Does Giovanni Trapattoni deserve Irish hero worship?

Updated: March 22, 2012

Back in November; the Football Association of Ireland confirmed that Giovanni Trapattoni had been offered a €1.5million per annum contract extension until Ireland’s interest in the 2014 World Cup ended.

It left me wondering; in these chastened economic times; is a (minimum) two year contract extension a wise decision from Irish football’s governing body?  After all; what has Trapattoni really done to deserve the adulation he has received during his time with the Irish international set-up?   Yes; Trapattoni achieved qualification via the play-offs for Euro 2012 from a Group containing only one side (Slovakia) who had qualified for the previous World Cup and faced in Estonia, probably the weakest nation to qualify for a major tournament play-off.  Aside from that 5-1 aggregate win over Estonia; Ireland had been anything but convincing during their qualification campaign.

Trapattoni for me has yet to show real value for his lavish salary.  He is after all, by some distance, Ireland’s best paid manager ever – even when taking inflation into account.  I personally feel that a one year contract extension (back in November) would have been a smarter move from bosses at Abbotstown.  At that stage – the end of 2012; Ireland will have played three games on the road to qualification for World Cup 2014; including against top seeds Germany in Dublin.  With of course, Ireland’s participation in Euro 2012 also having been completed at that stage; we will know much more about how Trapattoni’s Ireland has progressed at a time when we will be approaching the fifth anniversary of his appointment.  Some might suggest that Trapattoni would not have signed a one-year extension, but if the FAI had dug their heels in, I’m sure Trap would have signed that dotted line.

Some will accuse me of treason for what I have stated above but please let me explain the reasons for my Trap-scepticism.   Yes, Trap brought better organisation and structure (both on and off the pitch) than the shambolic Steve Staunton era – eventhough Stan took far more abuse than the playing legend he was deserved.   Yes, Ireland exceeded their seeding in the qualification campaigns for both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.  Having been third seeds for both campaigns; Ireland ended up finishing second in each group. Yes, Ireland were very unlucky in the World Cup play-off against France and everyone felt sorry for us, no-one more so than ourselves.   Yes, Ireland beat what turned out to be a very weak Estonian side to qualify for Euro 2012 and the fact that it’s Ireland’s first qualification for a major tournament in 10 years (with a squad nowhere near the quality of Jack Charlton’s) is certainly an achievement, as is everything stated in this paragraph.

However, these bare facts need further assessment. In the two qualification campaigns Trapattoni has overseen; Ireland have (competitively) faced sides ranked above them in the FIFA World rankings on ten ocassions. That was in the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign against Bulgaria (twice), Italy (twice) and France (twice) and then in Euro 2012 qualification against Russia (twice) and Slovakia (twice). Ireland won none of those ties.

Ireland have in fact only beaten Georgia, Cyprus, Macedonia, Armenia, Andorra and Estonia in two campaigns under Trapattoni.

Further analysis shows that Ireland drew twice with an Italian side who were clearly past it – as their eventual 2010 World Cup campaign illustrated. Italy in fact became the first defending champions not to claim a single victory at the next World Cup they played in and were dumped out in the Group stages, finishing bottom of the Group having drawn with New Zealand. Ireland’s two draws with the Bulgarians could be described as ‘tepid’ at best; a Bulgarian side who went on to finish fifth and last in their Euro 2012 qualification group.  Whilst Ireland were unlucky in the World Cup play-off tie against France, that France side showed six months later at the World Cup what a shambolic bunch of mercenary prima donnas they were, managing just one point from their three Group games.

Then in the Euro 2012 campaign; Ireland were simply hammered home and away by a vastly superior Russian outfit.   Having gone 0-3 ahead at the AVIVA Stadium; Russia decided to go to sleep and let Ireland in for two late goals.  The tie in Moscow will then quite probably be remembered as one of the most one sided games ever not to finish with a double digit victory! Russia had 26 shots on target in that game compared to the 22 shots of a Netherlands side who beat San Marino 11-0 on the same day, but somehow, Ireland held on for a point! That was not thanks to Trapattoni who didn’t change formation throughout, even when the Russians were attacking in wave after wave after wave. It was in fact mostly thanks to goalkeeper Shay Given and especially centre-half who played one of the games of his career with no higher an authority than Paul McGrath stating: “Richead Dunne’s performance was the best performance I have seen by an Irish centre-half; including me!”

Come the end of 2012; we will know how Ireland will have fared against some top quality opponents at the European Championship. Defending world and European Champions Spain are arguable the best international side to have been seen in a generation or longer while Italy have improved greatly in Euro 2012 qualification and, with a fresher line-up, they are not far off being a number one seed. Croatia of course have, in Modric, Petric, Kranjcar, Srna, Klasnic, Da Silva and others; many top quality players playing at top quality English and continental clubs. After that there is Germany in Dublin in the World Cup qualifiers. The three times World and three times European champions are always efficient, physical and very difficult to get a result against having won all ten of their Euro 2012 qualifiers and go into the tournament as one of the favourites.

The above paragraph goes some way to illustrating that whilst Ireland under Trapattoni have been better organised (than under Steve Staunton); Trapattoni has not done anything remotely groundbreaking or world beating. Also; the Milanese native has been lacking in numerous areas. The fact that he refuses to attend only a handful of club games per season and only assesses oppositions via dvd from his Milan home should not be allowed by his superiors. Numerous petty arguments with players and revealing private information along with public criticism of loyal Irish servants (most notably Kevin Doyle) is something which should not have happened. Showing little motivation to contact his players is also rather disappointing.

Trap’s revelation this time last year that, on the eve a pivotal qualifier (against Macedonia) that he didn’t have star forward James McCarthy’s mobile number (and therefore couldn’t contact him to assess his injury) was a stunning, if unsurprising revelation. Then there is Trap’s slowing at learning the English language and his over reliance on his translator to communicate with media (and thereby also of course his players). Whilst some will argue that the nationality of a national team manager does not matter; surely nobody can argue that a national team manager should speak the same language as the players he manages?

Offering Trapattoni a contract until the end of 2012 would have allowed the FAI a way out should things go pear shaped during the course of this year – as there is a very realistic possibility of happening such is the quality of opponent Ireland are set to face later this calender year.   Plenty of observers have been put off by Ireland’s dour tactics under Trapattoni.   Were results to turn against the Italian;  then public opinion would most definitely turn against the 73 year-old.   His is a style of play which can only be legitimised by results;  ”If you want beauty, you go to La Scala.  If you want results, you watch football,” – to quote the man himself.

Eventhough many have been overcome with the excitement of Ireland qualifying for the 2012 European Championship; I still view Trapattoni as a once great manager who is now a geriatric chancer content to cash in on an easy pension from the FAI and Denis O’Brien.  If he oversees Ireland’s progression from their Euro 2012 Group and gets a decent result against Germany, culminating in qualification for Brazil 2014; I would be willing to re-assess my opinion of Trapattoni and his commitment and dedication to the Ireland cause however.

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