Trap's last chance to freshen up tired team
AFTER surviving his own version of Hurricane Sandy, Giovanni Trapattoni is back in Ireland this week to try and restore a sense of calm to his tenure as Ireland manager.
Tomorrow, in Abbotstown, the Italian will name his squad for next month's friendly with Greece and there will be more interest in his musings than usual.
The November friendly generally struggles to capture the imagination, but this is likely to be different. From the FAI's point of view, however, they need to translate the heightened awareness of the game into a swelled attendance to boost the coffers. Much of that will depend on the squad named by the 73-year-old.
He has been praised for the manner in which he maintained his dignity during a fraught week where the FAI were on the verge of terminating his contract. And his reputation is built on stubbornness, a steadfast determination to do things his own way.
In that context, it is slightly surprising that he appears to have bowed to the wishes of the FAI board by attending games on each of the last two weekends.
Following the 4-1 defeat of the Faroe Islands which could have been his last game in charge, Trapattoni made it clear that he had minimal respect for the views of the blazers he encountered during his career, stating that the only president he ever had time for was a former Juventus striker who moved upstairs. It would be a surprise, then, if he suddenly started to follow the wishes of the men in Abbotstown.
Still, if the near miss might have delivered a wake-up call, it would be some turnaround if Trapattoni bowed to the calls for a change of personnel and adopted a populist approach to the squad for the Greek encounter. His paymasters are worried about a low attendance, and could do with the excitement factor that a revamped panel would bring to proceedings.
Certainly, there are some players whose inclusion would help put bums on seats.
Another impressive display for Norwich at the weekend followed on from a fine contribution in the win over Arsenal that Trapattoni was in attendance for. He was called into the squad for the August friendly with Serbia only to pull out through injury. Ironically enough, Hoolahan's first call into an Irish senior squad came 10 years ago for a November friendly in Greece when Don Givens was put in temporary charge after the departure of Mick McCarthy. The talented midfielder was an unused sub in Athens.
His only cap came under Trapattoni in May 2008, and his continued exclusion has baffled his manager at Norwich, Chris Hughton. "I don't pick the squad but on his performances I know what a good player he is," he said last week. After going to see him in the flesh, it's hard to envisage Trapattoni passing up this opportunity.
It's entirely possible Pilkington could end up fitting into Trapattoni's system better than Hoolahan. The versatile attacking midfielder primarily operates on the left and that's a problem area in the aftermath of Damien Duff's retirement. Simon Cox has struggled in that position -- understandably considering it doesn't suit him -- while the manager clearly has reservations about James McClean. Pilkington is aware of his defensive responsibilities and while he's unlikely to set the world alight, he can add depth to the squad. James Mcclean
Struggling at Sunderland this term, McClean said over the weekend that Euro 2012 had damaged his confidence, and it's apparent that international football means a lot to a player that has found elements of stardom difficult to deal with.
Certainly, the Derry lad deserves a proper outing in his favoured position in a friendly match.
The Euros warm-up against Bosnia is the only time he's kicked off a game on the left side. Against Serbia, he was deployed in the middle, while his post-Kazakhstan tweet restricted him to a sub cameo against Oman. Trapattoni neglected to bring him to the Faroes when he had shaken off a problem, so it will be interesting to see where he stands now.
McClean on the left, Brady on the right, with Wes Hoolahan roving behind a lone striker, and Pilkington waiting in reserve. It sounds unusually bold for Trapattoni, so it's quite likely that if the quartet featured here make the cut, more than one will have to expect to start on the bench. Brady will definitely be in the squad, and has the ability to light up a game with a moment of magic.
Greece have a reputation as a rigid side built on their shock Euro 2004 win, but they are capable of a more expansive style of play. In reality, though, November games can sometimes be low-tempo, and that could give Brady time to demonstrate his technical ability, particularly in set-piece situations. This game is ideal for him.