So the songs have been sung, the flags folded neatly away. For the legions of Irish fans who lit up the cities of Poznan and Gdansk with our good humour, colour and passion during Euro 2012 and who serenaded the world with our hymn of defiance in Gdansk, it was back to school time in September for Don Giovanni and his band of merry (or not – depending on your disposition) boys in green.
Like all who go back to school at this time of year it’s never easy. New class room, new surroundings, some new pupils and in Ireland’s case the same old teacher. The long sunny optimistic days of our pre Polish summer where everything was possible seem like a long time ago now. The events of Friday night in Astana have set the restless schoolboys to carving rude words about the teacher on their desks in protest and it’s only the first day of a new term.
A summer that promised so much ended with heartbreak. Ireland finished 16th in a 16 team tournament with only one goal scored and that from a defender, plus nine conceded. Where was our Houghton header, our Packie leap of joy, the little midfield maestro tumbling with joy again in 94 as Terry Phelan held him as tight and protectivly as a father holds his new born baby, and who can forget Robbie Keanes pick pocketing of Germany in Ibaraki. Irish tournaments have always produced at least a win or a draw. It was taken as read. Approximately 14,000 souls were in the Aviva for a match on a cold February night in the Carling Nations Cup. Many thousands more were in Poland hoping to be able to tell the grandchildren “I was there when………..”.
Irish fans were robbed of their “golden moment” in Poland and in the absence of any other fall guy the manager has taken the brunt of the finger pointing. Every tournament Ireland have ever been too has left us with that image, that moment that will live with us all forever. For those of us in Poland, the rendition of “The Fields” in the Cathedral in Gdansk was our moment. In the absence of magic on the field the Irish fans sprinkled a little bit of their own fairy dust on proceedings so much so that for the first time ever Irish players in the stadium that night will be telling their grandchildren “I was there when the fans…..”.
Even the most honest amongst us will admit that qualification from a group containing Croatia, Italy and Spain was an impossible task. Never mind that we lost to the runners up and the tournament winners. Nevermind that we were spanked by arguably the best international team ever. For Ireland to even be in their company was the” result”. It was the” result” of a successful two year qualifying campaign which some scribes seem to now disregard with the push of their “Enter” key. This as a consequence of not beating three teams ranked in the top ten of the world and containing players like Pirlo, Modric, Xavi and Iniesta. Rankings funnily enough came sharply into focus this week but for different reasons. Ireland as a footballing nation that historically always qualifies for tournaments with such ease and regularity can now belittle Trapattoni’s achievement by the performance in the actual tournament? In Olympic year when all Olympians were fated for becoming Olympians regardless of their performance, the Irish football manager is slated for his achievement. Only Charlton and McCarthy have led us to the promised land. Qualification campaigns and tournament football are two different competitions. As a nation that benefited through Gary Mc Kay in 1987 and subsequently witnessed June 1988 we would do well to remember that.
Hostile outposts such as Yeravan and Moscow were plundered for points in the last campaign. Were we lucky? Of course. The more this Irish team plays the luckier the aged Italian manager seems to get. One would wonder at the level of success that his critics aportion to luck why Trap does not sit at the tables in Las Vegas rather than a wind swept Gannon Park. Would Irish teams of the past have buckled and come away with only hard luck stories from our last campaign? Moral defeats. Trapattoni “hides” behind “results”. And for his detractors “results” no longer matter. Since the slaying of the “Tiger”, long established pillars of previous sound logic have fallen.The church and most recently the banks. This week another pillar of reason that “football is a results business” bit the dust. It is not anymore about “results”. Irish fans and pundits have become so blase about winning and picking up points away from home that its now more about style than substance. Of course as fans we want both but dare to ask our Welsh or Scottish cousins would they like the “results” that Ireland have been achieving under Don Giovanni and you would need to visit a plastic surgeon so he could reattach your hand.
The history books will record Friday night’s “result” in Astana as follows:
Kazakstan 1-2 Ireland
The history books wont record the “result” as:
Kasakstan 1-2 Ireland – Ireland were dreadful, players played out of position ,team lacked shape ,ability to pass, hoofed long balls, had no passion and got out of jail in the last five minutes with two late goals.
When Giovanni Trappatoni took the job of Irish manager his remit was simple. Qualification. Qualification for a major tournament. I will say that again. Qualification for a major tournament. His first campaign led us to Paris. The wounds inflicted that night by the appendage of a certain gentleman spurred his team to come back and show that they were worthy of a seat at the top table again.
Wiser pundits and more competent statisticians than I will point to us being “found out” at the Euros. It’s a good catchphrase and an easy put down. What we found out is that we are not as good a team as Croatia, Spain and Italy. Did anyone not know that before we left? Turns out funnily enough that Italy reached the final and Spain destroyed Italy 4-0 in that final to secure their position as arguably the greatest international team of all time. So where does that leave us? Stick or twist. The FAI decided to stick.
The clamour for change went up immeadiately. Old hands such as Given and Duff said farewell. Imagine, footballers with two tournaments, 225 caps and nearly 30 years service in green between them and young families decided to retire in their 30s. Must be the manager’s fault. One could almost feel the dissapointment in certain quarters when Duffer came out with positive comments in the media about the manager and his efforts to make him stay on. The manager has “lost the dressing room” and “papering over cracks” appear to be the bylines of choice to most. The amount of orienteering painter/decorator experts in this country has reached epic porportions in recent times.
