Finances or football? The FAI’s big problem

by Conor Clancy

With a good proportion of the country calling for his head, it is safe to say that Giovanni Trapattoni is a man under an enormous amount of pressure. Who would’ve thought it when the snowy haired Italian touched down in Dublin to sign a lucrative deal that not even the FAI could afford to pay in full? How things have changed since the days when Irish people celebrated and cheered the name of their Italian messiah; they used to sing “He used to be Italian but he’s Irish now”.

In this piece I will debate why Trapattoni should perhaps be moved on and who would be best suited to filling the position left vacant.

I want to set out from the offset that I am no reactionary football fan. I have the utmost respect for what Trapattoni has achieved in his career and acknowledge the fact that he is (or was) one of the greatest managers the game has seen.

In my opinion, however, he is a manager more suited to club football than international. He is stubborn, there’s no doubt about it. A club manager can afford to be. He doesn’t have the players required for his system? No problem. Sell a few, buy a few – problem solved. International managers do not have this luxury. In international management you must select a system based on the best players you have available to you. Unfortunately for the Republic of Ireland, and the likes of James McClean in particular, Trap has not been doing this for a few years now. He insists on playing with a negative, unattractive, and joyless style despite simply not having the players to suit it. He opts for a basic 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with two holding midfielders who rarely do anything other than smash the ball 50 yards upfield and then watch Robbie Keane throw his arms around in protest.

Ireland  have a range of decent quality players who are good with the ball at their feet: James McClean, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Keith Fahey, Jon Walters, Shane Long and so on. As I said; these players are good with the ball at their feet, on the ground. They are utterly useless when they are looking at balls flying thirty feet above their heads. I don’t have a problem with playing defensively, being a Chelsea fan I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I said “play to your strengths” during the European campaign last year. But Ireland’s strengths, unlike two years ago, no longer lie in their defense.

On top of his blatant inability to adapt or evolve as a manager in the Winter of his managerial career, he claims the record of managing the joint worst team at any European Championships. He also led Ireland to their worst ever home defeat, albeit to a brilliant German side. Regardless of the quality of this German outfit, six goals is too much. Six goals is simply humiliating.

So the question I want to put forward is: if it didn’t require so much money to sack him, would Trap still be employed? I highly doubt it. There have been some strange comments coming out of the FAI this week which don’t exactly look encouraging for the Italian. Whispers coming out of the Association suggest that Trap could be gone come the end of the week. The FAI face a massive problem of what needs to be put first; finances or football?

To get rid of Trapattoni would burn a big hole in the pockets of the FAI, and those of you who know John Delaney will know that spending money is not something he is fond of, even if not spending will be detrimental to the Irish game. It is rumoured that it would cost roughly 1.7 million euro. This is before you even take into consideration the cost of searching for and hiring a new man.

This high cost immediately rules out one candidate whose name has been passed around – Harry Redknapp. As much as I dislike him I must admit I do think he would do a brilliant job. But, his wages would be astronomical. And can you just imagine how distraught he would be when he found out he couldn’t sign Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch? Now come on, why would you want to upset poor ‘Arry like that.

The next man I’m going to talk about is, in my opinion, the best man for the job. You may disagree but at least give me a chance to explain myself. The man in question is Owen Coyle. Why? For a variety of reasons, some of which I will elaborate on:

Coyle is currently unattached following his departure from Bolton Wanderers. This means the FAI would not have to fork out to pay off a potential release clause. At the age of forty-six, he is still relatively young for a manager. This gives him a distinct advantage over Trapattoni as, due to his age, he is more likely to be open to new ideas, formations and styles. This is something that I’m sure would please the majority of Irish fans. Throughout his brief management career thus far, Coyle has encouraged good football. His style is well suited to the players that would be at his disposal should he become the next manager of the Republic of Ireland. This new, exciting style would certainly help him to win over the fans immediately and with the qualification group Ireland have, it would be a relatively low risk environment in which he could begin to experiment with the squad and to implement his style. The only real stern tests facing the Irish are Germany and Sweden, only having to face the former one more time.

