Irrational exuberance gives way to despair


ANALYSIS:WHILE A mountain of copy is filed back to Ireland from the media hotel in Sopot each evening because the consequences of it not arriving are far too grim to contemplate, the flow of information in the other direction is not always what it might be.

So word of some social media poll or other back at home in which more than 90 per cent of respondents expressed the view that Giovanni Trapattoni’s team would reach the quarter-finals of these championships only arrived here a day after the Boys In Green’s voyage to the last eight had been blown badly off course by defeat in their opening game.

The enthusiasm of Irish supporters in places like Poznan is a genuine marvel to behold. But the level of expectation the night before Sunday’s 3-1 defeat was alarming and, just as the long unbeaten run contributed to the players’ sense of shock and disappointment in the aftermath of the game according to their manager, it appears only to have deepened the levels of despair to which fans plummeted in the immediate aftermath of the third Croat goal.

Lest the process of absorbing Ireland’s real status at this tournament has not completely sunk in, though, let us ask ourselves a few simple questions. How many amongst us think that the English team which drew with France the other night are serious contenders for the title here? How many of the Irish players from Sunday night’s game would you put in that team? How many of that English team would get into the Spanish team?

And if the English had been drawn in Group C last December in Ireland’s place, how many Irish fans would have scoffed at the idea of them getting any further.

I really don’t seek to use England as an example other than because most people will be, for obvious reasons, better equipped to make comparisons between their players and ours.

The rather grim reality is that in football the quality of the results achieved in a tournament or league tends to fairly accurately reflect the quality of the players.

Lay out a few league tables alongside tables of the wages the clubs pay and the correlation will have a dispiriting effect.

Of course, there are, for all sorts of reasons, upsets; especially in one off games. But even in shorter, cup competitions things have gone increasingly the same way as disparities have grown within the game.

People in England, for instance, used to talk endlessly about the romance of the FA Cup, which generally takes about as many games as a European Championship to win, but Chelsea, after spending close to €1 billion on players during the Roman Abramovich era, have won three of the last four; not exactly something that would bring a lump to the throat.

On the international front, things are much the same. A study by Italian outfit Unicredit estimated that Ireland had the least valuable squad at these championships and while you can easily quibble about the specific numbers in relation to the group (which were roughly: Spain €650 million, Italy €300 million, Croatia €150 million, Ireland €70 million), the general sense of it all is probably about right.

Before the draw for the finals was made, Keith Andrews laughed good naturedly at the thought of Glenn Whelan and himself coming up against Spanish counterparts like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. There is a suggestion from some quarters, however, that the Irish will, due to some peculiar sense of pride in their country, be especially “up for it”, and will, as a result, be able to outplay players with significantly better club careers; try telling that to the Croatian players whose family members were forced to fight for the state’s very existence.

Perhaps Trapattoni might claim his attention to “the little details” helps to bridge the gap. But he has never actually been specific about how many DVDs he watches while the players rarely elaborate on just how extensively they are briefed.

The Germans rely on a Professor Doctor Jurgen Buschmann to oversee this sort of stuff for them. For months, he has had 40 paid students working full-time on analysing every one of the team’s opponents. Ahead of the game against Portugal, the management team was presented with a dossier that included 20 DVDs and a 500-page briefing document relating to that one match. The Spanish and Italians, it seems safe to assume, would be operating on much the same sort of level.

Absolutely none of which is to denigrate the Irish team or its achievements. It is simply to contend that, while the manager is certainly open to criticism over his tactics and his players have to take the flak for their mistakes, it has been a pretty decent achievement just to have qualified.

They had some luck, of that there is no doubt, but when the draw was made for the qualifying stages the teams were put into pots according to their then ranking. The upshot almost two years later is that the top 12 rated teams plus Denmark (16th) and Ireland (25th) made it to the finals.

With a little more luck and a great deal of application, they might upset the odds again, bounce back from their defeat and make it out of an incredibly tough group to the knockout stages.

But if it doesn’t happen then both Trapattoni and his players deserve better than to be casually written off as failures.

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