The weird and wacky world of Raymond Domenech
In the build-up to tomorrow's vital World Cup play-off against France motivation shouldn't be too much of a problem but, if anything, the opposition have been making Giovanni Trapattoni's task that much easier.
A French TV channel pulling a stunt where they interrupted a training session by portraying Irish fans as drunken, baying eejits (Heaven forfend!) was one thing, but that's a mere blip compared to what's been coming from the coach of Les Bleus.
Not only has Raymond Domenech insulted our standing by refusing to insist on the release of his Real Madrid players from a cup match in midweek, but he then went on to suggest that the Republic were nothing more than an England B-team. Pin that quote up on a dressing room wall and see what reaction you get.
Judging by his previous form, Domenech isn't so much a devotee of man management as mad management.
Even aside from his spats with Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, David Trezeguet and, more recently, the wonderfully talented Karim Benzema, who stated that playing for France was a bit of a pain to be honest, Domenech has taken eccentricity to new levels.
Being an amateur dramatist and keen poker player may well be charming quirks but when someone allows astrology to affect their team selection, then you'd have to question the sanity of the French FA in allowing such a person to take charge of one of the most successful countries of recent years.
This is a man who, when asked if a player's star sign affected his chances of appearing in a squad replied, 'Marginally, at the end of the selection process when it is a question of choosing between players of equal ability'. And if your birthday happens to fall between October 24 and November 21 then you're screwed.
"I am not superstitious, it brings bad luck" Raymond Domenech
Domenech has a particular aversion to picking Scorpios for his squads, referring to them as (and I'm paraphrasing somewhat here) feckless, unreliable, troublesome, pleasure-obsessed attention-seekers and, speaking as a Scorpio who shares his birthday with Ian Wright and Dwight Yorke, I find that a monstrous slur.
Astrology aside, the manager's method of dealing with media flak is also somewhat unique. After France had been sent packing from Euro 2008 by a particularly underwhelming Italy side, he somehow deflected attention from his side's wretched performance in the tournament by appearing on a programme on the M6 channel, co-hosted by Estelle Denis, and proceeded to announce: 'I have only one project: to marry Estelle, which is what I'm asking her today,' before bursting into tears live on air.
Now, you'd have to admit that there's a certain warped genius at work there, and one can only picture a similar situation, say, after the 5-2 debacle in Cyprus whereby Steve Staunton dealt with a media mob baying for blood by revealing his unrequited passion for Tony O'Donoghue and suggesting a nice weekend away in Courtown or Tramore.
"You always lose when your opponents score and you don't"
There have always been eccentrics at large among the management fraternity. Many of the best of them turned their quirks to their favour while getting on with the task in hand.
The late Brian Clough projected an aura of supreme confidence -- once declaring "They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that particular job" -- whereas Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest footballer ever, comes across like a petulant, bothersome child, exasperating his players in Argentina's recent World Cup campaign by cancelling morning training sessions because he himself doesn't like to get out of bed before noon.
Jack Charlton didn't like playing games in March, Alf Ramsey hated playing in Scotland (arriving in Glasgow for a game in 1968 he was greeted at Pretwick Airport by a Scottish hack with "Welcome to Scotland, Mr Ramsey", to which he replied, "You must be f****** joking"), while the much-travelled Bora Milutinovic (who managed Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Nigeria and China in World Cup finals) could reply to a question about his players having sex the night before a game with the snappy, "I don't have a problem with that, it's the staying out 'til four in the morning looking for it that causes the trouble".
All well and good but, as far as I can recall, none of them was ever reluctant to pick Leos for their teams on the basis that "they always seem to try something daft". Ah yes, that Alan Shearer never stopped trying to do mad stuff.
Keep it up Raymond, you're doing a grand job.