Sunday 25 February 2018

Trap writing the script as he goes along

Ireland boss is realising the true value of his gems when it's too late, writes Dion Fanning

Dion Fanning

In his present position, Giovanni Trapattoni can be forgiven for taking as much as he wants from Ireland's result at Wembley last Wednesday, even if nothing can be taken from it.

Before the game, many people realised – long before Trapattoni was prepared to accept it – that Ireland had players of huge potential in Seamus Coleman, Shane Long and James McCarthy. All three in their own way demonstrated that yet again at Wembley.

McCarthy was left out of Trapattoni's side for the game in Sweden with Paul Green chosen ahead of him. Only Glenn Whelan's injury brought him back in. Last week, Trapattoni described McCarthy as a future Irish captain.

On Friday, without McCarthy and Long who are suspended, Ireland end their competitive season with a game against the Faroe Islands. It should provide an easy victory. The Faroe Islands last picked up a point away from home when they played Cyprus in 2004 on the same day as Brian Kerr's Ireland drew in Paris.

Since then, away trips have brought nothing but trouble and in Vienna in March, they lost 6-0. "Every time we play away from home, it's very difficult for us," the Faroes manager Lars Olsen said last week, "and our hope is that we can improve."

If there was a miraculous improvement, it would mean the end for Trapattoni before his almost inevitable departure in the autumn, but that won't happen. Instead Ireland will head to New York and end their season with a game against Spain which will be a reminder that a lot can happen in a year.

The emergence of players like Coleman and McCarthy has allowed Trapattoni to talk as if he was always working to this plan. Qualify with the old – the "famous" – players, get beaten out of sight in every game with a stone-age game plan and then rebuild the squad.

"When we started, we wanted to renew the group with the young, slowly, slowly," Trapattoni says, making it sound like things are coming to fruition rather than coming to the end. Last week, Trapattoni acknowledged that Coleman could have been introduced earlier but said McCarthy was always going to struggle to play ahead of Whelan and Keith Andrews.

Trapattoni has been loyal to Andrews and that won't change, even if Whelan must be the player who could ultimately lose out to McCarthy. "I think Andrews has a different quality. I wish not to say now that McCarthy is superior to Andrews, but he has continued to improve, he has all the quality of a midfielder."

McCarthy, Trapattoni says, can continue to be more assertive but he feels his performance on Wednesday night can help him grow. "Physically he's good, he can think now, 'I am like Lampard'. No doubts any more."

McCarthy has played well against the big Premier League clubs so it may have been Trap, not the player, who needed to have the doubts removed.

The question marks about the manager remain but they will stay until the autumn unless something unexpected happens on Friday. Trapattoni will only survive if something surprising takes place and Ireland can win games they have always drawn under the manager.

When they last played the Faroe Islands in October, Trapattoni was not expected to last the week following the 6-1 defeat to Germany. Instead the manager demonstrated his superior cunning, superior at least to the hapless 'senior FAI source' whose mouth was writing cheques his or her butt couldn't cash.

That week in Torshavn was Olsen's first encounter with Trapattoni and he says he would never had known he was under pressure, despite the Germany result.

Olsen looks back on that match, especially the final score, with disappointment. "4-1 was too much, I think it was an equal game," he says. After the first half had ended scoreless, he felt his side could make an impression and he saw little to fear. "We played a good game," he insists. Ireland played as he had anticipated.

"Every time Ireland play, they play the same way," Olsen says. "They have a lot of fight and if the opponent gives them some space, they will play, otherwise they will play it long."

Yet Olsen knows that nothing his side achieved in Torshavn will help this week if history is any guide.

He hopes to draw out some impatience in the home crowd but if Trapattoni's delight in drawing with England is reflected in the home crowd, they may be more patient than Olsen anticipates.

"Our mistake in Austria was to concede too early," he says, reflecting on the 6-0 defeat. "It will be very important that we can defend."

Olsen watched the England game on Wednesday and he relaxed slightly with the knowledge that Long will be suspended for Friday night's game even if he praises Robbie Keane's guile and experience.

'Trap has named the suspended players in the starting line-up against Georgia today – with Long captaining the side – which allows others to rest but that would seem to defeat the point of playing Georgia in the first place.

It is a game which tests the loyalty of supporters. "We have two reasons for this game," Trapattoni said when asked if this was a reward to Georgia for moving the qualifier to Mainz in 2008. "Improve our young players, and also we have the game – achieve also the money. It's important," Trapattoni said, perhaps optimistically believing that today's game might help the FAI's finances in a significant way.

As a training exercise, it won't reveal much, especially ahead of a game which will surely bring a routine win.

There may be some memories too of when Ireland last played Georgia when Trap was 69 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream. He believes he has achieved all that was expected of him and he still insists there is more to come.

Olsen knows what to expect, even if they may not concede a lot of goals against Ireland.

"Every time we play we know what will happen," Olsen says. "We hope to achieve a good result because it would make some noise in Europe." Trapattoni could do with a summer of silence.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport