Pity the poor Republic no longer caught in masterly Italian Trap

Trapattoni’s take was to make them even more difficult to beat than they were to watch

Giovanni Trapattoni: 75 today, St Patrick’s Day. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Giovanni Trapattoni: 75 today, St Patrick’s Day. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 06:00

Happy Birthday Giovanni Trapattoni: 75 today, St Patrick’s Day.

Remember when there was significance attached to that, the coincidence with this day of all schlock-Irish days? Remember how it was supposedly some third-eye sign that this iconic Italian was a perfect fit for us and our football destiny?

That worked out well, didn’t it? No need for one-eyed retrospection there. Trap got his payoff, the FAI kept the Denis O’Brien money hose open and now we’ve got a couple of home-grown icons in charge whose birthdays coincide with independence days in Bosnia and Ecuador – just a tip there for Martin and Roy.

You’d wonder what Trap really made of it all though. Last we heard he was in the running for the Ivory Coast job, and then he wasn’t. No doubt he shrugged his shoulders and gave that raspy sigh: “Eeez futball.”

For a hard-headed Italian manager, that’s explanation enough. The country of amore drains its football people of sentiment the way Dublin drains American tourists of dollars in exchange for blow-up St Paddy’s Day tat.

Even in the halcyon 1980s and 1990s, when Italy provided football of a style and panache that made everything else look agricultural, the result remained everything: pretty always played on a foundation of practical.

Trap’s hopelessly two-eyed view always focused on the result and the best way to achieve it. Italy might be a popular cartoon of passion, pasta and political poltroons but its football has essentially always been about a cold-eyed calculation, one that behind the flailing arms and “Mama Mia” gesticulations has no tolerance of delusion.

Risible sentiment
So in hindsight the grand old man of Calcio was always on a hiding to nothing in Ireland, a place that purrs on delusion to such an extent it’s elite is emboldened enough to pass off economic disaster as some sort of achievement, and grubby insider back-scratching gets dutifully presented as high politics.

In fact what Trap actually shares his birthday with is a Walt Disney stereotype of ruddy leprechauns and green beer, with liberal dollops of black opportunism thrown into the sentimental pot, all of it allowing a small wet rock on the edge of Europe to fool itself it has some special significance to a world that, if it is aware of Ireland at all, simply looks indulgently at the scale of our conceit.

And Trap had to work within Irish football – an arena containing more spoofing bull artists than any ardfheis. What chance had he in a place where cool detachment can be portrayed as some sort of national betrayal.

Think back to Trap’s supposed sins: the boring tactical formation; rigid adherence to discipline; and a reluctance to indulge the supposedly maverick talents whose gifts in the popular imagination increased in proportion to the lengths of time they didn’t play. All of it done to overcome a fundamental deficiency of talent that’s obvious everywhere else, but not here.

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