Rigid game plan ensured Irish failure


Forget Trapattoni, the entire Republic of Ireland squad hasn’t done itself justice, writes LEE CARSLEY

AS A COACH nowadays at Coventry City I’m always thinking about how a team should set up. I go to sleep rolling it around in my head, dream about it and wake up scribbling down ideas over breakfast.

Can’t help it.

After the Croatia game I couldn’t help it either. What would I do if put in charge of the Republic of Ireland? I’ve never worked with Giovanni Trapattoni so I can only write about what I’ve seen these past few days and what I know these Irish players are capable of.

That’s why it doesn’t make sense to me. We were so passive, so poor against Croatia that I stated last week that we must press up on Spain. What I meant by that was something Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid did to disrupt Barcelona’s tiki-taka style in last November’s El Clasico.

You press them at the source of their attack. Real attackers forced Barca goalie Victor Valdes into an error that led to an early goal. How? All the Barca defenders were man-marked.

I would have instructed Aiden McGeady and Duffer to crowd the full backs, with Robbie targeting the weaker Spanish centre backs.

Pique has more of a tendency to take risks so that’s the guy you go for. It would have given Robbie an opportunity to inspire his team-mates. The ball would have ended up at Ramos’s feet but every Irish player would know this in advance and could adjust their position.

Eventually Iker Casillas would have been forced to kick it long. Then they would find themselves in our football environment.

We made far more tackles than Spain because they don’t tackle so much as close down the space. When an Irish player looked up, he saw no option and hit it aimlessly long or into touch or it was intercepted.

If the full press up the field didn’t work out we could have gone to Plan B. Let their centre back have the ball but tighten up elsewhere.

The third option would’ve been to drop back and get our shape. This is what we did. But it was all we did.

In football the ability to adapt is paramount. I learned an awful lot about coaching from David Moyes at Everton.

David would shout “change” from the sideline several times in a game. We’d immediately go 4-3-3. Twenty minutes later, “change” would see us revert to 4-5-1 to stop them overrunning us in midfield. When we got a grip of that area “change” would allow us switch to 4-4-2. We’d constantly work on this in training.

David was noticing weaknesses in the opposition or reacting to their changes. He was having his battle with the other manager.

Despite obvious problems, change never happened against Croatia or Spain.

It was even like for like with our subs: James McClean for Duff (winger for winger) or Paul Green for Whelan (defensive midfielders both).

Don’t be fooled either: we didn’t play 4-5-1 against Spain. It was the exact same system employed against Croatia. It was the Trapattoni system.

The only change was Simon Cox playing in Keane’s role with Robbie trying to play in Kevin Doyle’s usual position.

It was a failure.

I could see what we were trying to do without the ball – the plan was to be compact – but I’ve no idea what the idea was when we had the ball.

I do sessions where one group is constantly defending wave upon wave of attacks. That’s what Thursday’s entire game looked like; an exercise in defending and then booting clear. Last five minutes stuff when you are one-nil up.

As a young coach I’d love to sit down with Trapattoni and pick his brain about the rigid loyalty to a game plan that was blatantly malfunctioning. I respect him for what he has achieved at all levels of football but I’m baffled by his thought process.

At 3-0 down why bother throwing on McClean? Look at England. It became obvious that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had the right stuff. It didn’t matter who the kid was keeping out of the team. Roy Hodgson picked him.

I think Trapattoni will keep his system and largely the same line-up for Italy.

Everyone now is saying we need to adapt but I think he has travelled too far down the conservative road to turn around now.

I’m not buying into the theory that we don’t have any world-class players so therefore can’t expect to live with Croatia, Spain and Italy. Greece won the Euros without a world-class player. What they did have was a well-organised structure where everyone knew their job and believed what the manager was telling them.

We were good enough to qualify despite being passed off the pitch by almost every side we played.

There are enough strong characters in this squad – Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Duffer – to knit the team together. But I don’t think they will revolt against Trap as they are proper pros who understand the importance of respect.

But forget Trapattoni; the entire Republic of Ireland squad hasn’t done itself justice in Poland.

We haven’t seen the spirit we are famed for or the commitment to a cause.

There hasn’t been a will to win. We’ve looked scared, conceding inexcusable early goals and before and after half-time.

The biggest worry has been our lack of energy.

I refuse to accept these occasions have overawed this group of players but something is not right.

I would go with a 4-3-3 on Monday against Italy. Let Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan do what they do best – go have a scrap with Pirlo and the Italian midfield.

Put Darron Gibson alongside Keith, with Glenn in behind them, so we have an established passer on the pitch.

Let McGeady and Duffer off the leash. Let them go and enjoy the game. Same goes for Robbie up front.

And if it isn’t working after 20 minutes. Change up and go again.

Ultimately, the players need to be given the chance to perform.


1 Spirit

If I’d paid thousands of euro to follow Ireland, I’d be fuming. I tell the young players at Coventry: There is a way of losing.

Force the opposition to raise their game to beat you.

2 Mentality

We’ve started every game badly. When the national anthems are going on be thinking about your first touch, first tackle, first throw-in. Your role in the game.

3 Desire

You want to be there, so prove it. Compete for everything so when you are clapping in front of the fans afterwards you can at least look them in the eye.

4 Commitment

Opposing managers used to hate playing against us because they knew what was coming. Be shattered afterwards. Atone for the poor performances in the first two games with a high energy showing.

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