Could this be the most important squad announcement of Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign as Irish manager? There have been far more important games but this Irish side is at a cross-roads. If we continue down the same path with the players who failed so miserably in Poland, we risk alienating the sporting public who got behind the football team in their droves ahead of Euro 2012. A new avenue awaits but it will involve new faces and a manager willing to alter his philosophy to lead us on the rocky road to Rio.
Over 30,000 Irish fans were at each of Ireland’s group games in Poland. The cynicism which previously dogged this Irish team at every turn was blown away in a green explosion of hope, rather than expectation. Many can’t stomach the prospect of Trapattoni sticking with the same players. In terms of keeping the bandwagoners on board, Euro 2012 was a PR disaster.
Trapattoni is a man or honour. He remained loyal to the men who led us back to the world stage. That won’t cut it any more.
Just this week the mayor of Poznan was in Dublin to pay tribute to the magnificent Irish supporters who lit up the European Championships. Trapattoni’s squad announcement on Friday for the friendly with Serbia will hold the answer for Irish fans on whether we are to join in potentially the greatest party in football history, a World Cup in Brazil.
Not least, we could be looking at even more empty seats in the Aviva Stadium for the campaign ahead. Of course the game with Germany in October will ensure a sell-out crowd but they won’t necessarily be there to see Ireland. And if Trapattoni decides there is no room for new players in his squad, no one will give us a chance against the group favourites.
No doubt John Delaney and his FAI associates will be wary of the financial consequences of supporters voting with their feet.
It would be entirely predictable were Trapattoni to attempt to spin the performances in Poland as some kind of deviation from his system. He could back up his claims by pointing out the uncharacteristic errors we made and soft goals we conceded which were nowhere to be seen in qualifying.
Yet he cannot ignore the gulf in class in all three games. In fact, our dismal showing only serves to put all our inept displays on the road to Poland under the spot-light.
The Irish players spun the party line throughout qualifying that the spirit in the camp was great, that we were hard to beat, and no team would relish playing against us. That was all true. Yet it is also the case that fans stayed away in their thousands, turned off by a toxic brand of football.
Steve Staunton’s tenure as manager was summed up by the extraodinary developement of an Irish side being booed off the picth by their own fans. Trapattoni has been unable to stymie this new wholly un-Irish trait. A chorus of recrimination rained down from the stands when Ireland failed to beat Slovakia in a must-win home game. Even during the victory over Armenia at home, the team were booed off at the interval.
Ireland’s style of football is killing the fabled Irish support. Commentators and onlookers across Europe were unanimous that we were the worst team at Euro 2012 by some distance. Not because of the margin of our defeats but because we weren’t there to play football. We were practising something out of the stone-age.
This is not being over-critical. It’s simply the realisation that the faults Ireland displayed in qualifying – woefully inept in central midfield, forcing our defenders to launch long ball after long ball – were painfully magnified to a watching world audience in Poland.
It was embarrassing and flies in the face of the usual Irish values of heart, effort and passion. This combined with an injection of the young talent that is available could lead us to Brazil and, more importantly, give us a team we can have pride in again. And that’s the crux of the issue. We’re not proud anymore. That could be the greatest indictment of Trapattoni’s legacy as Ireland manager.
Trapattoni showed how sentiment meant little to him when he jettisoned Kevin Foley from the Irish squad on the eve of the European Championship. He must portray that same ruthlessness now and cut away those who have shown they aren’t up to it. Trap famously said judge him on results, that if we wanted a show we should go to the theatre. Sadly, when the entire nation dared to fall in love with its football team again, the players could no longer provide their manager with those results. Cut them loose Trap. For your own sake, for our World Cup hopes, and for the sake of Irish football.