THE DATE WAS June 15, 2004. The previous day, Italy had been lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against Denmark in their opening match of the European Championships.
And the morning papers were merciless on Trap and his players. “Not to lose when you play like this is a great result,” cried one especially disappointed media outlet.
Moreover, the many criticisms that were directed towards the then-Italy coach will be familiar to Irish fans.
The media complained of how Italy’s sole tactic seemed to consist of pumping long balls up to Christian Vieri. The Italian side’s negative style was derided and the manager’s team-selection policy seemed eccentric at best.
Andrea Pirlo who, before the tournament, had been called the ‘best deep-lying playmaker in the world’ by Johann Cruyff, was controversially omitted from the starting line-up, in favour of the less creative and more defensively-minded midfielders, Simone Perrotta and Cristiano Zanetti.
The Italian press became so frustrated that the headline in one Gazzetta story even read: ‘Trap, we NEED Pirlo.’
Trapattoni eventually relented, picking Pirlo to start the next game, and the team improved accordingly. Ultimately though, the negative display against Denmark cost Italy a place in the quarter-finals and Trap his job.
Fast-forward over eight years later and the situation is uncannily similar – only for Italy read Ireland, for Pirlo read Hoolahan, McClean and co, and for Perrotta and Zanetti read Andrews and Whelan.
Yet the biggest indictment of Trap in that aforementioned situation was his reluctance to start Pirlo, who to this day is considered one of the best footballers in the world. The midfield maestro would go on to play an integral role in Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph two years after Trap’s resignation, under a coach who clearly had more faith in him than the current Irish boss.
Similarly, during his time as Ireland manager, Trapattoni has mistreated Ireland’s more creative-type players – Andy Reid, James McCarthy, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean… the list goes on.
Even on the rare occasions when Trap has relented and giving these players a chance, he has still proceeded to make life difficult for them.
His treatment of James McClean is a prime example of his pervasive mistrust of attack-minded players. Having essentially said he wasn’t good enough to feature in the team for Euro 2012, Trap selected McClean in a friendly against Serbia shortly after the tournament’s culmination.
Nevertheless, instead of playing McClean in his preferred place on the left wing, he started him in an unfamiliar central position, thus doing little to boost the inexperienced youngster’s confidence, and subsequently discovering to the surprise of few people that the Sunderland man was ill-suited to a role which he had never played in before.
Despite consistently impressing for Sunderland, James McClean has been used sparingly by Giovanni Trapattoni (INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan).
The McClean and Pirlo cases are just two small examples in what has been a recurring theme in the latter half of Giovanni Trapattoni’s career.
The Italian’s methods proved somewhat effective in the short-term, bringing a level of organisation and discipline to the Irish set-up amid the aftermath of the dark, witless days of the Staunton regime.
But slowly and surely, Trap has managed to stifle even the slightest signs of life and creativity from the Ireland side – the ugly, ultimate results of which were in evidence against Germany last Saturday and, to a lesser extent, at Euro 2012.
The fearful, safety-first mentality that seems to characterise practically every footballing decision Trapattoni makes came to fruition at the weekend, when the Ireland team delivered an astonishingly inept performance at the Aviva Stadium, treating the ball like a hot potato, rather than embracing possession as their opponents did.
Thus, Germany, a team who struggled to wins over Austria and the Faroe Islands in their opening two World Cup 2014 qualifiers, a team who are embattled and reportedly dogged by in-fighting, were allowed to secure the easiest win they’ve recorded for quite some time, in what was perhaps the most anemic performance ever delivered by an Irish side on home soil.
Which brings us to the final argument perpetually produced in defence of Trap – that Ireland don’t have the players to compete at the top level of international football anymore.
Consider the following side that could have played against Germany: Westwood, O’Shea, Pearce, Clark, Wilson, Coleman, McCarthy, Hoolahan, McGeady, Walters, Long.
Aside from the goalkeeper, every player is a regular for their club. And aside from Aiden McGeady, who has been playing regularly in the Champions League, everyone there plays for a Premier League team.
And that’s ignoring the likes of Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane, Stephen Ireland, Darron Gibson, Kevin Doyle and others, who were unavailable for the game for one reason or another. Meanwhile, there are a number of highly promising players, such as David Meyler, Robbie Brady and Shane Duffy, also coming through the ranks.
So it seems misguided to suggest that the Ireland players aren’t good enough, especially when teams of similar levels of talent such as Greece and Sweden manage to somehow perform markedly better on the international stage. At the very least, the side should be expected to avoid embarrassment against teams of Germany’s calibre.
Therefore, as was the case with Italy in 2004, Trap is currently failing to get the best out of the players at his disposal.
Unlike the Italians all those years ago though, Ireland are highly unlikely to win the World Cup in two years’ time, even if Trap does step down, but they’d at least have a chance of qualifying for it.