Caught in a Trap

Kevin Beirne explores if Giovanni Trapattoni is the man to take Ireland forward

Let’s go back to a magical time. The year is 2012, it’s early June, and there is a sense of optimism in the air. Cars drive by with mini Ireland flags poking out from the tops of the windows and everyone seems to have the tricolour on their wing-mirrors too.

I know it’s hard to remember, but please try. Remember back to the morning of June 10th, and try to feel that same sense of anticipation you had. It was a feeling Irish fans hadn’t felt in quite some time. We had managed to get out of our group, actually win a play-off and qualify for Euro 2012.

Unfortunately, June 10th is when the boys in green trotted out against Croatia and everything changed. We were humiliated by a technically superior opponent. Ireland looked lost and conceded after only three minutes.

Things looked ominous for Ireland, and they were. Sean St. Ledger’s 19th minute equaliser would be our only goal in a tournament in which we conceded nine times in three games. Our once resolute defence had crumbled in the face of actually talented players.

Fast-forward to last Friday night and it seems the rot has not stopped. Ireland shipped six goals to an admittedly exciting German side. Andy Keogh’s last second consolation meant nothing besides making our goal-difference less bad.

Going in to Euro 2012, Ireland had a 14 game unbeaten run and had not lost a competitive game outside of Ireland under Trapattoni. Now, Ireland have lost four of their last five competitive games, with the sole avoidance of defeat being an extremely lucky 2-1 win over Kazakhstan.

In that time, Ireland’s once sure defence has leaked in 16 goals and our pitiful attack has only managed four in response, with two of those coming against minnows Kazakhstan and one coming in the last second of a 6-1 defeat.

If Ireland were a club team, this run of defeats would be very distressing, but in the context of international football, where so few games are played, these results are hugely worrying. Could it be that Trapattoni has taken this Irish team as far as he can?

It would seem that the answer is yes. Although we can’t expect to be beating teams with the quality of Germany, Spain or Italy, we can at least demand to be competitive against them. The Irish public still remembers Ray Houghton’s strike beating Italy at USA ’94 or Robbie Keane’s late equaliser against the Germans in 2002. The truth of the matter is, Ireland have yet to beat a team ranked higher than them in a competitive match under Trapattoni.

Ireland’s play under Trapattoni has been, to put it lightly, largely uninspiring. The most memorable performances under his tenure were the infamous second leg playoff against France, where Ireland played their most expansive game in years, and the 0-0 draw away to Russia, in which Richard Dunne played like a man possessed.

In just over four years at the helm, Ireland’s two most remarkable performances were both draws, and one of those games is only remarkable because we should have lost by a margin of 4 or 5-0. At this stage, the honeymoon is well and truly over and Trapattoni’s reputation should not make him exempt from the criticisms being levelled at him, despite Liam Brady’s assertion to the contrary.

Where Trapattoni was once seen as confident and assured, he now looks foolish and arrogant. His decision to play a five-man midfield was welcomed, until it was realised he planned to play a striker as part of that midfield.

He cannot even be claiming to be building for the future. This Irish team is supposedly the one which gives us the best chance to win now, but we are not even doing that. An injury to an established first teamer is the only chance if game time for players like Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and James McClean.

Trapattoni has also fallen out with a number of Irish players in his time in charge. Some of these players would not necessarily be starting, but it is relevant to note that Trapattoni has complained about his lack of depth while also freezing out certain players.

At the moment, Darron Gibson, Shane Long and Stephen Hunt are the biggest names to be involved in some form of disagreement with the Italian, who appears to have quite a delicate ego. Over the four years, Trapattoni has also clashed with Stephen Ireland, both Reids (Andy and Steven), James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark, to name a few.

Irish football appears to be in a place which does not support the relationship with Trapattoni, as the FAI are in serious debt, and cannot afford to pay his salary without outside help. This current crop of players is not good enough to succeed, but that does not mean recent results are acceptable.

At the moment, it seems that Ireland need for the young players to be given their chance and older players to be phased out. Trapattoni, at this point in his career, is not the man to rebuild a national team. Even forgetting his age, he has shown great reluctance over the past few years to give the next generation any consideration.

Ireland’s best chance at avoiding a repeat of the post-2002 hangover is to accept that they need to rebuild and begin right now. No one expects us to get to the same level as Germany, but to concede six goals at home is a disgrace. Ireland need to rebuild, and Trapattoni needs to go.