Kelly's statement puts Trapattoni's man management skills in focus again
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni and Stephen Kelly in seemingly happier times together at a Republic of Ireland press conference in March 2011. photograph: donall farmer/inpho
In the wake of Stephen Kelly’s statement being issued yesterday a reporter from a rival paper put together what he reckoned was a fairly decent team of Irish players that Giovanni Trapattoni has fallen out with, to some degree or another, since he took on his role in 2008, so it’s no great surprise that we find ourselves reflecting on his man management skills again.
To become involved in a public spat with Stephen Ireland, Andy Reid or, most recently, Ian Harte, is one thing though; to have one of the squad’s generally most likeable figures seek a media outlet through which he can let it be widely known he is “disgusted” with you is quite another.
The FAI decided yesterday against issuing a reply from Trapattoni but couldn’t resist gently hanging their manager in a very brief statement.
This, after all, is just the sort of thing that was supposed to have been addressed when peace was made in the wake of the great fumbling in the Faroes.
The Italian was not fired but he was told to smarten up, get along to a few games and stop slaughtering his players at press conferences.
That Kelly should be his latest victim is, on the face of it, surprising but then Trapattoni had previously managed to alienate Steven Reid and antagonise Shane Long.
The former was blameless, the latter not quite so, although he still got all the sympathy when the manager decided to ridicule him in public.
Kelly has, in any case, been just about everything Trapattoni looks for in a squad member: loyal and willing.
The Dubliner is no world-beater but through his versatility and availability, he has racked up 32 caps, most of them under the Italian, who gave him the honour of captaining the side against Uruguay in March 2011.
The former Tottenham and Birmingham City defender started the manager’s first game in charge at right back and there has been at least one spell when he has played more for Ireland than his club side.
In the latter half of 2011 he played in three of Irelands’ final five competitive games, including the remarkable goalless draw in Moscow and the 4-0 play-off win in Estonia.
In every instance, though, other players were missing and so, while he made the squad for the European Championships, with everyone available, he didn’t feature in Poland.
He started the next game, against Serbia, but then came Germany and Trapattoni’s decision to select Séamus Coleman ahead of him at right back.
The Everton player, it seems fair to say, is generally regarded as a more talented player and the manager provided what seemed a reasonable explanation for his decision, that he was looking for someone who might provide more of a threat pushing forward out of defence, but Kelly must have thought he had earned the right to play, that he was next in line and, perhaps worse, that he was being replaced by someone who was likely to stay in once he got in.
What you believe happened next depends, for a start, on which of Trapattoni’s own two accounts of events you choose to go with.
Previously, he has said Kelly came to him, expressed his disappointment at being passed over and said “I have to think about it a little bit”.
That was in reply to questions about reports that Kelly had had to be coaxed on to the plane for the Faroes trip after a training ground altercation with Marco Tardelli.
Thursday’s “I play or I go home!” version of events was rather closer to the story that he had originally denied.
Kelly himself, though nearly half a century younger than Trapattoni, managed a much more diplomatic answer when asked about what had happened a little while afterwards:
“I spoke to the manager and told him I wanted to play and was ready,” he said. “What we said is between me and him. But you’ve got to accept the manager’s decision. He feels like he’s making the right choice. Any time you’re not picked you feel like you should be playing, no matter who you are.”
And he made it clear at the time that as far as he was concerned the incident was history; he would be continuing to come whenever he was called.
“You can’t represent your country if you’re not here, that’s the way I see it. As much as it’s disappointing not to play, I’m not going to have the opportunity to play if I’m sitting at home on the couch watching the game, am I?
“While I’m here, even if the manager doesn’t pick me, I’ll still have some opportunity to play if something happens or an opening arises and that’s what I’ll do. I want to play for Ireland.”
The Italian appeared to be of the same mind when he included him in his squad for the friendly against Greece in November but things looked less certain when he was left out of the 27-man squad for the Poland game on the basis he was being “rested”.
Still, it might all have been left there had the manager not become suddenly animated, as he seems to at random moments during his press conferences, when asked an innocuous question about whether Kelly and Gibson might be recalled for the match against Sweden.
It was clear at that stage Trapattoni had fallen out of love with Kelly. Not half as much, though, as it has since become clear, as Kelly has fallen out of love with him.
FAI losing patience: Association says team matters should be kept private
The FAI yesterday called on Giovanni Trapattoni to keep team matters in-house after Stephen Kelly claimed the Republic of Ireland manager ‘attempted to defame’ him following Wednesday’s 2-0 friendly win over Poland.
Kelly was responding to the Italian’s claim the Reading full back demanded to play or be allowed leave the travelling party ahead of the World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands last October.
In a lengthy statement, the defender said he was “shocked and disgusted with the untrue and unwarranted comments” made by the manager. It is yet another uncomfortable public spat involving Trapattoni and one of his players and a brief comment from the FAI suggested the association’s patience is wearing thin.
“Giovanni Trapattoni is a great manager,” a spokesman said yesterday, “and he has achieved a lot, but the association would prefer if team matters like the one before the Faroe Islands match, which was reported yesterday, were dealt with in private.”
When Trapattoni named the squad for the Poland game he said Kelly was given “a break for this fixture”. On Thursday morning, however, he said he was not involved because of an ultimatum he issued after the 6-1 defeat to Germany and ahead of the 4-1 win over the Faroe Islands.
He went on to question his commitment and said Irish players “need to be happy to play for their country”.
Kelly’s response to the Italian was uncharacteristic of a player who has routinely kept his counsel and whose desire has never been questioned. However, he did stop short of categorically denying he issued an ultimatum.
“I am simply shocked and disgusted with the untrue and unwarranted comments made by Giovanni Trapattoni,” he said. “These hurtful and untrue comments have caused distress and upset to myself and my family who have supported me throughout my career and know the level of commitment and passion I have always shown in representing my country.
“I have proudly represented Ireland from the age of 16, and I have never shown anything other than 100 per cent commitment to my country and my team.”
He added: “It saddens me greatly that I should have to defend my good character and reputation in a profession I love, however, I refuse to allow anyone to question my passion for representing Ireland.” CARL O'MALLEY