herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Time is up for Trap

Ireland's embattled boss out of excuses and ideas

ROY KEANE is just a smokescreen and a very handy one indeed for Giovanni Trapattoni and the FAI. The issue is Ireland and where this Italian manager is taking the team.

The issue is his squad, the players in it and whether he has lost their trust. All the indications suggest that this is the case and that the time is right for the FAI to move on.

If the worst happens tonight against Italy, and there is absolutely no reason to feel that it won't, the issue will be about money and how many fans will bother to turn up at Lansdowne Road.

In another newspaper today, Mick McCarthy talks about the biggest mistake he made in his time, which was to hang around after Saipan. There's a lesson in that for Trapattoni.

McCarthy's words carry weight and represent a man who has had time to think about the past in a more humble way than Trapattoni has ever done.

Or Roy Keane, for that matter, who is writing for a Murdoch operation which is only too delighted to have the fieriest Irishman of his generation making noise.

There isn't a newspaper, Irish or English, who wouldn't want Keane as a columnist and he chose badly, even if the pay is pretty good.

It is clear that Keane has been taken out of context and was simply reaffirming his long held belief that moral victories should be consigned to history, and that winning a singing competition has nothing whatsoever to do with a professional football team fighting for points and credibility on the highest stage.

Embarrassing

In his set-piece pre-match interview, Trapattoni dismissed Keane's criticisms and threw around a few disparaging remarks about him in his native tongue for his Italian media buddies.

They giggled and laughed and did what they have done a few times on this trip; looked down their Roman noses at the gawky Irish who should be down on their hands and knees thanking the stars that they are lucky enough to be guided by one of their saints.

They clapped him into the room, which was pretty embarrassing for all the journalists working on this game, especially since he is certifiably the worst coach on view in the tournament to date and there is a strong possibility that by the time the dust has settled tonight, he will be the worst coach in the history of the competition.

Trapattoni chose to sail above such frivolities and talk about the past and a great deal about Italy.

To be fair, he was asked a lot of questions about Italy, arguably the most corrupt football nation on the planet, and two or three dealt what Trapattoni clearly believes was a Scandinavian stitch-up in Portugal when Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2 and dumped Italy out of the Euro 2004 tournament.

Yet the subtext among Italian journalists here is the hope that Trapattoni will do Italy a favour and ease back on the throttle for this game. Some were even happy to discuss it openly.

The double standard is obvious and not exclusive to Italian supporters. Nobody turns down a favour in football.

Our Italian friends should not worry, though. There may be some residual hunger among Ireland's battered players to make a stand for the boys in green but with Cesare Prandelli gunning for points and goals if he can get them, everyone should brace themselves for another long night.

Trapattoni claimed that the game was about honour and on two fronts.

Firstly, in terms of the credibility of the competition, and secondly, in the context of Ireland's wish to take something away from the tournament apart from bad, bad memories.

Yet he then named the same team which started against Croatia in the first ill-fated involvement in the Euro 2012 finals, and suddenly his assertion that he would pick a few replacements to signal the beginning of a new era went out the window.

Which brings us back to Keane and his perfectly reasonable suggestion that the game against Italy should be about Ireland's future and not about Trapattoni's past or UEFA.

Whatever Keane said about fans and singing is all so much hot air. Fans will do what fans will do but it should be pointed out that the singing of The Fields of Athenry on the night Spain destroyed Trapattoni's system was a lament for the end of any romantic notions the same supporters had about what Ireland might achieve in this tournamen, not support for the manager.

Most who understand the game knew that Ireland would struggle to get out of the group and struggle against Spain.

But there was a reasonable expectation that some sort of resistance would be offered to Croatia and not the disastrous collapse we saw in Poznan a week ago.

Fallout

The fallout has been remarkable in many ways.

The sight of Trapattoni sitting beside captain Robbie Keane and temporary skipper Damien Duff, who will lead Ireland out against Italy on the occasion of his 100th cap, two men he accused just 24 hours earlier of lacking leadership, was unsettling.

Always, when the pressure hits home, chinks appear in the united front all managers try to project and there is now much more than a trickle of discontent leaking out of the camp about many aspects of Ireland's preparation.

The word is some senior players will definitely retire if he stays in charge, and the most worrying names being bandied about are Richard Dunne and Shay Given.

Trapattoni has also alienated many different players during his four years and even within his squad, there are several men have been given more than enough reason to complain.

Kevin Doyle has been treated disgracefully.

Stephen Hunt has had a raw deal too, and Stephen Kelly can feel very frustrated indeed that he hasn't had a chance to play by now.

But they are good soldiers and have showed more loyalty than their manager by keeping their thoughts to themselves when they might have whinged.

How bad must they feel now after Trapattoni ripped up the contract between manager and squad and hung his players out to dry not once, but twice over the last three days.

The squad is broken and if Trapattoni remains, he will only make things worse.

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