GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI’S ATTEMPT to rebuild an Ireland squad hit hard by retirement will suffer because his new dressing-room leaders are not good enough for international football, Jason McAteer says.
Trapattoni’s job was widely thought to be in jeopardy last week after a new-look starting XI, a move forced upon the Italian by the loss of key players to injury and retirement, suffered an embarrassing 6-1 home defeat against Germany.
Amid media speculation Ireland bounced back four days later with a 4-1 win against the Faroe Islands, a performance in which young fringe players like James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Seamus Coleman impressed.
Afterwards the FAI ended their silence by coming out to publicly back Trapattoni, and McAteer believes that the decision to keep him was the right one.
But the 73-year-old is at a major disadvantage, he says, when compared to the transition from the old guard of the Charlton regime to the young blood of the McCarthy years. While McCarthy could rely upon experienced stars who were regularly testing themselves at the top level, many of Trapattoni’s new leaders are struggling to get their game in the Championship.
“I do feel for him because he hasn’t got a strong squad,” the former Irish international said, speaking at an ESPN event in Dublin on Monday. “I feel it’s as weak a squad as Ireland have had for many years.
I think we’re in a transitional period which every country goes through, but you’re just hoping the experienced lads are of real quality. When you look at Mick’s transitional period from Jack, he did have some top players in his team playing at the top level: Phil [Babb] was at Liverpool, I was at Liverpool, Roy Keane was playing for Manchester United, Steve Staunton was at Liverpool and then at Aston Villa.
We were all playing regular first-team football for top, top clubs and that experience helps bringing younger players through that are coming into the team. We just went on and got stronger and stronger and stronger, and qualified for the 2002 World Cup.
“There was a point at the 2002 World Cup where we were talking about winning it,” he laughs. “We’d work out the games: ‘We’ll get these and we could beat them, then we’ll get Germany in the semis and we know we can have a go at them. We’re in the final against Brazil. We’ll give up against Brazil, we’ll come second.’”
Against Germany, Trapattoni could only call upon four of the 11 players who started Ireland’s opening Euro 2012 match against Croatia. Shay Given and Damien Duff have retired; Richard Dunne is recovering from injury; and, at 32, captain Robbie Keane is not getting any younger.
“The experienced players that have taken over from these — Whelan, Doyle, Andrews — for me, they’re not at international level,” McAteer adds. “They’re not quite there.
“They’re not playing top-level football. They’re in and out of their club teams. Maybe Glenn’s the only one.”
Despite calls for Shane Long to replace Keane as Ireland’s first-choice striker, McAteer says there’s a lot to be gained by keeping the LA Galaxy man around for as long as possible, even if he’s spending less and less time on the pitch.
“When it’s not going well and it’s a double-header, like the Germany game for instance, you need Robbie, characters who are going to pick players up, who have been through it all before.
“Robbie’s that kind of character so in that sense he’s invaluable and then you can always bring him off the bench — give Robbie Keane the last 25 minutes of a game fresh, his positional play is fantastic, he might nick you that all important goal.
Whether he starts now and should play 90 minutes? Possibly not, but I think his experience is invaluable and he needs to stay around the place.
Although he would have liked to see Duff stay on for similar reasons, McAteer says he fully understands the winger’s decision to call it a day at international level after the Euros.
“I’d like to have seen Damien Duff maybe stay a bit longer but you can understand. I went through it myself. You’re thinking that to prolong my career, I’ll need to take a back seat here. That’s international football because of the travel and injuries.
“You’re thinking I want to prolong my club career. That’s what pays the rent.”