Not falling into a Trap of pointing the finger


IN ANOTHER life, this Giovanni Trapattoni might be the soothing ground controller who guides the crippled plane back to earth.

Grave, patient, philosophical. Merdeto that; it seems a bit soon for resignation. Our comparatively small press corps (“small” because the travelling pack were stuck in Paris on an Aer Lingus jet in need of a spare wheel) would settle for nothing less than “vingince bejasus”.

At FAI HQ, they’re playing our song by doling out press releases demanding a replay (Uzbekistan v Bahrain 2005, Mr bleedin’ Blatter — hello? ). Meanwhile, a few feet away, their eerily calm and courtly Italian coach is guiding us back to earth with a che sera sera.

“After the referee decides, the game is feenish for me. I know it is imposseebil to replay the game,” he said, in the tones of a kindly psychiatrist. We try in 202 different ways to fire him up. The reply remains the same: that’s life. Or as another great uomo of Italian extraction might have added: “And as funny as it may seem/Some people get their kicks, stompin’ on a dream”.

Would he have a go at the one who stomped on the dream? Not a hope. Well, if one of his players handled the ball like Henry, would he like him to admit it?

“It wasn’t up to Henry to say ‘I touched it with my hand’. It’s not his task to say he ’andles it . . . He cannot say, ‘Excuse me referee, I ’andled it’. The responsibility is with the referee.” Not an answer, we’re afraid, try again?

“The referee should ’ave asked Henry did he ’andle it. If he ’ad I am sure he would ’ave admitted.”

Today, he said, “for me, is better [spent] allowing the referee to justify and eliminate the mistakes from the refereeing point of view – also because they can be influenced, whether they like it or not”.

So it was the ref’s fault. It was, says the coach with some animation, Fifa’s fault for choosing him. It’s Fifa’s fault that the home team has the psychological advantage of playing the extra 30 minutes in their own stadium where extra time is required.

So it’s the system. No responsibility lies with the young role models who make their obscenely well-paid living under an organisation that glories in the slogan “My game is fair play”.  Does morality have a role at all?

Signor Trapattoni looks genuinely engaged. “You know de Coubertin [founder of the modern Olympic Games]? Many, many years ago, he said, in sports it is not important to win but to take part. After this [period], there is interesting [development] – you have a world that goes and grows around football, sponsors, brands, television.” So money trumps morality?

“Morality is something you have or I have. It is interesting around the world to look: which is morality for you and which is morality for others – no? The world would be a better place if everybody thought like you,” he says kindly to the questioner.

“Yes, yes,” he insists above the gale of gentle laughter filling the room as the bashful questioner (okay, this reporter) hangs her naive head. The interesting thing is, for all his evasive action relating to Henry, he seems to mean it.

“I see many situations like this in football,” he had said earlier, going on to finger greed as one of the causes. “Change the rules, change the life, change the importance and the influence of money – or the game loses credibility.”

It’s as close as he will come to saying something is rotten in the world of football – no longer a sport but a business where money rules. And, because he seems so philosophical, we ask whether he understands our anger at all?

“I was more like you yesterday evening and in the night. But today I must also think for my team, for our people, so they go up again with the same enthusiasm, the same mentality, because the life is like this.

“ I teach the kids this tomorrow because it’s not easy to swallow for me either, but we must go on.”

That’s a leader. That’s life. Or as the other great uomo would sing: “I’ve been up and down and over and out/And I know one thing/Each time I find myself laying flat on my face/I just pick myself up and get back in the race”.