There’s something beautifully poignant about Irish internationals at the moment. Giovanni Trapattoni’s much-discussed system somehow manages to capture the plight of a nation and to use the parlance of the times: his tactics are, fittingly, austere.
In tough times you have to trim the fat, sorry Andy Reid, and Trapattoni has budgeted his resources very carefully, cutting all but the barest essentials.
In better times, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman would be afforded a status as appreciating assets which will develop so that we can reap the rewards in years to come. Under Trapattoni they are like jobless graduates – “experience required” but no place to acquire any.
Trapattoni’s footballing resources though are much richer than Ireland’s economic ones, judgement of our standing is clouded by the fact we are so desperate to appear on the summer stage after such a long wait.
But with the Italian’s contract expiring after the play-offs, regardless of the outcome, it might be time for Ireland to take a pragmatic gamble and part ways with Trapattoni.
With a squad full of premier league players and, hopefully, a place in the Euros secured there should be little trouble finding a more suitably resourceful replacement.
The pros and cons of Trap’s regimental system have been discussed ad nauseum throughout his tenure, in particular the exclusion of McCarthy, Coleman, Reid and Shane Long have been cited as examples of his tunnel vision.
When Simon Cox was preferred to Long against Macedonia last June, the decision was taken as par for the course under a manager with such a stringent system – Long, despite his clear advantage in terms of ability, could not be trusted to stick to the game plan in the same way as Cox could.
Trapattoni, as is his prerogative, is more concerned with immediate challenges than future ones but it must be asked as we are on the brink of our first international competition in a decade; is Trapattoni still the best man for the job?
There is no doubting the defensive security of the his approach and against lesser nations such as Macedonia, Armenia and Estonia, our attacking players should be able to take advantage.
But the reliance on an outdated defensive focus with no outlet to relieve pressure means that against equal or superior nations we struggle to get a handle on games, Trapattoni after two years looks like a manager without a plan B.
The midfield duo of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are happy to play like dogs tethered to a pole, prowling the same small patch of grass for ninety minutes. When we don’t have the ball, Whelan and Andrews occupy precisely the same positions as when we do. They have no impetus, regardless of questions about their ability, to get on the ball and keep the opposition on the back foot.
Against Russia in Moscow, the pair were so easily overrun that Stephen Kelly and Stephen Ward had to pitch in and make tackles they should have been dealing with, leaving Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady to cover the space behind them.
Whatever about the outcome that night, and it was more the result of Richard Dunne’s individual heroics and a large dose of luck than any masterminding by Trapattoni, it is increasingly clear that Trap’s system is too unbalanced to compete with the level of opponents we could face in Poland and Ukraine.
The Italian’s tactics overload the defence and isolate the attack, leaving us without the ball for far too much of the game.
This shows a lack of trust between Trapattoni and our more dynamic players.
Outside of Shay Given and Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, McGeady, Kevin Doyle and Long are our strongest players – Trap’s system instead plays to our weaknesses.
His preference for static full backs who are charged with helping out the central midfield rather than the wide men means that in effect our wingers become wing-backs and our strikers are further cut off.
As it stands, the only creativity comes from the quite reliable Duff and much less reliable McGeady. After that, Trap calls on Stephen Hunt to dash from the bench and attack with energy and aggression rather than guile.
With composed and capable players like Keith Fahey, McCarthy and Long on the bench Trap is showing his lack of trust, or lack of knowledge of those players.
It has been suggested that the Italian is unfamiliar with a number of the fringe players, in particular his ignorance of Wes Hoolahan’s progress when he quiet clearly needs a more creative number ten has confounded his critics.
If he is not really familiar with players, how can’t be expected to trust them and he is not a man inclined to experiment.
Trapattoni has called on by and large the same players since taking over even when it is all but certain they are unfit to compete, only adding to his pool of 20 or so players when absolutely required to.
With such a lack of experience among the fringe players of the squad – who will Trap call on during the knock out stages of the Euros if we make it that far?
So far he has ridden his luck and let the players’ spirit fill in the gaps on his attacking formation, which brought us oh so close in Paris. If he takes the same approach to Poland and Ukraine, our European neighbours will be asking why we weren’t as strict with our economy as we are with our football.
Trapattoni has built a solid foundation, but perhaps it is time to call in an architect. So will Trapattoni lead us to Euro 2012?