||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Monday, February 7, 2011
Uncapped trio offer Ireland hope
Giovanni Trapattoni may not be fully aware of it, but his reputation as Republic of Ireland manager is not as immaculate as it was two years ago.
Initially a surprise appointment in 2008 to succeed Steve Staunton, the experienced Italian quickly won over the Irish public (and media) by leading an average Ireland team through their World Cup qualifying group unbeaten.
The 71-year-old would have guided them to last year's World Cup in South Africa if Thierry Henry's right hand and William Gallas' goal had not swung a play-off in favour of France. And things have not been right since that night in Paris.
Friendly wins over Paraguay and Algeria came in between defeats to Brazil and Argentina before Ireland opened their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with victories over Armenia and Andorra. Six points gained, but not that convincing.
The cracks that had started to appear were blown wide open in the 3-2 defeat at home to Russia, while there were few positives to take from the 1-1 draw with Slovakia and the friendly loss to Norway. Suddenly, they looked tactically naive, short on options and in danger of slipping out of qualification for the next European Championships.
Blame was directed towards Trapattoni for sticking with a rigid 4-4-2 formation and stubbornly refusing to call on certain players. Potential successors were even mentioned when it was falsely reported that the former Juventus manager had suffered a stroke late last year.
Despite all of that, the Ireland boss reported for duty in Dublin this week determined to rebuild confidence within and around his squad. The Carling Nations Cup is next on the agenda, with Gary Speed's Wales team providing the oppositon on Tuesday evening.
There is a fresh look to the current squad with the uncapped trio of Seamus Coleman (Everton), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa) and Marc Wilson (Stoke City) providing the kind of competition for places that had been missing for some time. If they can have an impact in a home win, then faith in the manager could be promptly restored.
"This will be a good opportunity for the young players. Now, we have a group of about 30 to 35 good players to choose from, much more than when I started in the job," Trapattoni said. "The young players need the older players, because it helps give them added security. You need balance in the squad. The game against Wales is a good opportunity to evaluate our other options."
Of those other options, it is Coleman that the Irish public are most eager to see in the green jersey. The 22-year-old has been one of the standout players in the Premier League this season, yet he was left on the bench as an unused substitute in November's friendly defeat to Norway.
That baffling decision led to volleys of criticism and a chorus of tut-tutting from inside the Aviva Stadium. The Irish supporters were denied the chance to see the country's latest rising star and Trapattoni knows that it would be foolish to make that same mistake again.
Instead, Coleman is expected to finally make his senior bow against Wales. Once he does, the fans will be appeased and the player's former club, Sligo Rovers, will cash in on a £25,000 bonus due to a clause in his contract with Everton. But handing the Donegal native his debut makes sense on a football level too.
Trapattoni insists that he wants to use Coleman as a right back - a position he mastered at Sligo, with the Ireland Under-21s and on loan with Blackpool last season. But his unquestionable impact on the right wing for Everton, where he has netted five goals in 26 games, makes it a tough call not to deploy him there.
At least Ireland have the luxury of turning to a player that can operate in more than one position. And both Clark and Wilson fall into that bracket too, as they have featured in a variety of different roles for their respective clubs this term. Clark's long-term future may be as a commanding centre back, but his verstality could see him used at left back in the interim considering Greg Cunningham is out injured with a broken leg and a back-up to veteran Kevin Kilbane is needed.
Wilson, meanwhile, could be the latest candidate to audition for the role of defensive midfielder. The former Portsmouth captain has recently skipped ahead of Glenn Whelan at club level and ticks all of the right boxes as the kind of player that Trapattoni likes to have controlling his engine room.
So it is just a case of easing the uncapped trio into the set-up and allowing them to become familiar with the manager's preferred style of play. That is why the Carling Nations Cup comes at the perfect time for Ireland. Extra games - with a competitive edge - are needed to introduce new players as well as restore confidence.
Should Coleman, Clark and Wilson all impress, they will open up the door for more young players to come through. The likes of Utrecht midfielder Barry Maguire, Preston winger Keith Treacy and Wigan's James McCarthy are already on Trapattoni's radar with more expected to crop up over the coming months.
For now, everything is focused on starting the Carling Nations Cup on the right note and preparing for next month's qualifier against Macedonia. Victory would reignite belief that Trapattoni's system is not flawed, it just needed some tweaking.
There is no doubt that Ireland need to get back to winning ways if they are to stay in the hunt to reach Euro 2012 and if Trapattoni is to remind the Irish people that he is the right man to take them forward.
Carling Nations Cup Fixtures:
Republic of Ireland v Wales (Tuesday, February 8)
Northern Ireland v Scotland (Wednesday, February 9)
Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland (Tuesday, May 24)
Scotland v Wales (Wednesday, May 25)
Wales v Northern Ireland (Friday, May 27)
Republic of Ireland v Scotland (Sunday, May 29)