There was very much a sense of dread surrounding the start of Ireland’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup – after the disaster of the European Championship which saw Ireland suffer three consecutive defeats – the hope and optimism that was present a couple of months ago has since faded. Irish football almost hit another low point yesterday, as it took two late goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle to salvage three points and a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan, a nation ranked 116 places below Ireland.
Yes, Ireland did get all three points, but not even that could paper over the cracks that are present in the current Irish set-up and under the current leadership. Almost a year to the day since that famous 0-0 draw against Russia – Ireland were reduced to continuous long-balls against a side ranked 142nd in the world. To be outplayed is one thing, but Ireland were dominated and outclassed, as Kazakhstan looked to pass the ball around, much more than Ireland did. The lack of variation from Trapattoni and the players was worrying. Long-ball, to a certain extent should be used as a last resort; however, Ireland insisted and persisted on it throughout.
Last night, Trapattoni reached a half-century of games in charge and it is already looking likely that he won’t be in charge of Ireland for another 50 games. The Italian has constantly been coming under-fire since the Euros and as a nation, Ireland remains to be divided about the 73-year old and his management style and whether he should continue to manage the national team. His lack of willingness to change, coupled with the lack of communication and the fallings out with various players, most recently, Darron Gibson and Shane Long. As former Ireland manager, Brian Kerr wrote today: “The minute attention to detail required to be successful at international level is not evident from Giovanni Trapattoni” while Kerr goes on to describe the manager’s tactics as “crude and outdated”. And, unfortunately, it is hard to disagree with him.
In a bristly post-match interview with RTE’s Tony O’ Donoghue, Trapattoni remained in a defiant mood, proclaiming: “I’m happy because we achieved the result,” he continued by saying “now in this moment; all that is important is the result”. The fact remains; this is an Irish squad that has lost both “momentum and confidence” as Miguel Delaney writes. From that unbeaten run before the Euros, along with the successive clean sheets – just three minutes into the opening game, as Mario Mandzukic found the back of the net “The solidity was shattered”. The signs are that the months ahead are going to be tumultuous for Trapattoni.
As immature as it was, the Irish frustration was best encapsulated in a post match tweet from James McClean (which he has subsequently apologised for). McClean clearly felt hard done by, having sat on the bench for the entire game last night, while Simon Cox started out of position on the wing and with Shane Long and Kevin Doyle both coming on, meant that Ireland played the game with at least three strikers on the field throughout.
Yet Ireland looked blunt and lacked attacking intent. There was no ingenuity or no guile. Ireland may have a limited pool of players (which will grow more limited if Trapattoni continues to fall out with them) and are not blessed with the talent of the past, however, there is no way the squad should be relegated to offensive, long-ball tactics against a side ranked as low as Kazakhstan. Ireland can and are better than that, despite what Trapattoni might think and believe. The Italian might have picked up the pieces following the Steve Staunton era but things are beginning to crumble again.
Trapattoni has now presided over Ireland for a little over four years and this is his third qualification campaign after the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. The 73-year-old was awarded a new contract last autumn when he achieved qualification for Poland and Ukraine; this should have been put on hold until after the tournament because since then, circumstances have changed massively – as Miguel Delaney also wrote today: “In the wider world of international football, managers of European teams last on average, 2 years and 11 months.”
In that respect, the Trapattoni era has run its course. It is time for change!