Argument for change gets lost in translation

Mon, Jun 18, 2012, 01:00

Italy’s manager knows the value of flexibility and a Plan B but Giovanni Trapattoni remains unyielding in his beliefs, writes BRIAN KERR

REVERTING TO the usual Ireland XI, with Kevin Doyle’s return, suggests there will be no change to our inflexible system for the final game of this nightmare experience.

The attitude seemingly is thus: It got us this far, it failed, but so what? We’ve had a plan under Trap. Just the one. The players conformed or they were out. It has generally worked, up to the final warm-up game in Budapest, but it has often been skin of the teeth stuff.

There were plenty of warning signs against Macedonia, Armenia and Georgia.

Yes, I know as much as anyone how hard it is to get results on the international stage but it has been ever so dull to watch the Republic of Ireland in recent years.

We have lacked any flair or inventiveness and a lot of people in my big circle have been turned off by it. These are football people to their very core but they just couldn’t stomach the football we played.

Nobody is adopting an “I told you so” stance either. It hurts too much.

Nobody wants to be right about Ireland failing.

What surprised me most of all after seeing the pounding given to us by Russia (who, as an aside, were sussed on Saturday by Greece) in the qualifiers, and again during the Croatia and Spain meltdowns, was the complete lack of a Plan B. Nothing.

As a young coach I always admired the wisdom of experienced managers and how they could make a decision that altered what seemed the inevitable course of a game.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is a perfect example. Throughout their qualifying campaign the Azzurri played with a diamond shape of four in midfield.

It was narrow but allowed Pirlo to dictate from its base with support from De Rossi and Montolivo, while Prandelli mostly used Marchisio to assist the now injured Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano up front.

They ambled through their group finishing above Estonia on 26 points.

But then Prandelli, faced by the mighty Spaniards, changed his tactics.

It proved a masterstroke. He played De Rossi in the middle of what became a five-man back line with tough men Bonucci and Chiellini either side of him.

The match-fixing allegations denied them their regular left back Domenico Criscito, so he selected a debutant in Emanuele Giaccherini against Spain.. We talk about throwing lads in, Prandelli has done it. First cap, no friendly match, nothing. In you go. And the risk paid off.

The overall result of three centre backs, raiding wing backs and a crowded midfield meant Spain’s weaving patterns were confined to ineffectual areas, 30 yards from goal.

That evening I witnessed De Rossi and Pirlo spreading some beautiful passes on the counter to Maggio, Giaccherini and Cassano in the vacant spaces the Spanish defence leaves. The plan was so successful that Prandelli stuck with it against Croatia.

They were far superior in the first half with Pirlo’s set piece goal scant reward for dominating midfield.

Luka Modric hardly got a kick.

But then Croatia manager Slaven Bilic unveiled his Plan B, changing to 4-3-3. The pace of the contest changed immediately. Modric came alive, while Mandzukic scored at the far post, out of sight of the three centre backs.

The point is this. Two coaches, both far younger than Trap and with far less achievements to their name, both had a Plan B, distinctly different from their usual approach but clearly worked upon in advance.

Meanwhile, back at the Irish ranch, we plough on slavishly with 4-4-2, existing in a wonderland of tactical intransigence.

Prandelli may have been a player and student of Trap’s in the past, and has fawned over him at press conferences, but he is no fool.

Last summer’s friendly victory over Italy is irrelevant on the basis that both teams were severely undercooked and Prandelli was still experimenting. The draws against them during the World Cup qualifying campaign, and Trap’s old sparring partner Marcelo Lippi, were impressive results.

Again though, they are largely irrelevant now. Maybe Trap will have a brand new plan for his native land.

Italy need a win. They are having a respectable tournament so far but they are not a great team. They hit you on the counter and there’s an overreliance on the erratic Mario Balotelli. His potential absence through a knee injury may prove a veiled blessing for Italy.

The elegant Pirlo has been a joy to watch but the 33-year-old visibly slowed in the second half against the Croats. Still, we must stop him from conducting the orchestra. Who will do this? Not one of our immovable objects, Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews, so more likely it will be expected of Doyle or Robbie Keane to help out in midfield without specific instructions, as Walters alleged after Thursday’s torture.

I so much want us to come out of this tournament with something tangible.

The arguments for dramatic change are sound and hard to argue against but they will get lost in translation once again.

We’ll just have to put up with that for now.

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