The players that Trap is “following” has grown. The view is out there that the players are unhappy. Shock, horror. Player who is not in team / squad unhappy with manager. Tweets – the modern version of a signed affidavit show the clue hunters the path to the smoking gun. Most of the affected players seem to be either fringe players, the younger generation or players whom Trap has retired. Journalists could do articles on Westwood, Randolph, Kelly, O Dea, St Ledger, Dunne, McGeady, Whelan, Andrews, Keane, Meyler etc and all would say how Trappatoni has influenced their career, how proud they are to wear the green,ansewer the call,travel anywhere just for the chance to sit on an Irish bench but that would not sell papers.
Most will agree that there is a growing seperation between modern footballers and the common man. Not just in wages which is obvious but also in terms of attitude. The retirement of Given and Duff brings nearer the end of a generation of Irish players who will show up for Ireland every time,regardless of injury, manager or club/family committments. Indeed, it says alot about our view of Given that he has been labelled a “cap collector” by some and Trapattoni critisised for playing him. The behaviour of Gibson for example is at odds with what the fans expect of our Irish players. It’s ironic in a week when the original Irish Warrior Davy Langan releases his autobiography a player financially secure for life feels he is not “ready” to come back to the squad. This is not a problem of Giovanni Trapattoni’s makeing and while I acknowledge Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability to deal with a younger generation of players he possess the one key device that Trapattoni does not have-a transfer window.
Greater talents and better servants to the Irish cause than Gibson have in the past got splinters warming the bench at multiple tournaments as squad players and still came back for more at the next campaign. They even kept their gripes to themselves and got on with it. Ronnie Whelan,himself a player who got limited game time in Italia 1990 and USA 1994 and whom fell out of favour with Jack Charlton over it came back in 1995 to ansewer his countries call. There is room for only one voice in a dressing room. Ronnie was asked by RTE for his man of the match selection in Astana. Ronnie stumbled. For a sweet passer of a ball Ronnie should have seen that the only pass that was was on was to give the award to the 200 Irish fans who travelled. These boys and girls were Poland veterans and have travelled the globe for the honour of supporting our team. They were “ready” and there was no private jet taking them home.
The “he doesent even watch games live” gets levelled at Trapattoni from the NO side all the time. Fabio Capello used planes, trains and automobiles to vist multiple grounds over the weekend takeing in many Premier League games during his stint as England manager and was always seen on Sky intently studying his options. Did it help? Some say that Trapattoni needs to justify his wages by going to multiple games in England. Fair enough.It should be pointed out that Trapattoni is very well paid.A point in recession hit Ireland that grates with alot. The manager’s reward for achieving his remit of qualification for the Euros – a pay cut.
Is the football Trapattoni teaches us easy on the eye to watch? No. Could Trapattoni try different players in different positions? Yes. Should certain players get a run? Yes. Do we get any more than three points for a win. No. Do we get any extra marks for artistic merit for nice football? No. If the Troike/IMF insist on beautiful football as part of our bailout conditions then we are in a spot of bother but while three points is the only prize on offer then you cannot ask for more from the manager.As the old gameshow line goes-Points win prizes folks.
Giovanni Trapattoni is employed to manage the Irish senior international team. He is not responsible for managing the expectations of fans or to pander to the whims of players or media. In two successive campaigns we have reached a playoff and qualified for a major tournament. Last night in Astana Ireland got out of jail. No doubt. But the road is long and there are going to be a few more bumps along the way, for all countries.
To put a little bit of perspective on last nights performance if Germany had pulled out a result like Ireland did last night the bylines screaming out from the newspapers would be “German efficiency,never say die attitude”. Contrast that to Ireland who pull a “result” of the fire in the first game of a campaign and its “sack the manager” time. What will we find out when Germany visit is the next question? That they are a better team than us that always qualify for World Cups and will more than likely beat us home and away. Some will save the price of the ticket and stay at home and register their protest at Giovanni Trapattoni. I just read all my ticket stubs from the last campaign and I can clearly see where is states that “This ticket entitles the bearer to admittance”. I don’t see the part that entitles me to be entertained or “results”. For his part Giovanni Trapattoni delievers “results”. For entertainment i now go to the cinema with the wife or the zoo with my son. When I visit the Aviva I go for one thing only. You guessed it – results.
The manager will keep going. He will rightly point to his “results”. He will talk about “mentaliiiitttttyyyyyy”. Some may not understand him, some with a keyboard and experienece of winning the Champions League with Bray Wanderers on Championship Manager will call for his head, some will look for the evidence of unrest in the players to turn the screw. Some ex Irish managers who failed to qualify Ireland for a tournament during their tenure and now writeing for national newspapers will suggest that the “kitman should pick the team, as he would do a better job”. Football writers and part time role models will huddle in their little groups and make sure they all sing from the same hymn sheet. In the know fans will call for Robbie Keane, a player who has now scored 54 goals in 121 games, to be dropped. They will lash Trappatoni for selecting him. Robbie had a quiet enough game last night. He scored. It’s what he does. Don Giovanni got a result. It’s what he does.
So for now the orienteering painter/decorators will look for more ammunition to force change.It will end bad for Trap as it ends badly for everyone. With 80 minutes gone in Astana on Friday the knives were being drawn from their sheaths only for the pesky “result” to get in the way again. They won’t go away, you know, these grinding “results”. They are going to hang around as long as Trappatoni is in charge. A new, empowered generation of Sky TV watching Ireland fans will have to settle for poor football and good “results”. How long more must we be forced to settle for these favourable “results” until someone does the decent thing and puts us out of our misery and returns us to fashionable moral defeats and years in the tournament wilderness.If the critics get their way a “nation will hold its breath again”.
In the immortal words of Oliver Twist -”Please Sir, can I have I have some more?”.