There’ll be no Green Army on the Copacabana, no swansong for Trapattoni at the World Cup (though the Italian might go there yet), and no death ball from above in the manner Ireland bombed out of the European Championship. There’ll be a new man in charge to lead the Boys in Green to France in 2016 and it’s the end of the line for some Irish players while others need to ask if they gave enough to the cause. Here’s 10 talking points from some traumatic days in Irish football.
Giovanni Trapattoni is one of the most decorated managers in the history of football and a man of integrity. He could quite easily have chosen to see out the rest of his contract with Ireland, as he was legally entitled to do. Just as he faced down the barbs in the aftermath of the defeat to Germany, the Italian took the criticism sent his way with admirable composure and leaves the Irish job with his head held high, though, doubtlessly, with his reputation a little dented.
Death from above
For 20 minutes against Sweden, Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy dropped deep to look for possession from the defence, to orchestrate movement forward. And then they stopped. Why?
For the majority of the past five years, Ireland’s back-line has chosen to by-pass our midfield with hopeless balls pumped long. Sadly, a common denominator in all that time has been the presence of Whelan. Our back four have no choice but to hit it long if no one in the centre looks for the ball. In the fall-out from the last two defeats, many people have also said there was no point having McCarthy in the team if we chose to hit the ball past him, but that ignores the fact that he too stopped dropping off the middle to pick up possession.
Of course, Trapattoni should have changed this, or dropped players who were unwilling to take control but a central midfielder who is afraid to look for the ball has to ask himself what is he doing on a football pitch.
Regardless of questions of style or instructions from the manager, or as has been suggested a fear of being dropped, the Irish players, almost to a man, chose to revert to an inept strategy of long ball after long ball and surrendered their chances of going to Brazil with barely a whimper. It’s all well and good for Marc Wilson to get tongue-tied when trying to articulate the manager’s game-plan, it’s quite another for a player who has been hailed as technically gifted to choose to thump passes 60 yards down the pitch for the best part of 180 minutes as he did in Dublin and Vienna.
Many Irish fans saw a sea-change in our style of football since we went to Stockholm in March and it carried on over the summer with positive displays against England and Spain. Our full-backs were getting forward to support the wingers and Ireland were playing a passing, possession game. The key reasons for hope that we could beat Sweden at home were the attacking attributes of Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson, James McCarthy, and Shane Long. We never saw it. For much of Friday’s game, all Ireland’s attacking play went down the left wing resulting in James McClean being our busiest player. Coleman was ignored in an attacking sense but by his own high standards, the Everton man probably had his two least effective outings in an Irish shirt when we needed him most.
In a Galaxy far far away
Whatever people say about Robbie Keane, he went into the last two games in red hot form at club level. We can’t help feeling, as we watched ball after ball get swallowed up by the Swedish and Austrian defences around him, that what was going through the captain’s head was ‘I’m playing with better players and getting better service than this in L.A.’ Major League Soccer has plenty of detractors on this side of the Atlantic but as we have seen so often during Trap’s time in charge, so-called lesser sides than Ireland in Europe have proven technically more gifted. Should we be surprised if the States produces them too when many of our squad operate in the bottom half of the Premier League and below?
Dunne and Dusted?
There’s an argument among some fans that we need a clean sweep with the new manager and that means the end of the road for Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne. Some have said we need to blood Ciaran Clark alongside St Ledger for example as a new central pairing. But Ireland’s pool of players is already small without jettisoning years of experience. Dunne has just returned to action after 12 months out through injury and was named man-of-the match in the game away to Austria. Suddenly Ireland has a very young squad to choose from with the likes of Coleman, Hendrick, Brady, McCarthy, and Clark forming the nucleus of a new team. With a new man in charge, we need leaders more than ever and they don’t come more heroic than the Minister for Defence.
It’s not often Irish fans disagree with John Giles and when he told Bill O’Herlihy he didn’t really care at the end of the Sweden game, there was no need for us to break that habit. We too were tired of hearing the same old arguments even if at times over the last couple of years, we felt the wise men of RTE were stuck in their belligerence no matter what was happening on the pitch. Trailing at home to Sweden, every Irish fan, especially those who optimistically predicted victory, could see this team and this manager were incapable of delivering, and by the end, we didn’t really care either. We had no more dreams or songs to sing.
We just don’t have the players?
It’s an argument that everyone in Irish football is struggling with at the minute. What is clear though, and where Trapattoni consistently fell down, was the ones he picked were not up to the job. And some of those he brought off the bench were nowhere near the standard.
“There’s a story about Brian Kerr’s time in charge of Ireland where in his pre-match speeches he would have many Irish players close to tears with his rousing words. He instilled the message that those pulling on the green jersey were the very best players the country had, that they represented the best of Ireland. Sadly, and as the many debates about selections testified, the same couldn’t be said for some of those Trapattoni decided to reward with international caps.”
Game is up
As we know there’s little room for sentiment in football and one of the first actions of the new man in charge of Irish football will be to erase the names of the likes of Conor Samon, Paul Green, Simon Cox, and Andy Keogh from his selection list. If you’re not operating at the top level, don’t expect to play international football for your country. And don’t expect a phone-call Andy.
The Trapattoni era is over and yet there is a tremendous feeling of regret that it could all have been so different. Having seen Sweden and Austria up close, there’s no doubt that even this Ireland side were good enough to finish second in this qualifying group, with the correct players in the correct positions and an abandonment of the stifling, oh so predictable, style of football. If only Trapatonni had been braver, had trusted his players more, or just made the correct substitutions.
The World Cup will take place in Brazil next summer, the most football-loving nation on the planet. The fans will dance to a samba beat while once again we’ll watch from our armchairs at home. There’ll be no party for the Irish but with an eye already on the next European Championship when 24 teams will qualify, the Green Army is dreaming of a return to Paris where, as Trapattoni will know all too well and no doubt send us forth with his best wishes, Ireland have unfinished business.