Trapattoni prepares for Italian job
As Giovanni Trapattoni needs a special occasion to get his pulse racing at the ripe old age of 70, the Republic of Ireland's legendary manager is relishing a battle against his beloved Italy next Wednesday.
Many believe Trapattoni's prime motivation for taking the Ireland job last May was to try and outsmart the national team he failed to inspire to glory during his stint in charge between 2000 and 2004, so now comes his ultimate test as he prepares to do battle with compatriots who will become his enemies for one night as least.
After struggling to deflect questions about the double header against his motherland since he became Ireland boss, this wily old coach must be delighted to reach this point in his unlikely Irish journey in a healthy position at the top of World Cup qualifying Group 8.
Even though he is publicly insisting his focus is initially on the meeting with a Dimitar Berbatov-deprived Bulgaria in Dublin on Saturday, Trapattoni clearly has more than one eye on what is likely to be his competitive final game as coach on Italian soil.
''Naturally my heart will beat a little faster for the Italy game,'' he begins. ''I'm a patriotic Italian and facing the country of my birth, the land which has given me so much, will be a special occasion.
''There may only be two times in my life when I want Italy to fail and they are coming up this year. I'm a professional right down to my boots. I'm responsible for Ireland now and take this job intensely seriously.
''My motivation always increases when I come up against a big opponent. Clearly Italy are expected to take the points, but nothing in this game is clear cut. As long as we believe we can get something out of the game, we have every chance.
''However, to make things as awkward as we can for Italy, we must aim to start the match level on points in the group. This will be more pressure for them to deal with. This means doing well at home to Bulgaria a few days before. We would be mad to concentrate only on Italy. Bulgaria deserves all our respect and concentration and this is the game that can set us up for the game in Bari in the right frame of mind.''
Accepting a role as the underdog is an alien concept for a coach who has been working with sides immersed in the pressure to succeed throughout his career, yet Trapattoni appreciates the benefits of heaping the pressure on the Azzurri now.
''We have a distinct lack of pressure on our side,'' he believes. ''Ireland are big underdogs and few think we have a chance. Italy are on top of the mountain as world champions and we are clambering up. Only Germany and Brazil can compare to them.
''It's strange for me to be the underdog, so I'm counting on the desire of my players to beat the giant. It's human nature that less well-known players look to knock the star names off their perch. I believe we will go into the Italy game with less nerves, but we must apply ourselves and be disciplined. At the same time, a relaxed frame of mind will be good for us.
''Football is not an exact science and nothing in life is. A year ago, Barack Obama was way back in the polls before the American elections, but he became President. His 'Yes We Can' slogan equally applies to us.
''I'm pleased with the way my Ireland squad has developed. I've been delighted with the receptiveness and enthusiasm of the players. They have taken on board my ideas. For example, when we we're in front we now know how to kill the game off rather than go head-first in search of more glory. Also, the number of players who can do a good job at international level has increased. I have more options now and this is important.''
Trapattoni has been pleasantly surprised by the quality of talent he has found in Ireland and is quick to pick out his three trump cards for the World Cup qualifying push.
''We have some players who are genuinely international class and Robbie Keane is obviously one,'' states Trapattoni. ''He is as important to Ireland as Francesco Totti is to Roma. Maybe Robbie doesn't have the class of Totti because few do, but he is just as important as he is always in the right place at the right time. He can score and make things happen between the midfield and attack.
''Then we have Shay Given, who is a phenomenal keeper. He may be the best in the Premier League at the moment. He would be pushing Buffon for his place in the national team if he were Italian.
''Another I like is Aiden McGeady from Celtic. This boy has so much natural talent, such a great dribbler and when he is on his way, he's close to impossible to stop legally. I'm convinced we've only scratched the surface of his potential. As people know, Bayern Munich are looking at him and I understand why.
''My Ireland team will go to Italy without any fear and from what I have seen so far, they don't easily accept the established order. They will go out to upset the odds. One thing is for sure, we'll not be thinking we're already beaten before the kick-off.''
The Italian squad have been depleted by injuries ahead of this international gathering with defenders Nicola Legrottaglie and Daniele Bonera, midfielders Mauro Camoranesi, Alberto Aquilani and Simone Perrotta, strikers Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni all sidelined.
Despite this, Trapattoni expects a typical Italian side to take to the field for the sort of battle they generally rise to. ''Italy are the same as they've always been,'' he concludes. ''They have resilient mentality, champion players in key positions and good a tactical understanding. They are not world champions for nothing.
''They may not be the most entertaining side, but they are experts at getting the job done, striking at just the right moment, usually taking the opportunities which come their way. At the moment Italy have some injury problems, but you can be sure they will not be lacking in cohesion and collective purpose when they meet us.''
After almost a year of shadow boxing, Giovanni Trapattoni is about to reveal whether he can still deliver the knock-out punch. How he would love to give the Azzurri a black eye with one of his final, flailing blow.