Now is as good a time as any for Irish football to reinvent itself
Time to show the Joachim Löws of this world there is more to the Irish game than meets the eye
Germany’s head coach Joachim Loew, left, talks to assistant Hansi Flick at a Germany training session during the week. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP
You can never accuse the Germans of not telling it like it is – particularly when it comes to Ireland these days. It is one thing to receive stern instruction on how to govern and tax the country but the blasé summation of the state of Irish football by German national coach Joachim Löw caused a tremor of righteous indignation to course through the island. It was, in truth, a passing and barely detectable tremor but it did leave all Irish football fans, casual and ardent, hoping Noel King’s team could work some improbable miracle in Cologne last night.
Still, regardless of the outcome of that match, Löw’s primary task is to coach and coerce a deeply talented German squad into dislodging the Spanish as the arch exponents of the world game. Ireland, meanwhile, are involved in the more basic business of starting from scratch and Löw’s breezy observations did offer some food for thought, in particular his views on Ireland’s man in the dugout.
“They will never play any kind of holding game or pass the ball around like Barcelona do,” Löw mused at a midweek press conference, “You will never see any Irish team playing like that – so it doesn’t matter who coaches them.”
It was a peculiar thing to consider about a country in which the international manager has become a hugely important figure. From the Geordie devil-may-care bombast of Jack Charlton to the blunt passion of Mick McCarthy to the impenetrability of Giovanni Trapattoni, the Irish football manager has for decades been regarded as the central figure in the fortunes of the national team.
Since Ireland qualified for its first major tournament in 1988, the FAI has tried everything possible in its choices, from the eccentric if adventurous Staunton /Robson axis to the local appointment of Brian Kerr, whose campaign was characterised by the failure to get the bit of luck all teams need on the qualifying road.
The recruitment of Trapattoni five years ago was regarded as a coup for the FAI. The eyeatching financial terms may have helped to lure the Italian but nonetheless, here was one of the revered figures of the international game coaching at Lansdowne Road. It soon became clear Trapattoni viewed his Irish squad much the same way as Löw did during the week – as artisans of the game who play in a fashion that is “more or less similar”.
Trapattoni’s achievements and persona may have been woven into the rich history of Italian soccer but he didn’t care less for the Irish tradition beyond ensuring that his team qualified for major tournaments, thereby justifying his pay cheque. In the end, Trapattoni was decried for his intransigent and authoritarian way of running the team even though he had made his reputation for running the show to the guiding principle of Uno Duce, Una Voce.
This time last autumn, after the 6-1 humiliation by Germany, RTÉ more or less announced the end of Trapattoni era prior to the Faroe Islands game. There was a considerable chorus of opinion that Trapattoni had badly failed the Irish game. His team’s played a basic, dull style; his selections were conservative to the point of being baffling and for the fans, watching Ireland had become a joyless experience.
The counter view was that Trapattoni’s record was substantial, having taken the team to within a hair’s breadth of qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa and then bringing us to the Euro 2012 where, as he saw it, Spain and Croatia exposed the limitations of the Irish game.