Tuesday, 16 October 2012

We're Caught in a Trap - We Can't Go on Together | Trapattoni and Ireland

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 15: Manager Giovann...
DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 15: Manager Giovanni Trapattoni of Republic of Ireland congratulates Robbie Keane after qualification during the EURO 2012 Qualifier Play Off Second Leg match between Republic of Ireland and Estonia at Aviva Stadium on November 15, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Win, lose or draw tonight, the FAI look like it has accepted that Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni is in his final days as boss of the senior soccer team. That may not be the position the FAI held in the aftermath of Friday's 1-6 drubbing by a classy German side, but the events of Saturday and Sunday have changed all that.
 
So far, and as usual, the FAI and John Delaney have made no formal comment to the media. Instead, Trapattoni has been left to get on with dealing with a growing disorganised and disillusioned Ireland squad. This came to a head late Saturday following a heated exchange between Stephen Kelly and Marco Tardelli, with the Irish senior player making it clear he wanted no further part of the ensuing shambles and was bailing for the door and leaving a vacant seat on the jet to Torshavn. Once again, Kelly, like several other senior players in the squad, felt he was being passed over and was simply making up the numbers. There is a growing feeling reported in media quarters, since the Euro 2012 debacle, that they no longer believe Trapattoni has the flexibility to adapt any new system. The players openly speak off the record about their distaste about Trapattoni's view of the Irish players' 'limitations' while insisting on deploying a system that encourages no leadership or freedom to play.

Tardelli and Trapattoni encouraged returning Robbie Keane to exert more of his influence on the squad and get Kelly back on board. It's notable in the recent two matches that Keane is becoming more vocal an instrument for the management team, yet evermore isolated from the rest of the senior squad. Maybe the veteran striker came a lot closer to hanging up his international boots over the summer than we think. Keane did his bit on Sunday and Kelly was safely on the plane, but don't expect to see him introduced during the match.
 
Darron Gibson informed Trapattoni after Euro 2012 that he was still hurting from the manner of Ireland's exit and did not wish to be considered for international selection for a period of time. Gibson was used to regularly missing out in the starting eleven at Manchester United and all the politics and arguments which occur at a high-pressure club between players and manager, ultimately choosing to move to Everton to attain regular competitive football. Maybe Gibson's international hibernation was a sign he knew more about where the Ireland international set-up was headed with the current wave of player dissatisfaction, gnashing of supporters' teeth and recriminations. He, unlike Shane Long, chose the quieter club life and let the international rabble get on with it and work the differences and changes out in the wash.
 
What is becoming clear to the FAI is that no matter what cycle and spin is programmed into the washer - the clothes are going to emerge still soiled every time. Leaving Trapattoni to soldier on in a Milan Mist of DVD's while pulling one of the most expensive international wage bills in Europe is a spent cause, and sooner or later, the FAI will have to act and extract themselves from this mess. Denis O’Brien’s money may have opened the door to hosting one of the biggest managerial names in club football over nearly three decades, but it may also be the key to cutting Trapattoni and his staff loose following the trip to Torshavn. Whatever the media might have reported, and the understandable kneejerk reaction of Ireland supporters to last Friday’s result against the Germans; the Trap was not for turning on an Irish tuppence and an exit before the trip to the Faroe Isles was never on the cards. Indeed, Trapattoni’s reticence has at least bought time and space behind closed doors for the FAI to privately group and take soundings within the association. There is no doubt FAI officials were impressed with the scouting abilities of Eoin Hand, Johnny Giles and Ray Houghton to produce and recommend an experienced hand like Trapattoni, but some officials did baulk at the salary and expressed reservations about the FAI funding an expensive and risky managerial project. With the financial backing of Denis O’Brien, like him or loathe him, John Delaney pulled off perhaps his greatest masterstroke in all his time at Abbotstown.
 
