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Republic of Ireland analysis

Media's love affair with Trapattoni over

November 21, 2008
By Kevin Palmer

If there was one coach who could have expected an extended honeymoon period at the start of his reign, it was Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

EmpicsTrapattoni: Unmoved by the brickbats flying in his direction.

Indeed, Football Association of Ireland officials must have been temped to block book the honeymoon suite at Dublin's finest hotel to house the legendary Italian as the euphoria surrounding his appointment reached fever pitch back in February.

All involved revelled in the novelty that Steve Staunton's tragic reign as Ireland boss was to be banished to the history books by a true 'grade A' managerial superstar. Ignoring the fact that he was 69-years-old and had failed miserably in his only previous stab at international management with his native Italy, the Irish got a little carried away by the sight of this legend donning a green tracksuit and claiming he love 'Irylund'.

Eulogies over the FAI's magical coup in luring this sporting icon to their shores filled the pages of the newspapers on an almost daily basis as the fact that Trapattoni's birthday coincides with St Patrick's Day meant the Italian was adopted 'one of the lads' from day one.

What a difference nine short months can make. After attending Wednesday night's friendly international against Poland at Croke Park, it quickly became evident that the feel good factor surrounding 'Trap' is already a fad of the pre-Obama world.

Even though Ireland have claimed a more than respectable seven points from their first three World Cup qualifiers and have made steps forward under their €2m-a-year coach, Poland's 3-2 win in Dublin provided the green light for Trapattoni's rapidly assembled band of critics to unleash their fury.

Such poisonous press reactions were absent for large chunks of Jack Charlton's romantic reign as Ireland manager, yet they were more common place during Mick McCarthy's tenure in the job before Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton became media punch bags in every sense of the word. Now, it seems, Trapattoni is in for a rough ride.

Those who follow the Irish soccer scene will not be surprised to learn that the outspoken Eamon Dunphy was the most vocal opponent as his attack on Trapattoni. His Daily Star column on Thursday morning pulled few punches in an article that labelled the Italian coach as, 'The Poor Man's Jack Charlton'.

''We are suffering from Trapattoni's bankrupt football philosophy,'' began Dunphy, lambasting a manager he hailed as the Messiah just a few short months ago. ''What he is up to with our national team is outrageous. This is even worse than the Steve Staunton era as we have no shape and no plan. It was embarrassing to watch.''

Rarely has a pundit changed his views on a single subject quicker, yet this is why Dunphy is such captivating viewing on RTE Television's coverage of the national team. Few countries have half-time TV analysis anywhere near as entertaining as the outspoken RTE panel of Dunphy and John Giles, who divulge their often explosive views alongside genial presenter, Bill O'Herlilhy.

Their influence in swaying public opinion cannot be discounted as many believe Dunphy's lengthy RTE outburst in opposition to Terry Venables possible appointment as Ireland boss last year played a huge role in blocking the Londoner from landing the role he craved.

Now Dunphy has set his sights on Trapattoni, with the refusal to select playmaker Andy Reid and hard working veteran Lee Carsley his chief gripes. ''The players he is picking in midfield are not good enough,' he said of Stoke bench warmer Glenn Whelan and Manchester United reserve Darron Gibson after their poor displays against the Poles.

EmpicsAndy Reid: The stick being used to beat Trap

''Whelan and Gibson are way out of their depth. They are very average players at international level. Neither are getting into the first team at their clubs and yet Carsley is playing very well for Birmingham and he is being ignored. Andy Reid is another who should be in the squad. This is a major mistake from Trapattoni.

''Jack Charlton had creative talents in Ronnie Whelan and Liam Brady, who he did not want to play and he used a defender in Paul McGrath as a make-shift midfielder. Trapattoni has a similar philosophy. It's the Italian way to snatch 1-0 wins, but Ireland don't have the players to do that. You have to assess the players you have and adapt your tactics to suit them. That is good management.''

Giles is always a little more eloquent in his views, but he joined the criticism of Trapattoni on Wednesday night. ''I don't think the manager is making the best out of the talent available to him,'' says the former Ireland boss. ''He clearly doesn't want creative midfielders. He wants players who stifle the opposition and Whelan and Gibson are incapable of doing that. Trapattoni has to understand this now.''

While the English press are often accused of being negative when it comes to their coverage of the nation's football representatives, their Irish counterparts seem even quicker to wield the knife as many are already throwing plenty of mud in the direction of the famous grandfather they welcomed with open arms at the start of the year.

Sunday World columnist Roy Curtis is a recent convert to the anti-Trapattoni campaign and he pulled few punches in his article last weekend. ''And so the cold, soulless, colour-by-numbers revolution of Giovanni Trapattoni continues its grim and desolate assault on the senses,'' he began.

''The death of sport as romance, as something heroic and beautiful, this is all that €2m-a-year will buy you in these recessionary times. The new Ireland boss clearly has order and discipline, but so have the Boy Scouts. If all Trap offers is sport without cheer, then it would be much better if his Ireland failed and failed dismally.''

Like Dunphy, Curtis is a firm fan of Sunderland's Reid, yet it is hard to argue too strongly in favour of the midfielder's recall as he is not making the cut for his club side at the moment. It also seems clear that Trapattoni is determined to have a side bursting with high-energy players and Reid's portly stature was never likely to impress him.

Carsley's omission along with Trapattoni's refusal to look into the option provided by Rory Delap and his fearsome long-throw routines have been other topics for discussion and the reality that the highly-paid coach spends the bulk of his time back home in Italy and leaves scouting duties to assistants Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady has also been a cause for annoyance. Is Trap really committed to Ireland or is he using this job to boost his pension fund, some have asked.

Respected Irish writer Vincent Hogan waded into the debate as he pondered why the love for the Italian had evaporated so quickly. ''Trapattoni's first year at the helm has been impressive, yet he encounters the kind of negativity George Dubya might attract going walkabout in Baghdad,'' he wrote.


''Why? Perhaps his sin is simply that he understands the business of building a team better than his critics. He cherishes the integrity of the co-operative, picking a player to serve the collective, not to adorn it.''

As you might expect from a coach of such vast experience, Trapattoni was oblivious to all criticism as he tried to pick out positives many of us missed in his post-match press briefing on Wednesday evening. He is more than a little bemused by the debate surrounding Sunderland bench warmer Reid and will not be swayed by any media campaign to have him reinstated.

When Ireland signed up Trapattoni to be their most high profile manager of all-time, they tied themselves to a coach who does not yield to any form of public advice. It's his way or the highway as he will stick stoically to the tried and tested methods that have served him well rather than focusing on entertaining the masses.

Ireland under this famous name may well win more matches, but he was never going to be your man if you were seeking thrill-a-minute football. This is a coach who comes with a manual based around dour, efficient football and anyone who wanted something else were blinded by his legend.

Love was in the air when Giovanni Trapattoni captivated the hearts of a star-struck Irish soccer media at the start of 2008, but those halcyon days are already long gone. With his honeymoon officially over, the battle lines have been drawn and the coach who loves nothing better than a scrap with the media will soon come out punching.