Trapattoni's authority is in doubt

 

SOCCER:The current confusion exposes a gap in communication and between generations, writes EMMET MALONE

AS A young reporter I once had my bacon saved by Denis Irwin who good naturedly agreed to a fairly lengthy enough “one on one” interview on the spot at the Irish team hotel after my original target, Phil Babb, had declined, replying “Yeah, I know, but I can’t be arsed,” or other slight variations to the succession of points I made in the hope of persuading him to play ball.

Journalists routinely moan to each other over how they are treated by some players but it has come to something when the manager of the national team is reduced to making the same complaint in public.

To be fair, the problems have been building for Giovanni Trapattoni for a while now.

Communications between the 72-year-old and his players, particularly the more peripheral ones, have always seemed patchy and he has found it hard before to hide his frustration, or surprise, at the way some of them behave.

It’s not entirely surprising that having hired the man for his 50 years of experience in the game, the association has found itself with a manager who cannot always easily relate to a pampered breed of youngster that tends not to take criticism well.

Nor has he helped himself at times with what have been seen as a somewhat “traditional” outlook. In addition to criticising James McCarthy, Leon Best and Caleb Folan earlier this week for the lack of respect they had shown by failing to communicate directly with him or association officials, for instance, he also defended, albeit good naturedly, his earlier disparagement of squad players who had expressed a desire to stay at home in order to be present for the birth of their children.

The criticism of McCarthy is also a little bit ironic given that when problems previously flared up in relation to the 20-year-old, back in February, he ended up having to admit that he had no phone number for the midfielder.

At the time, he was urged to change his ways, get on a plane and go and see a player who was, and still is, clearly due the benefit of the doubt given all that he had gone through since committing to Ireland while still in his mid teens. To his credit, that is precisely what the manager did, but now, it seems, he needs to go further.

When Trapattoni took over from Steve Staunton at the start of 2008, one of the main things he brought to the job was a sense of authority, something that was underlined when he called on his players to postpone their summer holidays in order to join him at a training camp in the Algarve.

Andy Reid was about the only player who failed to show without prior approval and the Dubliner, it seems he has been paying the price since. Three years on and the Italian had just over half of the 33 players he named in his squad for these four games – including the European Championship qualifier in Skopje – out on the training ground yesterday.

There are good reasons for the absence of some of the “disappeared”. Damien Duff and Kevin Doyle are amongst those who are clearly injured while the likes of John O’Shea, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady have ongoing club commitments. But the number of players who have provided “sick notes” from their employers this time around, as well as the manner in which some have been delivered, makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that Trapattoni’s authority is not quite what it was.

When the manager was asked about this after Tuesday’s game, Marco Tardelli reacted with an extravagant display of exasperation but the reality is that if the 72-year-old is sincere about wanting to carry on for another campaign, or the younger man is serious about succeeding him, then they have to halt the slide.

The firm impression given again and again around games is that a core of the senior players respect the manager and support his methods, but those who gave up their time in order to play in this week’s rather meaningless games could be forgiven for feeling a little disgruntled if others are seen to be allowed pick and choose when they travel.

The manager needs to draw a line under the situation between now and the start of the new season and, having said countless times that players should present themselves to have injuries assessed, he should do what Tardelli suggested yesterday he would not; make it a condition of staying in the squad.

He also, it seems, could do with replacing Liam Brady. A younger, former Ireland player might help to provide a bridge between the rest of the management team and the players. A Roy Keane with people skills would be a terrific asset to Trapattoni but somebody who has earned their stripes, knows the current crop and his way around the Premier League would be pretty good. If Kevin Kilbane was hanging up his boots over the summer then he would fit the bill rather nicely.

For all the current problems and the various criticisms of the team’s playing style, Trapattoni has managed over the last couple of years turn a fairly ordinary group into qualification contenders. He has, along the way, spoken often about how much his young players can benefit from end of season get-togethers like this.

He needs now to show can he is not too set in his ways to learn a thing or two himself.