O'Neill's hard graft pays off with well-deserved draw in Porto
SOCCER ANGLES:That Giovanni Trapattoni has got away with what he has says something about the FAI, writes MICHAEL WALKER
THERE IS, at least, one Irish international manager who has had a good week, and Michael O’Neill is Irish.
That detail seems to be important to some where Giovanni Trapattoni is concerned, though it is a minor one of the gripes that have left the Italian encircled by a collective Irish irritation.
Were Trap’s Ireland to be progressing, his nationality and idiosyncratic interpretation of the language would have ceased to be questioned. But progress has stalled and Trapattoni’s long-curious methodology is again the bullseye for critics. They are an ever-growing band.
Their fundamental concern is the same as before, mainly Trapattoni’s failure – an apparently wilful dereliction – to turn up regularly to games in Britain to watch his Irish players and those who could be his Irish players. If that is not in his job description, then he was given the wrong description.
In the beginning people were perplexed by this, but Trapattoni’s managerial record provided him with protection. He knows his stuff – or he knew his stuff. His early Irish record was okay and he was Giovanni Trapattoni.
So his non-presence, like his use of language, became a joke, something to laugh off. But it’s not funny, in its own way it is an insult to Irish football and Irish footballers. The idea that he could, or would choose to, behave in this way had he been appointed manager of Italy (again) or England or, say, Switzerland, is far-fetched. Trapattoni would simply not have done this, or if he had tried to, he would have been pulled up sharply.
That he has got away with it says something about the FAI. And that something is not flattering.
Because no matter what match a serious manager goes to, he will leave it smarter. For an international manager, in particular, the accumulation of detail is the nature of his working week, or it should be. We have heard at length from international managers about their day-to-day frustrations of not having players to work with, a pitch to go to.
So what do they do? They watch games. Or they should. They watch opponents. Or they should. And to watch Irish players the Irish manager needs to be based in Ireland or Britain, where 99 per cent of them operate professionally.
Another benefit of this is that the manager would be, and be seen to be, part of the culture.
Michael O’Neill will be a privileged man if he gets to manage just one of the great clubs Trapattoni has been at – AC and Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Benfica – and one imagines that O’Neill would hot-foot it from comparisons with Trapattoni. Rightly so, one is 43, the other is 73.
But O’Neill is also an Irish manager, one who has just guided Northern Ireland, hit by injuries and suspensions, to a 1-1 draw against the team ranked third in the world by Fifa, Portugal.
Given that the previous qualifier was also a 1-1 draw, at home to Luxemburg, it is not a moment to go over the top.
But in both games, there was an absence of luck – Luxemburg’s late equaliser was an incredible fluke; against Portugal, Northern Ireland were anything but lucky. It was a point earned by discipline, commitment, shape and poise. It was a point earned by preparation.
Whilst at Shamrock Rovers, O’Neill quietly bemoaned the lack of preparation time once his players had made it so impressively into the group stage of the Europa League for the first time.