Finally, under Trap, Ireland have a plan, says Paul Little.
Before critical analysis of Trapattoni’s Ireland is undertaken, the following must be understood: the current crop of players available to the venerable Italian is the most limited in terms of quality and quantity in modern times. All notions based around the aesthetic desire to see the Boys in Green play an expansive, attacking game must be tempered by this reality.
The point is underlined by the fact that critics of the Italian’s regime (Eamon Dunphy at the forefront) can only dredge up Andy Reid and Lee Carsley as players currently overlooked or sent to Coventry by Trapattoni who could improve the Irish set up. Andy Reid and Lee Carsley?? Not exactly John Giles and Liam Brady are they? Neither has ever been a mainstay of any Irish set up. To suggest that somehow they could be now shows the famine we are facing – and the lack of logic in at least some of the criticism being directed at the Ireland manager.
This is not to say that the likes of Reid should be jettisoned – when talent is lacking, you can’t afford to alienate what’s available. But the manager is paid to manage – and he should be the arbiter of who best fits in with his plans. Would it be better if we had a manager who paid more attention to critics than to his own wealth of experience? You would be getting in to Kevin Keegan territory there. Think back to when he managed England – all star players were accommodated at the expense of any coherent approach to the game. The result was chaos and an admission from Keegan on his resignation that he was out of his depth at international level.
While a case can be made for the inclusion of Reid in the squad, Carsley’s time has been and gone. But given how Trapattoni chooses to set up his teams – where tactical rigour, energy and discipline are critical aspects – it is hard to see where Reid might play in a plan A midfield formation that calls for two defensive minded midfield players and two dynamic wingers who are prepared to work the whole line.
Reid could well have value as an impact sub – a little bit of guile when the system is not working and Ireland are chasing a game. But ultimately, Reid’s exile is self imposed – after all, Trapattoni had him in his squad, but the Sunderland player clearly did not relish a bit part role. Sadly, had he remained patient, he may well have had a part to play in the last two games. Perhaps with time to reflect, Reid might have a rethink – but he is not someone that Trapattoni should be chasing, nor is he likely too.
The same might be said for Stephen Ireland – the Republic’s most impressive performer of recent times, both at international and club level. One could imagine that the system might be adjusted for a player of his talents, but until he deigns to return to the squad, his absence just has to be shouldered. Whether he should ever be welcomed back is matter for another day.
Ireland and Reid apart, Trapattoni will be dealing with more or less the same squad from now until the denouement of the group. And given what we have seen thus far, it is unlikely that he will make any radical changes to his approach going forward. That said, when a goal was needed and Italy looked vulnerable, Trapattoni was flexible enough to make changes – changes that ultimately altered the course of events on Wednesday.
However, taking the campaign so far as a whole, it is clear that while a game is proceeding to his satisfaction, the status quo is unlikely to be tampered with. And it is this consistent, clarity of thought that gets to the very heart of the manager and what he is bringing to the Irish party.
Trapattoni has a vision of the game and a system of play that he has an unshakeable belief in. His approach to the game may not appeal to everyone, but the success he has had in developing his system means that any lack of appeal ends up merely being either cultural or just aesthetic. The Italian was hired to get results, and given the Italian’s reputation, it is highly unlikely that anyone in FAI headquarters demanded that it be pleasing on the eye.
The very fact that Ireland now have a discernible approach to the game – albeit of the conservative Italian variety – shows just how far we have progressed since the tactical shambles of Steven Staunton’s reign. Just as under the Louth man, the squad has clear weaknesses. But now, under the experienced tutelage of Trapattoni, it has organisation, discipline, and a clearly defined tactical plan that should not be simply dismissed as nothing better than the parking of a bus in front of Shay Given’s goal.