herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Trap stature is stained

Gio hung his players out to dry last night and game doesn't need another two years of him

GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI has nothing left he can do for Ireland. The problem now is whether the FAI can afford to withdraw gracefully from another two years of stagnation.

Last night, we saw a football team filled to the brim with brilliance rip Trapattoni's system to shreds and inflict Ireland's worst defeat in competitive football in 41 years.

Trapattoni likes to dwell often on his long list of garlands and laurels and because he had the CV to prove it, we absorbed the mild insults he handed out when his system was called into question.

But the 4-0 beating his team took last night from Spain and the way he reacted to it afterwards will be a stain on his reputation forever.

He has always had class and panache but he showed very little of either when he sat down in the same seat Vicente del Bosque occupied just a few minutes earlier and hung his players out to dry.

Maybe he was more than half right. Maybe Ireland's top players froze in the arc light glare of Spain's magnificence but he shouldn't have said it.

LOYALTY

He owed it to the men he stitched together into a team, the players he picked to play against Spain and the rest sitting patiently on the bench to show them respect and loyalty.

Instead, he told us that they were afraid and that something had happened between qualification in Estonia and that opening calamity against Croatia. Something had changed.

He said he would ask them why this had happened and in that sentence hung himself out to dry.

Trapattoni is paid a quite astonishing amount of money to know the answer to that question before it even arises.

It is his job to make absolutely sure that he has the true measure of the temperature and attitude of his players down to the finest detail and reach conclusions about who should play and who should not.

"The players can play with their eyes shut. That is my guarantee," he said a few weeks ago and he was right but not in the way he envisaged.

From his own words, he was happy that he was seeing the required spirit and enthusiasm from his players throughout the preparation phase.

It can be said without the possibility of contradiction that he was wrong, spectacularly wrong about that assessment.

His players were skittish and disorganised against Croatia and paid the price. Against Spain they were reduced to frustration and impotence, coached to the point of brainwashing in a system which simply could not cope with the pressure created by accurate passing.

That is the essence of Spain's brilliance. They always find feet, no matter how fast the interchange or how exotic the process when players like Alonso, Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets move the ball around. There is always a target and a recipient.

It is the game at its simplest played by lavishly talented footballers and against Trapattoni's dogged dogma, was both dismissive and devastating.

The system is Trapattoni's and it failed, as it has done against any team with a half decent playmaker and some imagination.

The players failed too. Richard Dunne will never have a worse game for Ireland again and there were horror shows all over the pitch.

But it was much worse beside the dugout where the root of the problem was standing, chin jutting and hugely magnified on the stadium screens, a picture of stoic suffering.

Trapattoni should have a long look in the mirror before he conducts his inquest because if anything changed during the last few weeks, it was almost certainly down to the fact that his authority was undermined by some of his own actions.

The Kevin Foley affair was unnecessarily cruel if pragmatic. He was a very popular player within the squad.

But it was Trapattoni's intemperate initial reaction to a disturbing draw in Budapest which really rang alarm bells. That and Aiden McGeady's suggestion that heavy legs would get heavier if Trapattoni had more work in mind when the team arrived in Sopot first.

He performed a full U-turn and then made a virtue out of idleness cutting back from high intensity work in Montecatini to virtually no work at all from that point on.

He, above all, should be certain and show as much to his players. But he lost his temper in Budapest and had to back pedal fast after a "chat" with his players.

Most damaging of all, he failed to properly address the issue raised by Russia's easy demolition of his system and ploughed on regardless.

The culmination of that disregard came in Gdansk last night and the only consolation to be drawn was that a team of giants squashed Ireland underfoot.

After the game, Trapattoni didn't stop at questioning his players' character. He spoke about how only "three or four" of his players played in the Premier League and that the rest were Championship performers.

Sean St Ledger was the only Championship player on show. The rest play in the Premier League and most of them every week, Simon Cox the obvious exception.

The man who insists he looks after the fine details has clearly missed some pretty big ones.

He threw in another beauty about knowing his players' limits, a suggestion that maybe they are not good enough to do better than qualify.

And then the tin hat. The future is James McClean. He never even warmed up in Poznan but this time Trapattoni threw him on, a bit of grandstanding and a provisional ball in case of heavy incoming.

Asked about whether such a bad beating would change his future plans, he ignored what was a clear question about his own intentions and dangled McClean aloft as the way forward.



UNDERSTANDING

"I think this evening, you've already got an idea of how we can try (to move on). James McClean. It was not the best time to bring him on but when a player does come on in situations like this, it will help him understand what it is like; that international football is not club football, not like English football."

Remember, this is a player he would have left at home if Keith Fahey and James McCarthy hadn't missed the plane.

It would be easy to accept what Trapattoni has been saying in one way or other for four years that Ireland's best players are not really up to it and leave him at it because in our heart of hearts his words ring true.

But a team of Gary Breens reached the round of sixteen in Japan/Korea without Roy Keane and entertained us royally along the way.

Do we really need another two years of harsh, colourless football and then the inevitable car crash in Rio de Janeiro?

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