LAST NIGHT, IT was announced that, despite speculation to the contrary, Giovanni Trapattoni would be continuing in his position as Ireland manager for the foreseeable future.
And while the FAI have backed their manager, the accompanying statement released was far from a glowing endorsement of the Italian’s tenure in charge.
It instead seemed to acknowledge that considerable changes and improvements were needed, and that Trapattoni could perform considerably better in his role.
With that in mind, here are five key changes that the Irish coach must implement, ahead of the side’s vital World Cup qualifier against Sweden next March.
1. Repair his relationships with the outcast players
Darron Gibson is one of the many players to have grown disillusioned with the Irish set-up under Trap (INPHO/Donall Farmer).
Giovanni Trapattoni has had a habit of falling out with players during his time as Ireland manager. Yet the side simply don’t have the depth of talent at their disposal to legislate for Trap’s tendency to alienate players.
Steven Reid, Darron Gibson and Wes Hoolahan, for example, are three players that would make the Irish squad considerably stronger if they weren’t on bad terms with the management.
Trap must consequently display the type of wit, grace and intelligence he demonstrated in abundance this week, when he coolly played down any problems between himself and the FAI, and refused to get downhearted by constant rumours of his impending departure.
Essentially, he needs to contact the players he previously ostracised from the side, as well as those in the squad who are currently less than happy (Shane Long, Stephen Kelly), and reassure them that their services are valued.
Most of the top managers nowadays are also considered great psychologists, and the Ireland boss should fulfill this role too, because by alienating so many players, he is ultimately shooting himself and the team in the foot.
2. Cut out the bizarre team selections
Trap has encountered criticism for selecting Darren O’Dea ahead of Ciaran Clark (INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan).
The folly of Trap’s overly eccentric team selections was exposed against both Germany and the Faroe Islands.
In the German game, one player who had no right to be in the Irish side based on form – Darren O’Dea – committed an impulsive lunge in the area, conceding a penalty and costing Ireland a goal as a result.
Almost no one could understand why Toronto FC’s O’Dea had been picked ahead of Premier League regulars such as Ciaran Clarke and Alex Pearce. One possible explanation was that Trap wanted to show loyalty to a player who has featured in many Ireland squads, but until now, has perpetually been behind the likes of Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger in the pecking order.
Meanwhile, in the Faroes game, Ireland’s three best players were arguably James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson, who had been routinely ignored by the manager up until recently.
So Trap must forget all sentiment and loyalty in future, and focus solely on picking the best available players at his disposal. Attending Premier League matches more often would accordingly be the start that this change requires.
3. Eschew his notoriously stubborn ways
Many people were surprised that Trap opted to start Robbie Brady against the Faroe Islands (INPHO/Donall Farmer)
Ireland have two upcoming friendlies – against Greece in November and Poland in February – ahead of their vital World Cup qualifier away to Sweden on 22 March. The team Trapattoni picks for these games will be a telling insight into whether he is prepared to pay heed to widespread calls for bold changes to be made to Ireland’s starting XI.
Should Trapattoni opt to pick a side largely similar to the one that turned out at the Euros, it will undoubtedly prompt a collective groan from the Irish sporting public, most of whom will be hoping he persists with players who have shown great potential in the absence of more regular starters – Coleman, McCarthy et al.
Trap has occasionally illustrated in the past that he is willing to promote players who perform well in minor games. Liam Lawrence, for instance, was rewarded with an extended run in the first team, having impressed in a friendly against South Africa a few years back.
Moreover, there was an unusual adventurousness about Trap choosing to hand the precocious Robbie Brady his first competitive start against the Faroes, even if that decision was tempered by his prompt withdrawal of the Manchester United man in favour of the more experienced Simon Cox at half-time, as Trap conformed to type with his selection.
Pessimists will therefore suggest he is too set in his ways to change now, but in order for this Irish side to move forward, a bolder approach is surely necessary, which would encompass both a braver team selection and a more imaginative gameplan, featuring the type of passing and movement that Ireland showed glimpses of against the Faroes.
4. Improve his communication skills
Giovanni Trapattoni’s has had a troubled relationship with Shane Long of late (INPHO/Morgan Treacy).
Trapattoni has claimed in the past that he is content to limit his understanding of the English language to basic phrases and football speak. However, for an international manager on such excessive wages, this attitude is unacceptable.
Time and again, there have been examples of how Trap’s poor communication skills has undermined his attempts to perform his job effectively. He has regularly suffered breakdowns in communication with both the press and players – his ill-advised description of Shane Long as “idiotic” and his comments about Steven Reid’s career as a player being finished are two instances of many where the much-discussed language barrier ultimately had a detrimental effect on the squad.
Whether such ill-advised comments were due to a lack of familiarity with the English language, or simply gross insensitivity, is another matter. However, either way, he needs to learn to conduct himself more efficiently when speaking publicly, and brushing up on his language skills would aid his cause greatly.
5. Refrain from making defeatist statements
Keiren Westwood reacts to a Germany goal (Peter Morrison/AP/Press Association Images).
Tying in with the last point to an extent, Trapattoni has shown an increasing tendency to put his players down in interviews recently, both individually and collectively.
He has continually suggested the side are not good enough to play in as adventurous a manner as some people would prefer, and he criticised the performance of senior players at Euro 2012, while failing to acknowledge his own responsibility for the team’s shortcomings.
Similarly, recent talk espoused by Trapattoni of the Irish side essentially writing off first place in the group and focusing on the fight for second may be appreciated by pragmatists, but it feeds into the growing suspicion that this manager has scarcely any faith in his team’s footballing ability.
While some commentators might applaud the coach’s brutal honesty, such dismissals of his players could potentially have a damaging effect on their performances and morale.
Therefore unsurprisingly, the Irish side looked more bereft of confidence than ever against Germany at the weekend, as if the team had been all too convinced by the veracity of Trap’s frank admonishments.