Trapattoni maintains tough-love approach to McCarthy
Italian warming to midfielder's talent but still unsure about his commitment, writes Daniel McDonnell
THERE is almost a sense of trepidation when Ireland's manager veers into serious discussion on James McCarthy, a fear that he could stray into dangerous territory.
Giovanni Trapattoni's relationship with the Wigan man can definitely be filed under the heading of 'complicated'. From the 2011 demand for respect and the misunderstandings about text messages, to the repeated references to shyness and the revelation that he would sometimes like to punch the youthful midfielder in the face, it's always been a diplomatic minefield.
And, sure enough, a politician was somehow brought into the debate in sunny Malahide yesterday, with the 74-year-old repeatedly referencing former US President George Bush Snr. "I know Bush," he stressed on more than one occasion.
The context was commitment to travel, and Trapattoni's insistence that McCarthy should come to America with the Ireland squad for next Tuesday's friendly with world champions Spain.
The Italian gave the impression that the Wigan player is less than enthused by the prospect, assuming that he was free to go on a summer break after Sunday's friendly with Georgia, given that he is suspended for Friday's World Cup qualifier with the Faroe Islands.
Trapattoni says that the 22-year-old has "two or three situations" that are preventing him from confirming his presence in Dublin on Saturday for the flight to New York.
A niggling groin problem was cited, although the manager stressed that it didn't prevent him from featuring for 71 minutes against the Georgians. Indeed he felt that the Glaswegian was arguably Ireland's best performer on the day.
The other situations are unclear, but Trapattoni's references to family and a summer break hinted that the player simply wanted some rest and relaxation following a long campaign. "I've a family too," said Trapattoni. "But it's professional discipline."
Bush came into it as the manager recalled a trip to the US in 1983 with his all-conquering Juventus side.
They met the then-vice president Bush – a friend of Juve owner Giovanni Agnelli – at the White House before a friendly with the USA national side.
The game took place in August, and Trapattoni recalled how all his marquee stars travelled, revered figures like Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek and his current Ireland assistant boss Marco Tardelli.
For the latter, and the other members of Italy's 1982 World Cup-winning squad, another pre-season trip shortened their holiday time following the exertions of the summer before.
Trapattoni claimed that some players only had eight days off during that hectic period, and cannot understand the desire for rest when the chance to rub shoulders with the world champions is the alternative.
"He has a little pain in the groin but it's important for him to come to increase his confidence," said Trapattoni with regard to McCarthy.
"The FAI have committed to playing Spain in New York and we must go.
"It's about respect, and respect for the Irish people who want to see these players. They're paying for tickets but not to see the second team.
"When I was a player I never turned down these opportunities. Players need rest as they've played many games but it's also important to see on the list the famous names like (Richard) Dunne, (John) O'Shea and McCarthy. Our players must understand that it's only for three days."
McCarthy, who is not the confrontational type, could reasonably point out in response that others have been given a pass to skip New York.
Shane Long, who is also banned for the Faroes, will be absent because he is getting married the following Saturday, even though it's anticipated that Andy Keogh – who gets hitched on the Friday – will go to the US.
Marc Wilson has a plausible explanation in the form of a scheduled operation in London, but there are questions marks over whether all of the senior defenders will travel, amid suggestions O'Shea might be excused.
With Dunne in need of game-time and Sean St Ledger, Darren O'Dea, Richard Keogh and Damien Delaney present, there is no shortage of centre-halves, however, and it's the same in the striking department.
Trapattoni's obsession with having McCarthy present is representative of his growing importance within his plans, even if it's only a few short months since he was prepared to enter a crucial game in Sweden with Glenn Whelan and Paul Green as his engine-room operators until a late injury ruled out the former.
McCarthy missed Euro 2012 for understandable family reasons; although he was on the cut line before his father's illness became public knowledge.
Certainly, a chance to pit his wits against the all-conquering Spanish midfield that destroyed Ireland in Gdansk could further boost his profile, and Trapattoni's lengthy call for him to travel has placed him in a position where pulling out could put him in the bad books again.
Considering he is the only player to have been involved in all 11 matches since Euro 2012, McCarthy is entitled to be vexed by comments which again pose questions about his desire – but the price for being an exceptional player is additional scrutiny from a manager who thinks his squad lacks star quality.
As it stands, the ball is in McCarthy's court. Trapattoni allowed him to depart the camp in the hours after Sunday's stroll over a lacklustre Georgian side, and gave the player permission to stay away until the travelling party gather in Dublin on Saturday morning for the journey to the Big Apple.
"I hope we have no injuries after Friday and the rest of the players will be coming," said Trapattoni.
With a complimentary nod to Jeff Hendrick, including the caveat that he had the quality to improve and reach the level of his better-known midfield colleague , the wily old fox knows what he is doing by sending out a message.
History has taught us that McCarthy should probably heed the warning.