Indeed, Delaney has presided over the FAI during its time of greatest development and despite his ‘down the pub having a few beers with the fans’ persona, he is a shrewd and sturdy businessman, while remaining passionate about football. Had Delaney chosen the bigger football business across the water, I’m convinced he would have had equal success at the helm of a big British club. I met Delaney about a year and a half ago boarding a flight to Amsterdam from Dublin. There were no airs or graces about him and he sat happily chatting to fellow passengers for most of the flight. And, yet, in that one hour fifteen minutes, he exuded affability and shrewdness, while still playing his football cards—like a schoolboy in a schoolyard—close to his chest. John does like to be liked among supporters and football men. It was no surprise to read Richard Sadlier recounting an occasion—around the time of Delaney’s trip to Amsterdam—of Delaney happily showing Sadlier a text from Trapattoni supporting the then under pressure CEO. It’s nice to be liked and I’ve no doubt for a time the FAI believed all its Christmases had come at once with the capture of Trapattoni. The devil—even in the sweetest deals—is always in the detail.
 
The core requirement for Trapattoni was to qualify Ireland for a major tournament. Come Euro 2012—job done. The FAI committed to an expensive punt on Trapattoni, and I do believe they made the right choice at the time. The Italian instilled attitude and organisation in a side ripped apart by the schoolboy management of Steve Staunton. We returned to something of the old Charlton war cry of ‘we shall not be beaten’. Again, only the occasional loss blighted Trapattoni’s copybook, but in the melee of managers, from McCarthy, Kerr, Staunton, through to Trapattoni, we forgot what winning meant, and in modern football, qualification for a major tournament can send a team quite a way without ever chalking up a win of any real significance or meaning. Trapattoni seemed to grasp that reality—that with limited talent you could still go quite a way, and the Irish job suited his needs a lot better than it has proved to suit Irish international football needs. The blueprint for Trapattoni would be emulating Greece’s Euro 2004 exploits; winning one nil was as good as winning ten nil. Irish international football was at an all-time low and in a depressive haze we were all culpable in accepting results over performance; qualification over non-qualification; discipline over development; the ugly over the beautiful.
 
The truth is—man for man, woman for woman, supporter for supporter, pundit for pundit—we are all guilty of the laziness and greed levelled at Trapattoni’s door. At least Trapattoni can argue he got paid well for doing it. We forgot that there are quite a few steps to football heaven, and there is no guarantee you will past through the gates when you get there. Some might argue that Abramovich’s millions bought Chelsea’s fast track to Premiership and Champions league success. There is no fast track to success in international football. You play the hand you are dealt and strengthening your hand means years of investment in youth programmes, a sustainable domestic league, and a structure which allows the best players to flourish and develop through to the international teams—by whatever channel. While Ireland is not in a unique football position, our best players will always come from the English leagues, and even an Irish club qualifying for a UEFA or Champion’s League group place every other year is not going to change anything. Despite Brian Kerr’s football foundations, passion and belief in Irish domestic football, even he grew to understand that you need your best international players playing regularly and rubbing shoulders with fellow internationals week-in, week-out.
 
In November 2011, Trapattoni filled his brief as international boss. Remarkably, and some would argue with an extraordinary lump of Irish luck, he achieved it without a single competitive Irish victory over a top-ranked nation. Our biggest win came against Estonia in the first of two play-off matches. Like all supporters, we joined hands and prayed to God we would draw Estonia in the play-offs that Friday afternoon when Platini and company juggled balls in glass bowls. Deep down we all witnessed what the Russians did to us in the group. We witnessed the Slovaks fall apart in their last three qualifying matches. We knew Armenia had left it too late to surge in the group. Jesus, we knew deep down even Staunton would have had a decent go of getting us out of Group B. We believed we were blessed by the hands of the football gods and like a bent poker player at a casino hoped we wouldn’t get found out when the time ran out and the lights came on.
 
The lights did come on seven months later and we got found out. This time there were no results against Estonia, Macedonia or Armenia to hide behind. We got found out—badly—and it hurt more than if we had not made it to Euro 2012. This was like the mischievous schoolboy thinking he had just gotten away with another prank before the headmaster hauled him up in front of the school assembly at nine in the morning. A famous Norwegian commentator exclaimed many years ago, at the end of an England international: “Your boys got a hell of a beating.”
 
