Wily Trapattoni still in situ after eventful roller-coaster ride ends in disappointment
The Republic’s limitations were cruelly exposed at the European Championship finals in Poland, writes EMMET MALONE
It would be easy to make the mistake of assuming that the management, players and supporters were the groups most disappointed by the way this summer’s European Championships turned out for the Irish. Spare a thought for the media, though, because the press corps had waited 10 years for a follow up to Mick McCarthy’s endlessly eventful World Cup campaign and trust me, Sopot was no Saipan.
While Roy Keane’s, ahem, departure from the squad a decade ago famously made front page news in India, our big pre-tournament story this time involved one defender who wasn’t going to play being replaced in the squad at the last minute by another defender who wasn’t going to play.
No disrespect to either Kevin Foley or Paul McShane, both of whom are, for the record, really good lads, but it was not the sort of stuff that was going to halt the print media’s seemingly inexorable slide for even one day.
By the time the “news” broke we were all in Montecatini where what was (there at least) a very minor earthquake managed to generate some implausibly large headlines back in Ireland and the tail-end of a public reception for Trapattoni some pretty big laughs when the 73 year-old’s departure obstructed runners in a local road race.
The tournament itself was, of course, a disaster (in sporting terms) although not, perhaps, nearly such a surprising one as some people were inclined to make out.
In any case, having decided in many cases to give the kids’ college fund to a German camper van rental firm, those fans who travelled remained defiantly determined to enjoy the experience, singing and drinking (though not necessarily in that order) to the bitter end.
Opinion regarding their attitude was divided with John Delaney venturing out late at night in Poland to tell quite a few in person that they were “f**king great” while away in an ITV studio somewhere Roy Keane was clearly less impressed.
The aftermath was eventful. At his final press conference in Poznan, the manager’s observation that he would “humiliate” some of his players in the event that he was to speak frankly about them, struck many of those present as crossing a line and the Italian showed a similar lack of diplomacy a few weeks later when discussing what he felt were the mixed messages sent by Shane Long regarding his fitness before and after the Serbia game.
Still, when it really mattered, the 73- year-old showed he can still handle himself rather well with the press.
In the aftermath of the 6-1 defeat by Germany, his position really did seem to be under threat, an impression strengthened when one paper started quoting “a senior FAI source” who said, with what seemed like absolute authority, that the manager would be dismissed within the week.
For once the FAI didn’t seek any corrections or clarifications regarding the story. Its press officer literally declined to speak when asked about the situation while Delaney turned on his heels when approached by reporters in the Faroe Islands wanting to ask him who the source might be and whether there was any truth in what he was saying.
Trapattoni, meanwhile, won back over even a few of his harsher critics amongst the press corps thanks to the dignified way in which he handled the situation. The Italian quietly defended the job he had done but said he would accept whatever decision his employers took.
Their decision to stick with the former Juventus and Italy boss only reinforced the impression that the entire affair had been a half-baked attempt to provoke either his resignation or, at the very least, the sort of outburst that would have made his dismissal a little more affordable.
The 4-1 win Ireland secured in Torshavn helped too, of course, although not to the extent that Marco Tardelli seemed to suggest during a pitch-side briefing in advance of the Greece game when he claimed that it had been a “fantastic” year.
His audience might have settled for describing it as “a bit of a roller-coaster ride” although only, one suspects, because they wouldn’t know the name of that fairground attraction where everybody is hauled up slowly together and then allowed to hurtle back screaming towards the ground.
Trapattoni’s own contribution that week was his most incomprehensible press conference for a very long time – seriously, if anyone had told us he was going to be around for this long, we’d all just have learned to speak Italian – just one highlight of which was his observation that “many black players are very fast”.
There was no sense whatsoever that the manager was being racist, just bewildering and, as it happens, his most recent briefing for the Irish media was conducted completely through Italian with the association’s Peter Sherrard translating at the Dublin end of the conference call.
To be fair, though, the “You what?” moments are sometimes prompted by the people sitting on our side of the table.
Back in April, Stephen Kenny was still reeling from seeing his Shamrock Rovers side beaten 3-0 at home by Derry in the Setanta Cup when he arrived in for the post-match press conference.
An inability to connect with people in times of real distress may be one reason why some journalists find themselves covering sport in the first place but trying to get the ball rolling with a disappointed manager or player can often still be quite tricky.
In this instance, Rovers had been severely handicapped from 15 minutes in when the visitors benefited from what can safely be described as a controversial couple of related decisions by the match official.
“So,” someone piped up just as the silence was threatening to turn seriously awkward, “did you think the penalty and sending off of your goalkeeper changed the game?”
For the brief moment he composed himself and replied only slightly snappily that yes, it probably had, Kenny’s expression was a strange mix of astonishment and pity; not unlike the look that which sometimes crosses Trapattoni’s face in one of his press conferences.
The difference with the Dubliner was that he had not misunderstood the question.
Best and worst...
There’s not an awful lot of competition for this one.
Normally seeing a team clinch the league tends to rank up there but Sligo Rovers did that while most of the press corps were discussing Ireland’s 6-1 defeat by Germany the night before with Giovanni Trapattoni in Malahide.
In the circumstances, Sean St Ledger’s equalising goal against Croatia might just nick the accolade although partly because we imagined at the time it might actually matter a little more.
Spain’s fourth goal against Ireland was pretty grim with Cesc Fabregas leaving Paul Green on his backside as he moved in from the right before planting the ball in the back of the net.
Ireland’s midfielder was unfortunate to be fair but the goal and the scene immediately after it rather aptly summed up a terrible night for Giovanni Trapattoni and his men.
If the importance of goals can do anything to enhance their quality then it would hard to top Didier Drogba’s for Chelsea in the Champions League final.
Having fallen a goal behind and with time running out, the Londoners need to conjure something up out of nothing and the striker’s angled header to the top corner was just the job.