Trapattoni might take heed of Stoke City’s turnaround
Footballing life under new boss Mark Hughes is sweet for Ireland’s Jon Walters
Jonathan Walters in action for Ireland against Jonathan Williams in the friendly against Wales in Cardiff. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Jonathan Walters has been enjoying his football at Stoke City under new manager Mark Hughes. Photograph; Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Giovanni Trapattoni might well be encouraged by the start Stoke City have made to the new Premier League campaign, with fresh faces and somewhat fancier football yielding two wins from three – that’s top five form from a club that seemed destined for the drop last season. Just don’t mention to the Italian a change of manager was the catalyst for it all.
Football, as they say, is a results game and while Tony Pulis’s side were winning nobody dwelt too long on how. But most players prefer to be picking up the points producing football they can be proud of.
“It’s good,” Jon Walters acknowledged yesterday as he finished training for the day in Malahide. “Every player enjoys passing the ball. As long as the points are coming, it’s brilliant.
“For the front men, there’s a bit more time. It’s not like the ball is coming up and down constantly. We’ve more time to make the runs and get on the ball; it’s easier for us. It’s not just one-dimensional and scrapping for the ball all the time.
“We’ve had three wins in a week,” says the 29 year-old, “including the cup match, so everyone is flying high at our club.”
Mark Hughes hasn’t simply encouraged his players to pass the ball more, he has also sought to ensure the ones he picks can pull it off.
He has bought, of course, which Trapattoni cannot do, and most recently he has brought in Stephen Ireland which, as it happens, the Italian could but never will.
“The manager knew him at Manchester City,” says Walters of the midfielder, “and the best years he’s played have been with Mark Hughes there. So Mark has had faith in him to bring him here on a season long loan.
“Richard Dunne knows him to be a top player as well. It’s all hands on deck in midfield so there’s good competition for places, which should benefit everyone.”
Well, not everyone perhaps, with Glenn Whelan, who, even before Monday’s signings, has started just two of four games so far this season, under pressure not just from the new arrivals but also Marc Wilson, who Hughes has moved to his preferred position.
“He’s a midfield player anyway,” insists the equally versatile Walters. “He was when he came here first, even though he played centre half at Portsmouth. He’s got two good feet and in certain circumstances, he’s moved to right back or left back but he’s gone back into midfield this year.
“He’s done well. He took a knock at the weekend but he should be okay. He was unfortunate to break his leg last year but he’s flying now.”
Wilson is a key figure in Trapattoni’s efforts to overhaul this Ireland side, with the emergence of James McCarthy and Sémus Coleman also encouraging the Italian to aim higher than he has had at times.
Walters puts it more kindly, suggesting, “you could argue that we’re better set up not to lose”.
The time for that is gone, though; everyone acknowledges at this stage that one of these game – Austria in Vienna next Tuesday follows Friday’s home game against Sweden – must be won. He says they’ll be trying, as they always do, but urges caution:
Game by game
“We have got to take it game by game. You cannot say that you are going to take a point here and three there.”
Mapping these things out is made especially complicated by the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who could be unplayable on Friday or turn in a repeat of his performance in Stockholm where there were long stretches when you wouldn’t have known he was playing.
Almost everyone in the Irish camp, needless to say, fears it might be the former this time.
“He is one of the best in the world and he demolished England in that friendly at the Arena,” says Walters who, despite being a striker, was drafted late into the side for the Stockholm game as Trapattoni, hit by injuries, sought to strengthen the team’s defensive side in order cope with the PSG star.
“It was tough against him but at the end of the day it’s just 11 players against 11 players and a team is stronger than any one individual. We kept him quiet and hopefully he will have a quiet night on Friday as well.”
That much they might well do if the Swedish skipper is not at least a little more on song than he was in March. Winning as well remains the greater challenge for Walters and co.