herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Trap needs to unite troops

TO the victor the spoils. Giovanni Trapattoni's words carry that bit of extra weight now. He knows better than anyone that you can't beat results.

As wins pile up, reservations are diluted and even if it is still valid to question some of his habits, it is unreasonable to resist the temptation to hope that Trapattoni will get us to the Euro 2012 finals.

It's odd that a good win over Macedonia and three points was celebrated with some reticence while Tuesday night's ambush of the Azzuri made everyone feel an inch taller for a few hours.

SWAGGER

Maybe it's fact that yet again, an Irish team has made the Italians stagger, not swagger, and that for a brief moment on a quiet night in the calendar, the football world tuned in and saw something unusual and impressive.

But a more reasonable explanation is that Ireland have won six out of seven games this year so far and conceded just four while scoring 17 goals. Five wins were at home and two away. Italy were the cream on top.

That kind of form carried Jack Charlton to the stars a couple of decades ago and Mick McCarthy to the World Cup in 2002.

Up until now, however, good home form has been the missing link for Trapattoni, who is unbeaten in competitive games on the road.

Even the home fixture against Macedonia caused much squeaking of bums, but the Nations Cup got the ball rolling and Trapattoni surfed the momentum with his players.

Ironically, his success leaves the FAI in a bind. His contract situation remains unresolved and almost certainly will stay that way for the foreseeable future, but in the past, Mick McCarthy was given a new contract long before qualification and against common sense.

Trapattoni would have some justification for thinking that he is being given much less rope than McCarthy was and in his world, six wins out of seven and parity with Russia and Slovakia with four games left in a qualifying campaign, is a good enough reason to open negotiations.

But he is also realistic and he saw for himself the empty swathes of green seats in the Aviva. He must fill them with winning football or the FAI will move on.

This is life as he would say himself and he understands it. He meets the inevitability of criticism with good humour and a bit of class. He can still work the room like a pro.

With that in mind, cynics might ponder the whole ‘no shows' saga and wonder did Trapattoni fasten onto a way to generate some ‘wrap the green flag around me’ passion in his players when the last day of the season produced a last-minute few beeps on a mobile phone and eliminated James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Jon Walters from the squad.

It certainly seemed to galvanise the players, although in a not entirely healthy way.

After Robbie Keane spoke to the squad and then the media about national pride and commitment, more senior players weighed in behind him to add their voices to the clamour.

It was unnecessary if heartfelt. There is now a clear division between the bulk of the squad and a small group of mostly young declarees and certainly in the case of McCarthy, this is most unfair.

It is the simple fact that McCarthy has had to cope with an extraordinary amount of abuse in Scotland for three years and pressure from within Wigan to switch back to Scotland which makes Trapattoni's position so odd.

The probability is that McCarthy has no issue with the shirt. Just the manager. At least Trapattoni has stated his intention to make absolutely sure that proper contact is established between all parties and that the lines of communication which were clearly absent in the last month are open and humming in the run-up to the friendly against Croatia in August.

Presumably, contrition of some description will be required, although such an opportunity was denied Andy Reid. Trapattoni said yesterday that he has never singled out a player for punishment unless the sin was one of “bad manners”. So now you know Andy. It would be a very good idea indeed if Keane or Shay Given or perhaps best of all, Alan Kelly, took a trip to see McCarthy for a man-to-man chat. Find out what the problem is and resolve it rather than leave it to fester and reappear when all the focus should be on points.

DIVISION

Kelly is a remarkable man and the unsung hero of Trap's team. He was perpetual motion during the last three weeks; coaching the 'keepers, working the dugout, relaying instructions and acting as a bridge to the players.

He is the heart of the Ireland management team and has the respect of everyone. Better than that, he's growing in his new range of functions.

There is plenty of time over the next six weeks to mend fences and present a united front instead of a potentially acrimonious build-up to Croatia, pencilled in for August 10, just three days before the Premier League season starts. Good luck with that Giovanni and keep your phone handy.

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