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


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.

Irish football is a Galapagos-like incubator that manages to turn Wes Hoolahan, a player whose main claim to fame remains a foul-mouthed attack on the club that pays him, into a misunderstood genius and supposed saviour of the Republic’s football soul.

Stephen Ireland was another lost maestro, a man of wealth and taste, with the chutzpah to criticise Trapattoni’s arrogance – apparently because he didn’t plead with him to play. Darron Gibson too got the hump, because someone who has managed some of the world’s top clubs and commands global respect didn’t think he was worth picking. And he didn’t plead with him either.

Others also struggled to cope with rejection, a childish hurt rooted in Trapattoni’s preparedness to treat players like grown-ups, and their sad inability to respond in kind.

Trap’s insight
It’s not just the players though. I wonder did Trap watch that Serbia game, and its aftermath, then shake his head at how nothing changes.

It would be great if he opened up about his time here. The struggle with the scale of fantasy, incessant jargon, carping about comparative trivialities such as not schlepping about the north of England uncovering gems in reserve games that have managed to escape the game’s otherwise microscopic focus, the cod-psychological b***s about attitude which in reality is little more than a variation on the old “they don’t like it up ’em” stereotype.

Because it’s all still there under the new regime. Martin O’Neill has already felt the first flak clouds after the honeymoon period. Apparently, he might not be going to enough games in the north of England either. And there were mutterings about too much long ball once Serbia woke up and passed the Republic off the park.

A detached view of the Republic is that they’re mostly a collection of honest pros who try their best but that this isn’t up to the very best. There’s no shame in that.

Trapattoni’s take was to make them even more difficult to beat than they were to watch and in the process he took the side to the finals of a major championship where, shock horror, the two best teams in the competition wiped the floor with them. Even at 75, the grand old man must still wonder what he was dealing with.

“Eeez futball” doesn’t cover it. “Eeez Irish futball” will have to do.

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