Another box ticked by Coyle is that he is capable of identifying and utilising young, up and coming talent. He displayed this trait when he brought Daniel Sturridge to Bolton on loan, a deal which worked out better than I’m sure even he had expected. He also displayed this attribute when he loaned little-known Arsenal youngster Rio Miyaichi, again to Bolton. Miyaichi also had a big impact on the team and Coyle deserves a lot of credit for not only being able to identify talent, but also being able to use it in such a way which is beneficial to the team and beneficial to the progression of the player himself.

It should also be noted that Coyle is brilliant when it comes to handling the more experienced, ageing members of his squads. With Burnley he used Graham Alexander to devastating effect despite him being in his late thirties at the time. He also brought in and gave new life to Nigel Reo-Coker whilst at Bolton. Reo-Coker, it’s fair to say was not very good during his time at Aston Villa. When he moved to Bolton, where he captained the team in the absence of Kevin Davies and although he wasn’t brilliant, he did a good job considering he came in on a free. The Ireland squad is packed with ageing, underwhelming players. If Coyle could manage them in a similar fashion to Reo-Coker, it would only lead to good things for the Irish.

Owen Coyle is also good at knowing when it is time for a player to move on. He showed this with the likes of Johan Elmander and Joey O’Brien. This would go down well in the Irish camp. Several players are past their sell by date now and really need to step aside to allow for the next generation to prosper. Robbie Keane is a prime example. Keane no longer offers anything unique to the national side and is only preventing Shane Long, Simon Cox, Jon Walters, Kevin Doyle and others from being presented with a real opportunity to lead the line for their nation.

I understand that Owen Coyle is by no means a better manager than Giovanni Trapattoni, I just feel he would certainly be more suited to this job than the Italian. You mustn’t forget that since being named Ireland manager, Trap has never made any effort to attend matches in England or elsewhere in which Irish players would be playing. He openly admitted to not knowing Marc Wilson was even eligible for Ireland. He has repeatedly said his players are not good enough and he has not made any attempt to promote the game domestically here in Ireland (which to be fair is probably more down to the FAI.) Why not give Coyle an opportunity?

If this was an issue more prominent six months ago, I would have suggested Chris Hughton as a possible successor to Trapattoni, should he be sacked. However, he has recently signed for Norwich City and cannot see him leaving after such a short period of time at the helm at Carrow Road.

Another name who has predictably been thrown around in the press is Mick McCarthy. I would absolutely take McCarthy back should other options like Coyle and even Chris Hughton be unavailable for any reason. Don’t laugh off this claim too hastily. McCarthy isn’t actually a bad candidate.

In his previous stint as Ireland boss he narrowly missed out on qualification for the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 before leading Ireland to the World Cup in 2002. He then led Ireland to progress from the group stages ahead of Cameroon and less impressively Saudi Arabia, not losing a single game and holding the German’s to a draw (who went on to be runners up.) Not exactly an easy task. Not only did he avoid defeat in the groups, but even in the knockout rounds. It took a penalty shootout for Spain to overcome the boys in green and if it weren’t for an Ian Harte missed penalty and an open goal missed by Kevin Kilbane things might have been very different.

McCarthy has always fared reasonably well with below average teams. He took over at Sunderland at a time when they were destined for relegation and had to months to try to save a sinking ship. It was a near impossible task. He almost took them straight back up, missing out only down to a penalty shoot out. He didn’t waste any more time, the following year Sunderland regained their Premier League status as Champions. Achieving an impressive 94 points from their 46 games.

His time and Wolverhampton Wanderers will be remembered for perhaps the wrong reasons. It is worth remembering that it was seen by most educated football fans to be an abysmal decision by the Wolves board to sack McCarthy. Wolves ended up going down and I’m not saying he would have guaranteed them safety, but, he knows how to do it. It should also be noted that he became the first Wolves manager in thirty years to maintain the club’s top flight status for two successive seasons.

I completely understand that at the time of writing, Giovanni Trapattoni is still the manager of the Republic of Ireland national team and he may well see out the remainder of his two year deal. Lets just hope that whether it be under Trap, Coyle, McCarthy or whoever else, that this Ireland squad can start to improve and improve fast.

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