Tardelli hoping for good finish to a 'fantastic year'
Almost in the same breath as he accused the media of lacking balance when it comes to assessing Giovanni Trapattoni’s work with this Republic of Ireland side, Marco Tardelli yesterday characterised 2012 as a “fantastic year” for the management team.
The Italian cited Ireland’s participation at the European Championships – more an achievement from 2011, really – but passed over the results in Poland and described the defeat by Germany last month (the team’s worst ever at home in a competitive game) as “normal” for a side missing players and in transition. He also suggested “many” young players had been discovered over the last 12 months.
It was an impressively upbeat status report from a man whose dislike of the press famously dates back to his days as a player with Italy but whose ability to put such a positive spin on things was probably perfected around the time he moved into management.
The 58-year-old may well have a case for suggesting some of what has been written has been harsh on his boss but he is scarcely doing much to redress any imbalance by describing a year in which Ireland have been badly beaten in most of their competitive games as “fantastic”.
Ahead of tomorrow night’s game against Greece, the team has conceded 19 goals – as many as during Trapattoni’s first two years in charge – in the current calendar year and, notwithstanding the quality of some of the opposition, been humiliated more than once but Tardelli suggested the press had given insufficient credit for two hard-fought wins in Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands.
He added, however, he does not actually read any of the media reports but relies on the summaries he receives from the FAI – a “senior source” that was apparently, he may or may not be aware, laying the groundwork for the management team’s departure only a few weeks ago.
In reality, Trapattoni and his assistant could do with a good finish tomorrow to what most people would have considered a pretty bad year. The Greeks, ranked 12 in the world, fared better at the European Championships and have started their new qualification well so will be no pushovers. But a good performance with further signs of development on the personnel and tactical fronts is important.
A win, ideally involving a clean sheet, would be a welcome bonus.
Tardelli’s talk of so much young talent in not entirely idle – although only Robbie Brady and James McClean have made what might be described as dramatic progress with Ireland this year, and in the case of the latter it has not been dramatic enough for some fans given the scale of his rise at club level. In any case, both, as well as Shane Coleman and James McCarthy, look to be on course for starts tomorrow as Trapattoni’s training ground team began to take shape in Malahide yesterday.
Paul McShane (calf), like Jon Walters (knee), sat out the end-of-session game but the Hull City defender is expected to be available,whereas the Stoke midfielder returned to England yesterday afternoon.
His departure has made things a little more straightforward for Trapattoni when it comes to finalising his attack. With Robbie Keane also absent the manager’s options are limited and to judge by yesterday’s training game, it seems likely he will go with Shane Long supported by Simon Cox when he names his starting line-up today.
Glenn Whelan is set to partner McCarthy in midfield, with Ciarán Clark alongside captain for the night John O’Shea at the heart of a back four that will also include Stephen Ward.
“It will be a very tough test,” said Tardelli. “We know Greece is a very good team, one that presses very hard; they have good players, like (Georgios) Samaras – we know Samaras, he played against Barcelona and he played well. It’s a good test for us and a good test for the young players. For them it’s good to play in the training but it’s important to play also in the tough match.”
Despite being criticised by the manager in the wake of the Serbia game when Trapattoni said the striker had raised doubts about his own fitness only to complain afterwards when he was left out, Long always seemed likely to be involved this time, although the precise role and timing of his appearance were still in doubt.
Tardelli certainly made it clear the Italians see Long primarily as a front man these days, which will doubtless come as good news to the West Brom player, who has often found himself on the bench and then occasionally used out wide when he has come on.
“I think Shane Long is a striker,” insisted Trapattoni’s assistant yesterday.
“I prefer and the boss prefers that he plays as a striker. It’s possible also for him to play on the left or the right too because he’s very quick and we can use him there but I think that if does start on Wednesday he will start as a striker.
“Maybe he starts the first half . . . maybe. We know that he plays very well because we were there on Saturday and he played well, but also the other players are playing very well.
“We have options,” he observed. “Many young players, but a lot of options.”