Trapped by fear of failure: Republic’s players labouring under manager bereft of vision
Rather than aim high and allow for a fall, the side is fixated on avoiding mistakes at all costs
A dejected Robbie Keane after the Sweden game. Photograph: Inpho/Kieran Murray
A few minutes before the 2009 Champions League final is due to kick off at Rome’s Olympic Stadium, Pep Guardiola gathers his Barcelona players together in the dressing room and turns down the lights. He has something he wants to show them.
The players fall silent as Guardiola rolls the video. They hear the thudding whirr of rotor blades. They are floating above a Roman nightscape, the ancient capital’s great buildings lit up and glorious, the Colosseum, the dome of St Peter’s, the Olympic Stadium itself.
Now they are deep inside the stadium, moving through a tunnel towards the light. On either side, silhouetted gladiators chant and raise their fists. The gladiators become a crowd of football supporters with arms aloft. The players see the face of Russell Crowe as the gladiator Maximus, teeth gritted behind his steel mask. Russell Crowe’s fingers are trailing through ears of wheat as Lisa Gerrard sings the nonsense lyrics of Hans Zimmer’s Now We Are Free.
The huge figure of Didier Drogba appears, bearing down on Barcelona’s goal, but Victor Valdes takes his shot in the midriff and springs back up to block the rebound. At Stamford Bridge Drogba shoots again, Valdes saves again and grabs the net in celebration.
And so on, with moments from Gladiator interspersed with images of Barcelona players running, leaping, shooting, scoring, celebrating. Now We Are Free segues into The Barbarian Horde and an image of the Colosseum at dusk cuts to the Santiago Bernabéu stadium. As Russell Crowe battles Joaquin Phoenix’s evil, white-clad Emperor Commodus, Barcelona slam six goals past Real Madrid.
The music now is Nessun Dorma. The players see their own faces in close-up, they’re in the tunnel, gazing out at the stadium lights beyond. The gladiators enter the arena as Pavarotti sings the climactic Vincerò! which most of those players would have understood means, “I will win!”
As the screen fades to black, a message appears: “We are the centre of the field, we are our precision, we are our effort, we are attackers who defend, we are defenders who attack, we are our speed, we are respect for our rivals, we are every goal we score, we are those who always seek the opposing goal. WE ARE ONE!”
Before Friday night’s World Cup qualifier in Dublin, the Irish team watched a different kind of pre-match video.
Giovanni Trapattoni showed the players clips of the 0-0 draw against Sweden in Stockholm. He wanted them to see “how many opportunity we had in Sweden. Three great opportunity. Missing the goal. In front of goal. Shane Long . . . ”
Indeed, Long’s miss that night sticks in the memory, the run, the shot, the ball ballooning high over the bar. You imagine it sticks in Long’s memory too, though he probably tries not to think about it too often.