Sunday 20 October 2019

Working class hero Trap stays close to his roots

Dion Fanning travels to Cusano Milanino, the furnace which forged the Ireland manager for greatness

The crowd had gathered in the town square on a Monday night. It was late summer, the last days of the holidays and the children were restless, convinced, as always, that there was something better to do, someplace else they could be. With the return to school now a real and present danger, these feelings were getting urgent.

In the main square of Tipperary town on a drizzly August evening, there was unlikely to be anything to do and the parents knew this. They resisted as the children pulled on their arms and they wanted to pay attention when the man with the silver hair ended the night by getting up to address the crowd.

Then even the children seemed to fall silent when Giovanni Trapattoni stepped to the microphone and began to cry.

They had put on a civic reception in Tipperary when they heard that the Ireland team were coming to stay nearby.

It was the kind of ceremony that comes naturally to towns across Ireland. The dignitaries were gathered on the back of a truck to listen to speeches and music. It could have been a slightly less than ordinary night in a midlands town but Trapattoni, as he has done so often, transformed the humdrum into something memorable.

He saw something in the three or four thousand people standing before him that evening that he has been able to see all his life. He saw himself and he saw possibility.

The mayor made a speech welcoming Trapattoni to Tipperary and welcoming John Delaney home. She read out Trapattoni's achievements in football. It took some time. And when the CJ Kickham Brass and Reed band played the Italian anthem, Trapattoni was moved, sitting down when it was over and grabbing Delaney's arm. He later told the crowd that he was emotional because it was the first time he had heard his anthem on foreign soil outside a football ground in 50 years.

Wherever he goes in Ireland, Trapattoni reminds the audience of where he came from. It is not a hack act because he still calls it home, still worships at the local church and eats at the restaurant off the main square in the town where he was born.

Any examination of Trapattoni's life reveals a simple but profound truth. Few football men in the modern era have held such a unity of purpose between their philosophy of life and their philosophy of football management. For Trapattoni, the worker has always been king.

When he is a willing traveller to all corners of Ireland, Trapattoni always remarks that he was once a boy who was visited by the "famous", who would make him think of a world beyond his small town, but one which would not have been possible without it.

When he stood up to speak last August, Trapattoni thanked the people for their welcome, looked out over the main square of Tipperary town and said to them: "I grew up in a town just like this."

* * * * *

Cusano Milanino is a town that Giovanni Trapattoni has never forgotten because he has never left it. He was born on Via 24 Maggio, a small side-street. He now lives in a villa less than half a mile away.

Last Wednesday evening, I arrived in Cusano Milanino and it wasn't hard to find people to talk about Giovanni Trapattoni. There was no reluctance to open up to an Irish journalist. Italy may be a football and fashion sophisticate but it is a provincial country too. My friend Francesco, who was acting as translator, pointed out that "everybody is proud that a foreign journalist is coming to talk about a man they love".

In the main square, we approached two men who pointed out the Trapattoni landmarks and directed us to I Vini di Mariu's, Trap's local restaurant. Ask for Mariu, they told us, he can help you.It was just before 7.0pm, too early for anyone to be eating but a man stood behind the counter, his back ramrod straight. He looked a bit like Roger Moore.

We asked if he was Mariu and he said no.

Francesco explained who we were and what we had come for. The man began to talk. He knew Trapattoni well, he came to his restaurant often. He was a great customer and a great man, humble and proud of Cusano Milanino. This was good stuff, but we felt we should talk to Mariu, who, according to the men in the square, knew Trapattoni even better.

"Would it be possible to talk to Mariu?"

"I am Mariu."

"You just said you weren't Mariu."

"I thought you were trying to sell me something."

Soon we were joined by Pino, one of the men from the square, who wandered in to check on the action. Mariu directed us to a wall with pictures of Trap everywhere. There was also a bottle of wine with his face on the label. Beside it, Mariu had a bottle with Mussolini's image on it. I pointed this out.

"Guys, if this bothers you," Mariu said, "I really couldn't care less."

