Challenging the myths of Trapattoni’s Irish reign

Updated: September 16, 2012

Instead of trawling through the many faults with the performance, tactics, team selection and formation from the game in Astana on Friday night, here I would like to address those who still think that Trapattoni should stay as Ireland manager.

These  ”Trap apologists”  tend to fall into three categories, who follow three broad mantras:

(1) “If you want entertainment, go to La Scala.  The result is all that matters:”

This tends to be the main argument of those defending Trapattoni.  ”If you want entertainment – go to La Scala,” – to quote the man himself.  Trapattoni has now overseen 50 matches as Ireland manager.  The 73 year-old has won more than two fifths of those matches and has lost just 12 times during his four and-half year stint.  These statistics compare favorably to other previous Irish managers, though the winning percentages have now dipped below those of Brian Kerr (53% win rate), Jack Charlton (51%) and Mick McCarthy (43%).

The phrase  ”There are lies, damned lies and statistics”  is a true one however.  If one discounts friendlies and the worthless experiment that was the Carling Nations Cup – Trapattoni’s Ireland has struggled greatly against all bar the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds in qualifying groups during his reign.

While Trap’s Ireland have tended to beat the fourth to sixth seeds, it has very frequently been by the skin of their teeth (take the game against the Kazakhs on Friday and against Andorra in Barcelona when the team eventually battled to a more than hard fought 2-0 win back in September of last year).

Bulgaria, Slovakia, Italy (three times), France (or a caricature of Les Bleus as the 2009/’10 French side was), Russia, Croatia and Spain have found very little to fear from Trapattoni’s Ireland.  From these 13 (competitive) matches against sides ranked above Ireland, Trapattoni has managed Ireland to eight draws and five defeats without a single victory.

In many of these games, the draws could have been turned into wins and defeats (except against Spain) could well have been turned into draws were it not for Trap’s dour tactics, which were of course explained or, more frequently, bluffed and blustered away in barely comprehensible pigeon  ”English”  by the Milanese native.

We got results in the big games: bad ones and a lot of us didn’t even realise it at the time. Defeat at home to France and (a hammering by) Russia in Dublin were supposedly “flukes”, wasted chances in Slovakia, Bulgaria and Italy were “unlucky.”  Paris (the one real international quality performance under Trap’s regime) and Moscow were deflected by over-emphasis on individual performances or refereeing errors. Excusing Trapattoni because of his overall success rate, not taking into account the very significant trend of who we are unable to get successes against, is a cover-up. The game against Kazakhstan will go down in the record books as a win, but if we treated it as just that we would be ignoring the massive problems and ineptitude that game showed us.

“He qualified us for a major championship for the first time in a decade”

That he did and we all know what happened when we eventually played in that major championship.

The Euro 2012 qualification Group phase was bookended by the narrowest of 1-0 and 2-1 wins over Armenia (a side that were ranked 25 places below the Irish at the time) which secured Ireland second place in the Group and a play-off spot.  Of course the Armenians were very unlucky to have their goalkeeper sent off barely a quarter of the way through that game and Ireland’s two goals came with the Armenians down to ten men and from dreadful errors from the substitute ‘keeper.  That final qualifying group result saw the Irish into a play-off against a young Estonian side which was paralyzed by fear and the Republic’s path to a first major finals for ten years was made clear.

At the tournament and what were the biggest games of Trapattoni’s tenure, he played the wrong players in the wrong positions.  Yes, Spain and Italy went on to play in the Euro 2012 final and Croatia were also a quality side, but with better tactics and wiser team/formation selection, Ireland could and probably would have achieved better results.  To not use James McClean at all during the tournament after the Derry man had terrorized Premier League defenses during the preceding six months was an inexcusable oversight on Trapattoni’s part.

Ireland were by some distance the worst outfit at Euro 2012.  If the limit of ambitions is to qualify for a tournament with what happens there being of no significance, then something is seriously wrong.

And the final excuse from the Trapattoni apologists:

“Trap just doesn’t have good enough players”

Supposedly Ireland don’t have the depths of talent required to compete, with many players on the verge of retirement and others just coming on the scene, too young and inexperienced to make an impact.

The only fault with that premise is that good enough players are there.  Trapattoni’s man management and player relations/communication gaffes have been far too frequent, with quality performers such as Andy Reid, Marc Wilson, Kevin Foley, Kevin Doyle, Darron Gibson and Shane Long all having run-ins of varying levels of seriousness with the 73 year-old.

Then there are others, like Westwood, McClean, Coleman, Hoolahan, Walters and Cox, good players whose appearances in the first team have only been facilitated by retirements or injuries, if they have even been that lucky.

While Trapattoni most probably can’t be blamed for all of these disagreements/fall-outs with players, the regularity of these public arguments, bloopers, errors and oversights have been far too frequent for comfort.

For Trapattoni to give a Championship journeyman like Paul Green a game against Spain while a Premier League talent such as Wes Hoolahan was left at home in the summer, illustrated Trapattoni’s dearth of knowledge of the English club game.  The sight of striker Simon Cox being played on the left wing both against Spain at Euro 2012 and against Kazakhstan on Friday while James McClean was kicking his heels on the bench, is yet another in a long list of such Trapattoni oversights which must stick in the craw of those who have tired of his ways.

It is more than understandable that McClean ended up taking to Twitter to issue a foul mouthed rant against what transpired in Astana on Friday night.  FAI officials were reported as being furious with the incident and had the Tweet deleted, but not before it had been Re-Tweeted more than 1,000 times.

McClean is now set to sit down with Trapattoni and an apology is expected to come from the man who amazingly is yet to make a competitive international appearance.  Trapattoni does not like to have his methods questioned and his relationship with McClean could well lead to another talented young player being alienated from the squad. Senior players, including captain Robbie Keane and John O’Shea have publicly spoken out to condemn McClean’s Friday night social media activities.  There are some within the camp who have reportedly privately backed McClean which illustrates the divide that is emerging within the camp.

Such was the poverty of performance on Friday night that the players don’t appear to be playing for the manager any longer and it is clear that he has lost (if not all then certainly some of) the dressing room.  Trap’s team trailed for some 65 minutes of playing time during Friday evening’s game and during that time, they mustered one feeble, long range shot (from Glenn Whelan), eventually relying on a last minute defensive blunder to give the Irish a penalty and to finally rescue the three points.

These facts are a sad indictment of what Trapattoni’s Irish regime has come to.  With a major change of attitude, performance, formation and tactics, Ireland could achieve a positive result against Germany in Dublin next month.  The stubborn Italian has shown throughout his 55 month reign that “major change”  is something he does not engage in, which is the very reason that it is time to say  ”arrivederci”  to the grand old man.

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