It appears as though the cat may be in the sack, however it may also be that its neck has been wrangled, and it is slowly sinking towards the bottom of a river. It is another sad day in the history of Irish football as the duly anticipated news broke of the departure of Giovanni Trapattoni at a mutual consent from the post of manager of the Irish national team. It follows two successive defeats at the hands of Sweden and Austria that evidently leave Ireland out any chance of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The results leave Ireland 4th in proceedings trailing 2nd place Sweden by 6 points, with two games remaining. The results have left a nation in heartache and bitter disappointment. Heartache at the failings to qualify for another major international tournament. Disappointment at what could have been.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign as Republic of Ireland manager lasted 5 years and 4 months. 64 matches played, 26 wins 22 draws and 18 losses. A win percentage of around 52%. However as we all know the stats will never tell the full story in football. In between those misty figures are great triumphs, major low points, and the occasional whisper from his faithful translator Manuela Spinelli. Throw in a questionable handball and you’re about halfway there at the tale of Trap’s reign as the Don of Irish football. However the iminant question stands: Can Trapattoni’s time in charge be seen as a failure? Although it does appear on the surface that Il Trap’s time in charge has been a disheartening calamity as we come to a close on yet another failed qualification quest, we must look back, although reluctant, on the number of encouraging positives that he brought to the table.
World Cup 2010
Giovanni Trapattoni took over the management of the Irish national team in a time of crisis. The tenure of previous self proclaimed “gaffer” Steve Staunton is not one that is recalled fondly in the minds of Irish supporters. Trap, in his first campaign in charge brought the Irish team through a qualifying group that consisted of Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Montenegro and Georgia. In that campaign the Republic of Ireland finished in 2nd place, winning 4, drawing 6 and losing none. Losing not one game in qualifying in a group with reigning champions Italy is an achievement in itself but I personally recall the manner in which we did it. This qualification period was vastly different from that of EURO 2008 and even in some respects the EURO 2012 joist, which ended in success. No this World Cup campaign had something about it. It had passion, on and off the field. But in particular a backing of the manager and a backing of the style of play he enforced. Irish teams since the millennium had not been accustomed to playing attractive football and neither was this, but, it was not dull or ugly. We weren’t lucky to get away with a result, we deserved them. I recall the nights in Dublin and in Bari when we hunted Italy, without a thought put into fear. Fear that this
was one of the worlds best teams, the fear of losing. If not for a late, late Alberto Gilardino goal Ireland would have beaten the champions. Even in Bari we drew 1-1. The same game but overall a fair result. But no fear. However if one set of games was to epitomise Ireland’s 2010 World Cup qualification journey it would have to have been the nights in Dublin and Paris against France. Lets take the first leg, the one in Dublin. Ireland do what they had to do against a better opposition: they shut them out. And they did it perfectly well in the first half, however a lapse of pressing allowed France too much time and space on the ball which led to Nicholas Anelka scoring a deflected shot off Sean St. Ledger into the top corner. These things happen in football. But it was the second leg that had our hearts racing and yet snatched them away so cruelly at the final moments. Robbie Keane’s goal on 33 minutes got the party started, equaling the sides on aggregate and on away goals. The remainder of the match played out, the sides battling at a level standard. That’s what got me. Here was Ireland competing with 1998 winners and 2006 finalists France, and doing a fine good job at it too. But then it happened. Into extra time. 113 minutes on the clock. Florent Malouda crosses the ball dangerously into the Irish box and it happened. France level it 1-1 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate. No details are needed. We all know what happened. Even the man himself knows what happened, how it happened and why it happened. The fact of the matter was we were out. Cheated out, and there was nothing we could do about it.
This can be seen as both a positive and a negative on what way you look at it. I see it as both. However I will take the respective positives from our qualification and journey to get to Poland & Ukraine. The Republic’s qualification group this time around comprised of 1960 winners and 2008 semi-finalists Russia, Armenia, Slovakia, Andorra and Macedonia. Consistency was a factor right from the off for the Boys In Green as we began our journey with two opening wins away in Armenia and with a comfortable 3-1 win versus Andorra. This set things up nicely in proceedings however it did lead to some
turbulence as a bitter 2-3 loss at the hands of Russia coupled with a 1-1 draw away to Marek Hamšík’s Slovakia halted progress and was a sour end to the years progress which left us level on points with Slovakia but still trailing Russia in top spot. International duty picked up again at the end of March as Trap’s side saw off Macedonia 2-1 in a hard-fought win. The sides faced again away in Macedonia in June as two Robbie Keane goals saw off the hosts. A dull 0-0 draw with Slovakia led the way to the game of the qualification process, or as it’s now known ‘The Miracle of Moscow’. Legendary performances from duo Shay Given and Richard Dunne frustrated Andrei Arshavin’s side as the spoils were shared in a captivating and unforgettable 0-0 draw. Business as usual followed with a 2-0 away win at the hands of Andorra. That result meant that a win over Armenia in the final group game would guarantee second spot which would mean a dreaded play-off in order to qualify for EURO 2012. A tense night in the Aviva Stadium saw an Armenian own-goal and a Richard Dunne second secure second place for Ireland. A lucky, very lucky play-off draw saw Ireland meet Estonia. Many people seem to forget who we could have been matched up with. Croatia, Sweden, Portugal. Very lucky. As if Estonia appeared beatable on paper, the first leg evidently finished the tie. An unexpected 4-0 away win followed by a 1-1 home draw at the Aviva had seen Trapattoni’s Ireland through to their first major international tournemant in 10 years.
Although the play was certainly not as confident or eye-catching as previous campaigns, pure consistency and a matter of grinding out results when needed meant that Ireland duly deserved their place in EURO 2012. However, a matter of dullness and no initiative to pass the ball in their play was the beginning of a hate-spree on Giovanni Trapattoni in his Italian-led play that focussed on holding onto leads and defensive output. This hate-spree followed through into the aftermath of EURO 2012 and into the next campaign which inedvertently led to Trap’s downfall.
He was not perfect. He did not get us to the World Cup, and he is not Jack Charlton. There were constant arguments over player-choice, formation, tactics, man management and a matter of how he made us play football. However, if we can be honest to him and to ourselves he did do a good job. Although debatable, I feel that he did do a good job. He resurrected us and brought us higher than we had been in a long long time. He built a reputation. He made us proud to say that we represented Irish football, and he brought us to a major international tournament. After the failings of two mangers after the 2002 World Cup it could have went either way and Trapattoni made sure that we did not fall into the abyss. He steadied the ship. Grazie Trap, per tutto quello che avete fatto.