Mariu really couldn't care less. As he hunted for photographs, Mariu pulled out an Italian flag, but one from Mussolini's time with an eagle across the front of the tricolour. He laughed again, not caring less.

Mariu knows Trapattoni's story and the story of Cusano Milanino. The town is divided by a main road with Cusano historically being on one side and Milanino on the other. Cusano was the original town where workers and farmers lived. Trapattoni's parents moved from Bergamo to find work and they lived on this side of town when his father found work in the Gerli wool-dying factory.

Milanino was built at the beginning of the 20th century, a paradise for the upper-middle classes outside Milan on the other side of the street from Cusano. Trapattoni may live across the street now, but he is most comfortable with those who understood where he came from and where they came from too.

He grew up playing football with Cusano boys, not seeing in football a way, as others had, to escape, but to implement what he believed in. He has talked to Mariu about the tales of his career, of marking Pele. "Pele didn't want to play the second half against Trapattoni," Mariu says, "because Trapattoni was like a jellyfish and he wouldn't let him go."

In Italy, Trapattoni is loved but it is not just in Ireland that they have difficulty understanding him. When speaking Italian, he would sometimes revert to Milanese dialect which would make him hard to understand, especially for those from the south. His phrases became part of football culture in the country.

"Se la và, la ghà i gamb," was Trap's favourite -- "If it goes, it's got legs," suggesting a fondness for the end rather than the means. His malapropisms were famous too.

There is an Italian saying "Non dire quattro se non ce l'hai nel sacco." It comes from the fields, where they would collect grain in bags of four and means "Don't say four unless you got it in the bag". When Trapattoni uttered it, he said 'gatto' instead of 'quattro', 'cat' instead of 'four' and now "Don't say cat until you've got it in the bag' has become part of the lexicon, although it has no meaning.

When he talks about Ireland to Mariu, he talks about how well he has been treated. He took the delegation from the FAI to eat in the restaurant, introducing them to Mariu and his favourite wine, Caipizze.

Mariu got to know Trapattoni when he was managing Juventus and when he was Italian manager, Trapattoni would spend more time in his home in Cusano Milanino and often invite Mariu to his house for the traditional Italian aperitif at 6.0pm. Mariu would bring the wine and they would talk. What does Trap talk about? "He always talks about football."

On the wall beside the wine with Trap's face on it, there are plenty more pictures. Pino points out one with Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and Nicola Berti from the Internazionale team that won Serie A in 1989 with Trapattoni as manager.

One evening Trap brought the players to Mariu's. The boys from Cusano Milanino came to the restaurant to see the famous players and have their picture taken. Pino's son Fabio was seven and was one of the boys who had their picture taken.

"Trapattoni has an incredible memory," Pino says. "The other day he met my son at the bar and he said 'You are Fabio, Pino's son. I remember you having your picture taken with the team in '89, sitting on Matthaus's lap'."

The men are relaxed now, talking politics and football. Francesco works for a radio station in Milan and Mariu tells him that he likes the music they play, but they are a little left-wing.

Mariu expresses more private views which again are not necessarily those of Trapattoni to state that, with the players Trapattoni has, what he has achieved with Ireland is a "miracle".

There may be more miracles to come.

* * * * *

Before the draw for the play-offs, Trapattoni walked into the R.E.E.G Cafe in Cinisello Balsamo and told his friend Raffaello who runs the bar that Ireland would be drawn against France or Portugal, but he was almost certain it would be France. Trap wasn't happy about it. "You will see," he told Raffaello, "we will get France."

Raffaello's bar is not the kind of place, as Raffaello himself points out, where you would find Fabio Capello or Marcello Lippi hanging out. On the night we went in, there were four men in there, one wedded to the slot machine, the others wedded to the other familiar consolations of Raffaello's bar. These are ordinary men, poor ould fellas, and Trapattoni often sits among them in this working-class place, talking about one thing: football.

Cinisello Balsamo is the industrial heartland that rebuilt Italy after the war. It is three kilometres from Cusano Milanino and it is here that Trapattoni famously has an office in the garage of his friend Pasquale Piccolo.

