FOR SUCH A distinguished manager, it is hard not to feel a little underwhelmed by Giovanni Trapattoni’s time in charge as Ireland manager.
On the one hand, he got the team to their first Euros since 1988 and was desperately unlucky not to have qualified us for the 2010 World Cup as well. So it was easy to forget amid all the recent relentless negativity that, after Mick McCarthy and Jack Charlton, he is technically the most successful Ireland manager ever.
Yet on the other hand, his last year and a bit in the job was nothing short of catastrophic, and arguably should have ended sooner. And make no mistake, the Euros were a catastrophe irrespective of the standard of opposition — in a game where Celtic can beat Barcelona, Switzerland can overcome Spain and Northern Ireland can draw with Portugal (and there are countless other examples), there is no reason why an efficiently-organised Ireland side cannot at the very least be competitive even against sides as impressive as Italy, Croatia and Spain. Trap merely got his tactics woefully wrong at the Euros, and the result was the embarrassment that Irish fans all feared would occur.
That said, history will judge him more kindly than recent (and often toxic) criticisms on social media may suggest. There is no doubting he helped Ireland improve markedly on certain aspects of their game during the first part of his tenure, restoring dignity to Irish soccer and bringing order where there had been chaos.
Indeed, for a while, there was a genuine belief that the Irish side was one of the most difficult to beat in European football, as evidenced in their incredible away record with the Italian, as their undefeated run was only ended in his final game against Austria (unfortunately, their record on neutral venues was not quite so good). There was a confidence and efficiency about them at first, as they managed to secure impressive draws in places such as Sofia and Bari – and though they may have had benefited from the occasional dubious red card (see Giampaolo Pazzini in Bari), there was a level of shape and a definite game plan under Trap.
Measure that against the Staunton era where the level of incompetence on display was frequently stark — no more so that in their humiliating 5-2 defeat by Cyprus or their need to grab a last-minute winner against San Marino — circumstances that are inconceivable under Trap.
So inevitably, in the last few days, people have forgotten about the accomplished manner in which he dragged us from the wreckage of the Staunton era and gave the side a sense of confidence and self-belief once again.
Yet even before things started to fall apart, the Italian was prone to a bizarre selection policy, a staunch determination to abide by his pragmatic principles and an all-too-frequent tendency to fall out with players – Steven Reid, Andy Reid and Darron Gibson, to name but a few.
These flaws were just about tolerable while the side were enjoying success, but when the situation started to go awry, they were highlighted and perhaps exaggerated to a degree.
But playing strikers on the wing, making only cursory attempts to contemplate any formation other than 4-4-2 and favouring lower league players over in-form Premier League footballers were chief among his footballing sins.
But overall, his legacy will be of a flawed Ireland coach rather than a bad one – a man who drastically improved upon the mess that preceded him, but underachieved for large parts of his managerial reign thereafter. For instance, the argument that Ireland are too inept to play positive football ignores the rare times when such a mindset was adopted to good effect – away against France, Italy and Sweden were among such anomalies.
Therefore, Trap’s faults should not be overlooked, but neither should his achievements.