Trapattoni: ‘I am sure Euro 2012 was just an accident for us’
"I don't know if you are happy to see us again."
Giovanni Trapattoni normally returns from his summer break with a cheery greeting, but his opening line as he took his seat in Donegal yesterday suggested that the Italian is aware that the Euro 2012 experience has affected his standing.
The Ireland manager divided opinion before the disappointing trip to Poland, and the manner of the team's struggles at the highest level strengthened the belief of those who feel that his methods are dated.
His advocates hoped that Trapattoni would follow up his Poznan promise to experiment ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in September.
The announcement of the squad for the August 15 friendly with Serbia in Belgrade was the chance to find out if a month of reflection had altered his thinking.
His decision to rest Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane hinted at the need for transition, but other squad selections smacked of conservatism.
The bigger picture, however, is that Trapattoni still subscribes to the view that the three major tournament reverses were caused by uncharacteristic mistakes rather than a system failure. The comments that followed will disappoint those who anticipated a drastically different approach.
A source close to Dunne and Keane last night indicated that the duo will soon make an announcement 'confirming their desire to continue playing for Ireland'. This tied in with earlier comments from Trapattoni which suggested that members of his senior quartet were keen to stay on.
He also hinted that Duff had given the impression that he would continue to turn up for squads even if his starting place was not guaranteed.
Given's future is less clear, though, with the Irish boss brushing off a question from a local journalist who asked if the Donegal man would be present for September's qualifier in Kazakhstan.
For attack-minded players like Duff and Keane, there is the likelihood of involvement in all games even if they start some on the bench, although the skipper has said in the past that he might pack it in if he wasn't selected.
It's different in defensive areas, where Trap rarely changes when a match is under way. There is no suitable replacement for Dunne, so his apparent desire to stay is excellent news.
The lingering issue here is if Given is still smarting from a nightmare tournament in Poland -- and whether his errors have made Trapattoni wonder about changing the identity of his netminder. Considering that Keiren Westwood is set to begin the season on the bench at Sunderland, it would be surprising if Trapattoni made such a call, but he appears to be unsure of Given's intentions.
Still, when offered the opportunity to state that all four would start in Kazakhstan if they made themselves available, Trapattoni said that performances in Serbia could change his thinking.
Dunne has no need to worry, but Westwood, James McClean and the range of strikers available -- or an advanced James McCarthy -- could pose problems for the other trio.
The absence of the aforementioned veterans mean that a younger side will start. Keith Andrews is suspended for Kazakhstan so he is also allowed to miss this trip. McCarthy will deputise after telling Trapattoni he is ok to travel despite his father's ongoing health problems.
"Don't forget Darron Gibson," said Trap, an ironic comment considering the Everton man felt that he was completely overlooked by the Italian during the Euros, and nearly stormed out.
"I wish to try James," Trapattoni continued. "He can show us he is ready for an away game, because when the World Cup starts, we have an away game. We need to try our options and, after Serbia, we can decide who plays in Kazakhstan."
However, the discussion revolved around a straight swap for Andrews rather than a modification of formation and the inclusion of three central midfielders. Trapattoni reiterated his suspicion that Ireland don't have the players to suit the system, pointing out that McClean, Duff and Aiden McGeady are better served as wingers in a 4-4-2 because in a 4-3-3 they would have additional responsibility to score goals, and they don't have prolific track records in this department.
Yet in an apparent contradiction, he explained the omission of the creative Wes Hoolahan by stating that McCarthy is the same type of player so there was no point bringing them both in. A fleeting reference to Stephen Ireland was dismissed in similar terms. Confusing.
If there is to be experimentation in Serbia, then it can only be in the identity of the starting XI because the overall squad has quite a familiar look when you leave aside the absence of the four veterans, the suspended Andrews, the injured Keith Fahey, the unhappy Kevin Foley, and the bemused Stephen Hunt.
Andy Keogh is recalled, Paul Green and Paul McShane are retained after their Euros lifeline, and Seamus Coleman also comes back into the fold. Considering where he was speaking, Coleman chat was inevitable, and Trapattoni asserted he would like to try the Killybegs lad as a right-back -- but won't do so until he gains experience there for Everton.
Keith Treacy's comeback is a huge surprise following a topsy turvy year at club level. He has work to do to get back in the good books at Championship side Burnley, and is favoured to a Premier League regular, Anthony Pilkington of Norwich.
Marc Wilson's recall is overdue. One hopes he makes the trip. Pull-outs are likely given the timing before the start of the Premier League, but Trapattoni stressed that clubs are obliged to release players. He has spoken with Wilson and expects to see him.
Darren Randolph is the only uncapped member of the squad. Trapattoni was keen to assess Shane Duffy and Manchester United's Robert Brady, yet he conceded that Noel King, the Ireland U-21 manager, had a greater need for their services -- the duo will be key figures in the vital European Championship qualifier with Turkey on August 14.
Consider these words from Trapattoni, when detailing if any lessons had been learned from the humbling at the hands of admittedly outstanding opposition:
"I would like to start again tomorrow morning these Euros, because I'm sure it would be different," said Trapattoni.
"We couldn't play 14 games without losing and then, in two minutes, we lose it all. I want to begin again, the Euros, with the same team, the same squad, the same performance.
"I am sure it was an accident this Euros for us."
These were perhaps the most significant words of the Ballybofey gathering.
Ultimately, Trapattoni feels that what transpired in June was a freak occurrence for a team consistent in the build-up. The one slight concession was that a side with six thirty-somethings struggled with the weight of three games in a short space of time; he quickly followed up by pointing out that the big qualifiers are a month apart and that his charges are usually fresh in the autumn. So, when the October encounter with Germany came onto the radar, he asserted that experience will be vital.
In other words, while his team was broken in Poland, Trapattoni is unconvinced that it really needs fixing.