There used to be three great employers in Cinisello Balsamo, Falck, Ansaldo and Breda, and at their peak they employed 120,000 workers in their iron works as Italy was rebuilt after the war. Before that, trams and trains were built in this area, giving the poor families who came north from Southern Italy work and dignity. There was then, as there is now, a Milanese philosophy that is embodied in Trapattoni, a belief that only through hard work can you succeed.

Cinisello Balsamo used to be known as Italy's Stalingrad as the communist party drew support from these workers. Now it is a different place. The industries have gone and so have many of the young, but the older men remain, spending their days in places like Raffaello's.

Raffaello isn't eager to talk at first. This is a private sanctuary for Trap, he says. He likes to come in here and when he sits down, he talks with Raffaello about tactics and individual players. We mention a couple of Irish players and Raffaello smiles. He knows them, knows Trapattoni's views and he says a few things that make it clear he knows about Ireland, although he never gives too much away.

The traditional aperitif is Campari and sparkling wine (it is known as the bicycle because you get two drinks -- two wheels) but that is too much for Trap, who will usually have a Campari with bitter orange and talk football, always football, with Raffaello.

Raffaello is a Juventus fan which makes it even easier to talk to Trap, but it would never be difficult. "He will talk to anybody who comes in here and he treats everybody with respect." Raffaello goes to a backroom and he returns carrying a Juventus wallet. In it is an English £5 note autographed by Trapattoni, a gift to Raffaello's daughter. "He hasn't changed all the time I have known him. He is strong and principled and devoted."

* * * * *

Every week a package arrives at Pasquale Piccolo's Autobatti's garage across the road from Raffaello's. It contains DVDs from the weekend's matches in England and Trapattoni will collect them and take them to an office upstairs to watch them. He was here, too, the day of the play-off draw and was, according to Claudio, one mechanic working in the garage, "depressed for half a day" after he knew Ireland would be playing France.

There are lots of garages in Cinisello Balsamo -- the main drag in the industrial quarter, Via Lincoln, has at least 20 -- but it is easy to know you are in the right place. On the desk in the office beside the workshop, there is an FAI media guide and a pennant from an Ireland game hangs from the wall.

He has used this place as a retreat for longer than that. "He is at home here; after difficult moments he can get some tranquillity here," Claudio says.

The FAI came here, Claudio says, to sign the contracts and it is here that Trap conducts interviews as well as watching DVDs.

"He has the same passion now as when he was managing Juventus, Internazionale or the Italian team," Claudio says.

They have seen him through all these times in this garage, the elimination from World Cups and European Championships when Italy looked for answers and scapegoats.

These people, his friends, sheltered him through those storms. Sometimes they look at him and wonder if he will take it easy, unwind but they know the answer, know that the melancholy from a bad result or a bad draw will quickly be replaced by enthusiasm.

"His friends would love to see him a bit calmer but it is impossible," Claudio laughs.

They know now that he will not change. He is stubborn and passionate, loyal and committed to this area and to the philosophy he learned here.

"When he was young he wasn't a super-talented footballer so to get where he was he had to work a lot," says Claudio. "He worked hard when he was a kid and he has passed on that philosophy to his children."

If Alex Ferguson learned about loyalty in Govan, Trapattoni discovered the principles of his life in the hearts of these men. "After the war here, it was very hard and that is the world he grew up in.

"He will always have passion, that is why people love him," Claudio says. "For people to love you, you have to give."

* * * * *

As he travels around Ireland, Trapattoni hasn't stopped giving. There is one more gift he would like to present to the people: If Ireland qualify for the World Cup, he will again have proved that his philosophy is timeless.

On the wall of Mariu's, one newspaper cutting has edged in among the pictures. It is a story from a November 2000 edition of Corriere della Serra when Trapattoni was Italy manager. 'How does one become a Trap?' the headline asks. The answer is there too: 'Work, work and never give up.'

Trapattoni knew the answer long ago and in Cusano Milanino they wouldn't even see the point in asking the question.

Sunday Independent

The Left Wing - RWC Daily: End of an era as Ireland say sayonara to World Cup

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport