No fear of Trap in cosy dressing room after FAI swerved sacking
I wonder what the “spread” is on the next “Trap Must Go” headline turning up? If Poland does a number on Wednesday night, it might be very soon indeed. Which of course doesn’t mean Giovanni Trapattoni will actually go. Beating the spread on that substantive issue can be a brutally expensive business.
Just ask the FAI “leak” who assured selected hacks – and the country – that Il Capo was heading for the redundancy fishes. That was a costly bet.
But it’s nice to have the international soap-opera back again, isn’t it? Kinda like the barmaid in t’Woolpack with the nice bum: you hardly notice she’s been gone for a while and then you go, “oh, yeah”.
It’s been more than a couple of months now since Trap returned to his garage in Milan, relieved no doubt to be away from those Celtic weirdos to the north.
Remember last time: Greece beat us 1-0 in a friendly and everyone was much happier because the players made pretty patterns on the Aviva turf, not like when we went to Kazakhstan, played like dogs, and won 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier.
Imagine Trapattoni’s flint-hearted soccer soul philosophically getting to grips with that?
No doubt Ireland’s soccer intelligentsia can square the cultural circle of prosaic and pretty with the game’s oldest truth: that it’s a results business, but it’s a contradictory jostle that defeats most of us ordinary folk.
And so the discontent will continue through endless discussions about tactical formations, and Trap not being able to speaka-da-Eeenglish sufficiently well, and earning too much money for doing shag-all except watch DVDs and being a football dinosaur and how our more creative, morally courageous players should be freed to play the game the way it should be played.
And everyone will conveniently forget how our more creative, morally courageous players often find themselves up against crafty continentals whose creative abilities are recognised throughout Europe by elite clubs with a scouting reach that can extend to a toddler playing keepy-uppy with a mango in Borneo and which have apparently overlooked the football genii lurking under every rain-soaked rock in Donegal.
It’s a soundtrack that has accompanied the manager all the way to play-off pain in Paris. And through Euro qualification, and the delusional aftermath of parsing out how the last two world cup winners somehow managed to beat seven shades of shinola out of a team with Keith Andrews as its pulsing heartbeat.
Next month’s qualifiers against Sweden and Austria will be crucial, a pair of D-Days for Trap. So the demand will be for this week’s game to be used as an opportunity for unexposed players to “stake their claim”. Apparently, that isn’t likely. But there’s something much more fundamental going on now and it ain’t good for the manager. So much so, that going short on the spread might be worth a little wager.
Mind you we’ve been here before, pondering the possibility of the manager getting the elbow: but things have changed fundamentally since that Greece game.
It was instructive during the interim to read Alex Ferguson’s Harvard lecture about management. He basically cut through the corporate-speak, human-resource jargon to say it all comes down to control: “If anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead.”
In print, it’s stark enough. With a Glasgow accent, it becomes more than a bit scary. But that’s the point, maybe even a reason Scots have dominated the management game for decades: because control comes down to fear.
That mightn’t feature too highly in any Harvard textbook, but there ain’t a shop floor in the world that doesn’t recognise its truth. And in ego-driven, financially flush football dressing rooms it is especially accurate.
History is littered with tales of players who personally despised their manager but still professionally performed because they were afraid of the repercussions of not doing so.
Mostly that was due to a potential impact to their wallet. Eye-watering salaries for even ordinary talents these days make that less of a priority, especially when it comes to international football, an obvious contributory factor to somebody like Darron Gibson flouncing off in a pouty sulk at not getting his game.
But there remains enough of the old dynamic to ensure players play ball with a manager who’s obviously in charge. Except with Ireland the dynamic has changed.
Apparently, no one was more surprised than Trap that he held on to his gig last autumn. And he did so primarily because the players backed him. He was also memorably treated to a lecture from John Delaney on the importance of going to more league matches in England.
Trap, understandably, insists it all means there is no diminution to his authority – but who’re we kidding?
Where’s the dressing-room fear going to be for a man whose job you preserved? Established players who in many cases owe their international careers to the Italian are now even more cosy-wosy, something rising up-and-comers must realise, and surely resent. And who’s going to inform Delaney it might not be his place to deliver a legend of the game a few more suggestions in the future?
No, things have changed alright. Trap can’t control anyone’s betting habits, or headlines, or indeed undue expectations. But he has to be able to control the players, and the environment around him.
And right now the fear must be gnawing at him that no one is quite afraid enough anymore.