Arrivederci Trapattoni

Eoghan Dalton looks at where it all went wrong for former Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

64 games, 26 victories and three qualifying campaigns later, Giovanni Trapattoni is no longer Republic of Ireland manager. The 74-year old Italian and his assistant Marco Tardelli parted company with the FAI “by mutual consent” last month in the wake of Ireland’s defeat in Austria, which effectively ended any hope of qualifying for the Brazil World Cup next summer.

When Trapattoni first landed the job in 2008, the vast majority of Irish supporters were elated; after all, the other main candidate was Paul Jewell, an inexperienced manager on the international stage who opted for a return to the club game instead.

Ireland’s first qualifying campaign with Trapattoni at the helm was for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Considering previous failures under Steve Staunton, the team did well; a second place finish in a group including Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Montenegro and Georgia, as well as remaining unbeaten was viewed in a relatively positive light by the Irish faithful. We all know what happened next in the play-off against France, and it’s pointless (not to mention painful) to revisit Thierry Henry’s handball here.

However, there were signs in Trapattoni’s team selections and in the way he set up his stall game after game that allowed for a hint of frustration to creep in amongst players, pundits and supporters alike.  Ireland’s tally of twelve goals in ten games was disappointing compared to the teams around them, despite almost having a defence as reliable as Italy’s.  Trapattoni ’s insistence on a rigid structure led to him using functional players who lacked individuality and that unique quality to unlock the opponents back four. Robotic players such as Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews were preferred to the likes James McCarthy, Darron Gibson and Steven Reid.

Debatable team selections continued for the rest of Trapattoni’s reign. The Irish were competent in qualifying for Euro 2012, dispatching teams such as Estonia, Slovakia and Armenia; not necessarily the strongest of teams in Europe’s heartland, but the draw was kind to them. The real problem this time came when we got to Poland. One goal scored, nine against and three out of three losses (need I say embarrassing).  The team appeared to lack ideas, with no Plan B or Plan C and deserved each beating. The fans were the only ones to come away with any glory in the end, with UEFA consoling them with an award for their undivided support as renditions of the Fields of Athenry detracted from the team’s lacklustre performances on the field.

Trapattoni attempted to alter his tactics for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, but to no avail. There has been only one home victory to date, while the only teams that have succumbed to Ireland so far have been Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands (minnows in European football). We can no longer pride ourselves on having stalwarts in defence, with thirteen goals in eight games to date confirming that.

Trapattoni ’s rigid tactics weren’t the only reason he fell out of favour in the Irish set-up.  His man management style also left a lot to be desired. There’s the aforementioned Steven Reid and Darron Gibson, not to forget Andy Reid, who was banished after leading a sing-song into the late hours at the start of Trapattoni ‘s tenure. Then there’s Kevin Foley, who was assured of a place at Euro 2012 once he proved his fitness. After playing without fault in the final warmup match, Trapattoni  suddenly sent him home. Foley refused call ups under Trapattoni  ever since. The failure to lure Stephen Ireland back into the national team could also be seen as a taint on his Irish career.

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Trapattoni may have taken a country of Ireland’s size as far as he could.

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Some of the old guards also found themselves harshly discarded. These included Kevin Kilbane and Liam Lawrence; both were players who fitted the manager’s style of play and tended to give dedicated performances. However, the medium of text was deemed suitable for informing both that their services were no longer needed. Goal predator Shane Long’s behaviour was labelled ‘“diotic” by Trapattoni  after the forward claimed he was fully fit to play in the goalless draw with Serbia in 2012.  It had been reported that Long had suffered a calf injury in training. All of these blunders did nothing to endear Trapattoni to the Irish public.

The issue surrounding his excessive wages also left room for debate. Although Trapattoni  took a pay cut of around half a million euros (€1.7m to around €1.2m, partly funded by Denis O’Brien) when he extended his contract in 2011, critics alluded to his failure to attend games on a week in week out basis. Promising Irish players went under the radar as Trapattoni  remained intent on doing things his way (not necessarily the right way). Prior to Trapattoni ’s dismissal, outspoken RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy said: “Trapattoni does not believe in the players and he does not encourage them to play a passing game. Trapattoni made mistakes, and coaches shouldn’t make those kinds of mistakes and they certainly should not make them repeatedly.  He is clearly damaging players. Trapattoni is similar to Jack Charlton – he is suspect of creativity. The stubborn streak is there. It’s perverse obstinacy and it’s distressing. It is not good for our fans and our players, who are more important than any individual coach”.

However, there is also an argument that suggests Trapattoni may have taken a country of Ireland’s size as far as he could. The Italian’s style may have been infuriating, but his system did make us hard to beat. Trapattoni ‘s record of sixteen losses in sixty-four games gave him a win percentage of 40.63%. In a country where we lack a competitive, high quality league as seen in countries such as England, Germany, Italy and Spain, talented prospects are few and far between. A considerable number of players are playing for below par teams in England’s lower divisions, and even the nation’s leading goalscorer Robbie Keane has opted for the bright lights of LA.

Whether you view Trapattoni a success or as a failure throughout his time in charge of Ireland that is a matter of choice. One side of the coin suggests he made some poor managerial decisions. The flip side would indicate that Giovanni set himself up for a disastrous Trapattoni waiting to happen.