, to name just three, it's unlikely they would have figured anyway in Poland.

The key point, though, is whether the manager has embarked on this project by accident or by design. What if Andrews hadn't been suspended for Kazakhstan in September, thus giving McCarthy a break? What if Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger had been available for Germany? Would John O'Shea have made way for Coleman at right-back? And why did it take another humbling experience to realise Wilson is a safer option than Stephen Ward?

Admittedly, most emerging players need some sort of break to open the door. But McCarthy, Wilson and Coleman all received their first call-ups to the squad back in 2010, and are only now getting a competitive look-in. If all the injury victims from this week return for the March double-header with Sweden and Austria, there is no guarantee that the trio will be chosen if Trapattoni somehow remains in charge.

Will it take another spate of withdrawals for a regular Premier League centre-half, Ciaran Clark, to get his opportunity? How many pull-outs does Long require to start a fixture of note?

The players who are playing will be happy this morning. Some of those who should be playing will not be happy. Trapattoni, on the other hand, will realise he is on shaky ground. He admitted before leaving the Faroes that he was in the dark about his position. Assistant boss Marco Tardelli seemed more confident. "We are not worried," he said.

Fear now shifts to the 10-man board who decided to persevere with this ticket. As it stands, the lack of a marquee Dublin fixture in 2013 makes it imperative that the team is competitive enough to woo back the punters who were desperately let down by the Germany defeat.

The FAI know there is a real danger that the large majority will not come back, a scenario that would cost them a lot of money.

"I will continue to do my job with the same attitude and the same attention," said Trappatoni, speaking before he knew he was being retained. On the evidence of the 154 days since Ireland's Euros adventure began, he will need to do much more than that.

Irish Independent

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