Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Divorce Papers: Where It All Went Wrong For Trapattoni and Ireland

Hired in 2008, the first well-established, respected manager to take the job as manager of the Republic of Ireland football team, Giovanni Trapattoni was supposed to be the man to lead us out of the shambolic Staunton era and into the new modern age of hope and prosperity. Five years later and his incredible levels of unpopularity among Irish sports fans are exceeded only by the likes of Thierry Henry and Warren Gatland. So how and why did it all go wrong for 'Il Trap'?

Staunton was always going to be a tough act to follow...

Giovanni Trapattoni as a player was nothing more than average. He played as a defensive midfielder in a successful Milan team which won European Cups in 1963 and 1969. His role was that of the typical purely defensive midfielder: simply to chase down players and win the ball in his own half before quickly laying it off to the more talented individuals in the team and let them worry about attacking. A disciplined defensive mentality was obvious to see, something that he would carry on into his managerial career.

As a manager he coached the three biggest teams in Italy (Juventus twice and both Milan clubs) and also had spells with Bayern Munich and Benfica among others. His record is actually rather impressive. Ten league titles across four countries including six Italian titles. Add to this three Uefa Cups, one Cup Winners Cup (remember that!) and one European Cup, clinched in the most awful circumstances on a tragic night in Heysel in 1985 where 39 Juventus fans died as a result of crowd trouble prior to kick-off. Having also coached the national side, he is considered one of the most successful managers in Italian football history.

Going by numbers, Trapattoni has to be considered one of the all-time managerial greats right? So why have the fans of Ireland, a country currently ranked a lowly 44th in the world and one that has only qualified for three world cups in its history, been calling for his head for the best part of two years now?

His attitude towards his job in Ireland has been pathetic. He rarely, if ever goes to games in England where the majority of his players play. His training methods have been called out-dated and pre-historic by some. His man-management skills are virtually non existent. I truly doubt he has ever seen this job as anything other than quick and easy pay-day before sailing off into retirement. He'll be 75 when his current contract with the FAI ends and on a reported €1.5m a year for about 40 days work.

What do you mean Whelan got injured?

His first campaign saw Ireland drawn with Bulgaria, Montenegro and his home nation of Italy, in an attempt to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Ireland got through this group undefeated with four wins (home and away to Cyprus and Georgia) and six draws against the other three teams. Not bad, although some of the games were beyond dour. Ireland advanced to the playoffs and lost out by the narrowest of margins in Paris in what, due to Henry-gate, is often overlooked as the best Irish performance over recent times.

Off the field, problems that weren't there before began to appear. Trapattoni had a very public falling out with Andy Reid before his first game with Georgia and subsequently froze out the man who, at the time, was considered one of the most talented players available to Ireland. He refused to make any sort of real effort to recall Stephen Ireland, who at the time at Manchester City was developing into one of the best players in England. Instead he stubbornly refused to budge and persisted with the extremely defensive central midfield pairing of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews. 

Andy Reid was the first to get the axe

Another player Trapattoni managed to isolate was Steven Reid. Reid has had some well documented injury problems throughout his career and Trapattoni took it upon himself to publicly question whether or not he would ever be able to recover from them. Not exactly the kind of comments you'd expect to hear from your national team manager. Reid was right to be outraged. To his utmost credit he has been entirely professional about it and still made himself available for selection although it is unlikely he will ever pull on the green jersey again. He remains an active Premier League footballer with West Brom.

The bizarre selection policy continued. He refused to pick James McCarthy to the point where the Scottish born midfielder was reportedly on the verge of switching allegiances and declaring for his homeland. He continuously ignored calls for James McClean to be called up, despite him taking the Premier League by storm. All the while he persisted with Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield. The same Glenn Whelan who had been uncapped and relatively unheard of until 2008 was now the driving force behind this Irish midfield in Trapattoni's eyes. A man who couldn't even nail down a regular place with Stoke City was the linchpin of Trapattoni's Ireland.

Ireland managed to qualify for the European Championships in 2012. This was in no small part down to a favourable group (Armenia finished 3rd) and and even more generous playoff draw. The un-fancied Estonia being all that stood between Ireland and a first major championship appearance in ten years. The championships were a different story and the luck of the Irish finally ran out as Trapattoni's men were drawn with Italy, Croatia and reigning World and European champions Spain. Interestingly, Italy and Spain would go on to contest the final. Ireland finished with three losses out of three games and a goal difference of -8. Statistically, by far the worst team in the tournament.

Irish dreams turned to nightmares in Poland

Not even the most ambitious of fans could have expected Ireland to do much in this tournament but it was the general sense of negativity and refusal to change tactics or players which irked most fans during the tournament. Trapattoni, rewarded prior to the chamionships with a brand new contract until 2014, picked the same starting XI for each of the three games and only used sixteen of his twenty-three man squad. This despite having a dead rubber of a game against Italy to wrap up the group stage. Typically these sort of games are used to give reserve players the chance to experience playing in a major tournament.

To go along with this  he mercilessly cut Kevin Foley from the squad on the eve of the tournament, further enraging the Irish fans. Foley was dropped from the Irish squad following the pre-tournament training camp in favour of Paul McShane. Being dropped at the last minute is one thing. Being dropped for Paul McShane is another thing altogether. Yes, he really is that bad. Foley, quite rightly vowed never to play for the manager again. As did Darron Gibson having seen Paul Green used ahead of him as a substitute against Spain.

Moving into the 2014 World Cup campaign and very little changed. Ireland opened with an unconvincing 2-1 win in Kazakhstan followed by an abysmal 1-6 capitulation at home to Germany which led to the calls for the managers head growing louder than ever. A week later he received a vote of confidence from the FAI with a clear message that he would see out the remainder of this campaign.

Now this campaign is effectively over. Ireland lost at home again, this time to Sweden on Friday night. Trapattoni has to take the blame for this one I'm afraid. Using two substitutes the whole game, playing Simon Cox (a striker) on the wing again, leaving Wes Holohan and Robbie Brady (a winger) on the bench for the whole game, more and more additions to his catalogue of managerial negligence and ineptitude.

Our captain sees his last last shot at a World Cup disappear

If he has a shred of decency or self-respect left, Trapattoni should walk away of his own accord after the Austria game on Tuesday. However he is as likely to do this as he is to field a moderately attacking line-up for the game. The FAI won't pay him off and he will remain in charge for the final two games, with his even less desire to win than before. I'm not saying Ireland are Spain, a team of creative geniuses, but we do have better players on the bench than on the pitch. Better players at home refusing to play. As a nation, we are capable of more than this and the fans themselves deserve more than what they've been given lately.

Martin O'Neil looks to be the fan favourite for the job and would be my pick at this time. I think international management would suit him. He has a history of getting the best out of limited options at club level. His media-friendly personality would also endear him to players and fans alike. But knowing the FAI whoever asks for the least money is the prime candidate for the job. Thankfully, the last days of the Trapattoni era are finally here. Rejoice.


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