Delaney determined to stick with Trapattoni


Criticism may be mounting on the Italian manager but sacking him in the rush to find a scapegoat is not on the FAI’s current agenda, writes EMMET MALONEin Poznan

WITH JUST Monday’s game against Italy to come before the Irish team head for home, FAI chief executive John Delaney said yesterday “the players and the management owe the Irish supporters a performance for all the money they have spent”. There was no suggestion, though, that the association feels short-changed by its most expensive employee.

For Giovanni Trapattoni, this will be the third time he has failed to live up to popular expectation at a major tournament. His job looks secure, however, unless there is a major backlash against him and his employers decide, as they did with Steve Staunton, to cut him loose. In that event, though, they will presumably have to cope with the discomfort of justifying a hugely costly pay-off made in circumstances that would not have been unforeseeable had they waited just an extra week or so until after the draw for the finals before renewing his contract last year.

In the grand scheme of things, it may not end up counting for much but Delaney insisted yesterday that the deal will be honoured with the manager, he observed, having achieved the target that was set for him, to wit: “qualifying for a major tournament”.

If the pressure on him mounts next week, Trapattoni may yet wonder whether he would have been better off somehow failing heroically at the play-off stage again. In that event he almost certainly would have had to go, but at least the shortcomings of a team he has spent so long diligently reshaping would not have been laid bare so cruelly for all the world to see.

It is perhaps the firmest evidence yet that Cesare Prandelli is, at heart, still very much a disciple of Trapattoni, that the 54-year-old reacted to his Italy team’s failure to beat Croatia on Thursday night by questioning his players’ lack of killer instinct and fitness.

Still, things may be about to get better for the former Fiorentina boss when he meets his mentor on Monday. For the older man, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that things in the immediate future are only going to get worse. Although, if they really amount to anything, hints of unhappiness amongst his players are potentially a greater threat to his position than the last group game which, we can assume for safety’s sake at this stage, will not go too well.

But as things stand the case for nudging the 73-year-old towards the door is not compelling. Rather, there should be a plan being mapped out for where the team might be headed when he eventually departs along with, ideally, who it is that might bring it there. Marco Tardelli has already expressed an interest but unless Trapattoni departs on quite a high which, with Germany and Sweden to come in the World Cup qualifiers is looking like a tall order, it is difficult to see him getting the chance.

Trapattoni certainly appears to have made some questionable calls over the last couple of games but very few people have come up with wildly attractive alternatives as to what he should have done. There is a logical enough basis to his contention that Ireland struggle to mount an attacking threat against good teams when playing with just one striker but get overwhelmed in midfielder when facing better sides with two.

On Thursday, he tried to somehow square the circle by playing Simon Cox somewhere in the middle but, far from achieving his objective in either area, he only managed to leave both looking undermanned and Glenn Whelan, for one, seemed frustrated by the lack of assistance he had received on what was one of his roughest nights in an Ireland shirt.

Whelan, who on the eve of the Croatia game spoke powerfully about how much he feels he owes the Italian, may well simply have been upset. But the various criticisms of Trapattoni circulating amongst the media yesterday in the wake of Ireland’s worst competitive defeat in 41 years – that Robbie Keane struggles to play as a lone striker, that Jonathan Walters would have been better at the withdrawn role or that he had devoted far too little time preparing his players for just this sort of eventuality to name but a few – all have a certain amount of validity to them.

Still, the reality is his team and tactical selections both had the look of being gambles taken by a man who had, as he weighed up how Spain’s long list of strengths might be contained, discounted all of his options as inadequate before having to settle on one.

The idea that starting Walters or James McClean would have made a significant difference to the outcome in Gdansk seems fairly fanciful; almost as fanciful as the suggestion made last December by many, including some of Trapattoni’s current critics, that this group line-up somehow suited the Irish with their underdog fighting spirit.

In fact, given the quality of our players, it always looked like something of a calamity.

Aside from being restricted in his options by the relative lack of talented personnel at his disposal, Trapattoni has been further hamstrung by the system for seeding tournament draws these days. With friendlies now counting for the purposes of the World Cup, there is growing pressure to win these games and therefore less scope to experiment. The Italian could have done with having better explored his options before coming here.

There is the potential for improvement on several fronts, not least with regard to that old chestnut, communication (with the players, primarily, rather the media) but the suggestion that he should be replaced now begs the question: With whom?

The FAI has tried ticking a few different sets of boxes over the last few years and it wasn’t until they shelled out on an enormous scale for someone with one of the best management records in the continental game that they achieved the return to a major championship they had been craving.

Since they got here performances, both collective and individual, have been poor and against two of the continent’s five top-rated sides a fairly hefty price has been paid in terms of pride. After four years of talking about sorting out the “little details” their manager clearly has to take some of the rap for the manner of the defeat but getting this group to these championships remains an achievement.

People have to ask themselves whether they too would have preferred if the team had fallen at the last hurdle so that we could all curse our bad luck again. Getting to play with the best carries with it an inevitable risk of losing, sometimes badly, and sacking the manager in the rush to find a scapegoat carries a risk too. There is talk of a young manager who can bring a new generation through but we all remember what happened when the FAI tried their hand at finding someone like that before, don’t we?

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