Overview: Pragmatic Italian will have few complaints about exit
His teams didn’t have much style, but the man himself was funny and immensely likeable
Translator Manuela Spinelli laughes as Giovanni Trapattoni clowns around during a press conference. Photograph: Inpho
The Canadian comedian Norm MacDonald tells a gag that boils down to a dog, owned by a homeless person thinking: “You know what? I could do this myself.” That, in a way, is what the FAI decided yesterday when it bit the bullet and settled up with Giovanni Trapattoni for a chunk of the value of the remainder of his contract.
The Italian was hired at considerable expense in 2008 and handed the task of leading a team back to a major championship after three unsuccessful campaigns. He promptly weighed up what he would have to work with, decided on a plan that involved what he considered to be “playing to our strengths” and went to work.
He failed narrowly, and in controversial circumstances, at the first attempt and succeeded at the second and while there is a section of the team’s supporters that simply never warmed to him, most people would accept that, given the decidedly modest talent pool available to him, that was pretty good going.
The Euro 2012 finals were a major turning point in his five and a half year tenure with Ireland however. Through no particular fault of his own, the team came completely off the rails in Poland where it was outclassed. A terribly tough draw was compounded by an unfavourable order of games on top of which an individual error a few minutes into Ireland’s opener left the team chasing things almost immediately.
The manager came away from it all worse off than he had been from the heroic failure of Paris and he needed a big campaign this time around to restore his standing.
With key members of the experienced old guard gone, however, the team struggled and the Italian knew the score: Like the dog in the gag, his employers might be expected to put up with downsides like unattractive tactics and the occasional muddled spat with an innocent player as long there was a novelty sized upside in the post from Fifa or Uefa every couple of years. Poor football andpoor results, they could be forgiven for thinking, needn’t come with a Trapattoni-sized price tag attached.
It remains to be seen whether it will emerge how much they had to pay the various members of the management team in order to facilitate swift regime change but Trapattoni clearly knew the end was approaching in recent days and conducted himself with considerable warmth and dignity. As he saw it, he deserved the respect of having his contract honoured in one way or another and that’s fair enough but it would be nice to think he was more concerned with making a point than a substantial profit.
He maintained to the end that he had done not just a “good” job but a “great” one, which rang pretty hollow over the last few days as the team edged closer to a rare fourth-place group finish – on the way to which, it appears, they will have taken just two points from the three teams to finish above them.