I’ve heard almost all of the pseudo excuses over the past few days in regards to the result and performance against Germany—that we were missing so many players; that Germany are so much better than us; that Ireland don’t have the players. It is—to coin the word, clap-Trap. Some people like to proffer arguments in isolation, adopting clichéd excuses they’ve heard used by someone else with a more perceived knowledge. Trapattoni selected almost all the players he wanted for Euro 2012, and played, bar one or two players carrying knocks, the starting eleven he wanted. The German side who played the Faroe Islands a few weeks ago (3-0) was the same side who beat Ireland 6-1. The difference is the German team knew the Faroe Islands would finish bottom of our group and as long as they left the field with three points—that’s all that mattered. It did matter to them how well they performed and how much they beat Ireland because Ireland could be in the final group shake-up. You can accept they don’t know believe that. When Sweden—who got out of jail last Friday against the Faroe Islands—play Germany tonight, you won’t see them capitulate 1-6.
 
The game is up. Delaney and the FAI know it whatever result Ireland carve out tonight. The senior players have also let the FAI know the game is up—some by their attitude and some by their continued absence or threatened absence. The supporters know it and the FAI know the supporters are one faction they cannot financially survive without. There has already been a degree of number-crunching carried out over the past few days if we are to believe the murmurings from behind closed doors at the FAI. The FAI has been silent on any official statement and that is understandable with a competitive fixture still to be played. You can bet Seniore Trapattoni will be asked to stay behind after class this week before he jets back to his Milan abode. One rumour briefly doing the rounds over the weekend was the possibility that Marco Tardelli would be asked to take full reign until next September—lessening the financial impact the FAI would suffer with a full departure of the current regime, but the events surrounding Stephen Kelly—a player much liked and respected within the FAI—and an assurance that Denis O’Brien is prepared to remain onboard for the future (if the FAI act swiftly), appears to have put pay to any gradual transition to a new management team in place by late next year.
 
For the coming hours a great deal of responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Robbie Keane (perhaps unfairly) to rally the team, keep the peace between management and players, and help secure three points that leaves Ireland’s head above water in the group. Only the foolish ever believed Ireland would be competing for top spot in this group after their Euro debacle of the summer, including the players, but they too must already be irked that after just two games, the management team have already conceded this psychological ground. The greatest hurt for them is that they are trapped (ahem) in a system and attitude which continues to limit what they are allowed do on the field of play. In essence, we have a manager asking players to believe—except the players now realise this belief is in a system and mentality and not in them as players. No matter how committed or passionate a player is when it comes to playing for his country—he must at least believe he is more than a peg in a hole.
 
The only thing that has changed in the past six months is that the players no longer believeTrapattoni, and the manager has made it clear that there is nothing they can do about it. However, tonight is one opportunity for the players to prove they are better than the system employed. If they really don’t care for Trapattoni anymore, then this is the time to show it and play their game and express themselves as players.
 
Win, lose or draw, this is one competitive fixture where the performance above the result will decide the future for several senior players, regardless of who is managing the side come Austria and Sweden next year.
 
For Trapattoni, his fate may have been sealed over the past few days. Again, referring to Richard Sadlier’s piece in the Irish Independent over the weekend; there is no football association anywhere—at least worth their football salts—that would have allowed their national manager run the team from a Milan apartment, relying on a pile of DVD’s and a few words of broken English. Truthfully, you’d be expected to do more running a Sunday football side. But then we too—as supporters—shared the dreams of Sunday footballers when the Trap picked up the phone all those years ago and asked us to believe.
 
Come to think of it, he never really did tell us what exactly it was we were supposed to be believe in…
 
We're caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby
 
Why can't you see
What you're doing to me
When you don't believe a word I say?
 
We can't go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can't build our dreams
On suspicious minds
 
ELVIS PRESLEY - SUSPICIOUS MINDS    

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1 comment:

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