For Giovanni Trapattoni, Friday is a date in the Last Chancer’s Saloon. Having presided over a calamitous Euro 2012 tournament, and followed that up with a scrape to victory in Kazakhstan last month, Trap has left us hoping for a miracle this week but fearing a calamity.
It isn’t just his own shortcomings which worry us. Through a combination of bad management and bad luck, he will enter Friday’s World Cup qualifier without Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Kevin Doyle, Damien Duff, Stephen Ireland, Steven Reid, Andy Reid, Darron Gibson, Kevin Foley, Sean St Ledger and any real expectation of victory.
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That Ireland are in such a mess is down to circumstances and managerial stubbornness. That Germany are in such rude health is also down to circumstances and managerial innovation. Slowly but surely, Joachim Loew is getting known throughout Europe as a studiously clever football man.
Little known outside his own living room until he was appointed Jurgen Klinsmann’s number two for the 2006 World Cup, Low is credited with the tactical revolution that has taken the Germans to three semi-finals and a final of the last four major tournaments. Largely because of him, his team are no longer regarded as bores. If anything, they’re the continent’s second most attractive side, now.
And, if Loew’s plan is executed, they could become more entertaining still.
“We have to change,” he said, last month. “We have lost three semi-finals out of the last four we have reached. Something is missing. My reckoning is that we need to press higher up the pitch, even against attacking teams. Until now, we have attacked only when in possession, dropping deep into our own half when the opposition has the ball. That needs to change. We need to attack even more.”
Bear in mind, Loew is speaking as a manager whose side has won 16 of their last 17 competitive matches. His system isn’t broke. Yet he is prepared to fix it, just as he was in Euro 2012, when he made four personnel changes for the quarter-final against Greece, believing a refreshed line-up was crucial to Germany’s ultimate ambition in that competition.
All of which leaves us looking at our guy, whose continual refusal to improve his English is based on the logic that 400 words is enough to communicate with his players. “Football’s language is universal,” said Trap, whereas one former international who played under Trap, told the Irish Post: “We were often left wondering what he was talking about.”
If only the language barrier was the only hurdle Ireland have to clear with this manager. His tactical stubbornness is another barrier. “I know football,” Trap said last week, as if any question of change was an insult.
Plenty of other men know their football, too, Loew being one of them. Those who change stay successful. Those who don’t hark back to the 1980s when they were winning Serie A titles.
Given how this Ireland job requires someone who can put the hours in on an English motorway watching Derby on a cold Tuesday and then Preston on a wet Wednesday, the time has come for a new guy to be given his shot.
Sitting at home in Milan with your feet up and a remote control in your hand is a cop-out, disrespectful to the people who pay your wages, to the players and the supporters who fork out €50-€70 to watch the team play.
In football, in life, respect has to go both ways. But Ireland, from the word go, has given Trap too much of it, continually referring to the decorative CV he brought with him when the truth is he may have a lot of energy and enthusiasm as 73-year-olds go – but as far as modern-day management is concerned, Trap is evidence that 2012 Ireland is no country for old managers.