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Method in the madness as Trap readies Greek play

Giovanni Trapattoni knows that he needs to experiment in tonight’s friendly against Greece – but he won’t sacrifice the result.

Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

MAYBE IT WAS nothing more than end-of-term fatigue but there was a hint of the surreal about Giovanni Trapattoni’s pre-match press conference in Malahide yesterday afternoon.

If there are fears that tonight’s friendly against Greece will be staid and predictable, Trapattoni’s team announcement was anything but.

The tone was set when the Italian arrived, much later than originally scheduled, and opened by mistakenly listing Darren O’Dea in his starting XI when it is Ciaran Clark who will earn his third cap and partner captain John O’Shea in the centre of defence.

And the confusion continued when Trapattoni first indicated that he would start with a 4-3-3 formation using Simon Cox and James McClean to flank Shane Long, but then said that Cox and Long would lead the line in his more usual 4-4-2.

By the end of the 45-minute session, the gathered media had been treated to rambling, extended treatises on the finer technical details of different formations; the differences between Long and modern greats Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo; and anecdotes about past legends like Roberto Bettega, Lothar Matthaus and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

So far, so Trapattoni.

With one of the star attractions, Norwich City playmaker Wes Hoolahan, listed among this evening’s substitutes — and doubtless praying that the manager comes good on his promise to give him a 45-minute audition after four long years in the international wilderness — much of the early focus will be on Long, who gets a chance to prove that he can be Robbie Keane’s successor.

Long has excelled for West Brom in the Premier League so far this season, scoring five goals, but Trapattoni said that he can’t be expected to lead the line alone at international level.

If anything, Trap wants to see him link more with his team-mates and share in their workload.

“If we give him every job on his back, it is very, very dangerous,” Trapattoni said.

We can’t expect everything from Shane Long. Of all the strikers, there is only maybe Ronaldo, maybe Messi, in the past Maradona — they can score goals alone because they are quality. The other strikers need the team because it is the team that gives them the ball. They couldn’t [do it alone].

“Shane must increase this experience. This is not his club where he stays alone and waits for the long ball. He needs also to participate with us. He knows, I said it to him, and I think he can do well.”

Long seems to be acting on the instruction already and caught the manager’s eye with his work-rate in training on Tuesday.

“I congratulated Long. He made it back 70 metres, 60 metres fast and permitted his team-mates to win the ball. That is football.

“I said to him: one of the most important of my strikers was Bettega. How many balls did he win in this situation from the opponent? Many, many.”

Trapattoni’s instructions took on a new tone in light of the frustrations expressed by Glenn Whelan earlier this week.

Whelan, who starts in his familiar central midfield role alongside Wigan’s James McCarthy tonight, argued that Ireland’s usual 4-4-2 formation leaves them outmatched in midfield as more and more international teams play with three central players.

Whelan is right, Trapattoni said, but if players track back and help in certain areas as they should, opponents will find it much harder to create and exploit these numerical advantages.

He said: “There is one football, not two — one for you and one for the other. There is one football.”

And O’Shea, who skippers the side in the absence of Robbie Keane, agreed with his manager’s sentiments.

You can play 4-4-2 no problem. Why can’t you? As the manager spoke about, there’s one football. If we’re outnumbered in midfield, we’ve an advantage somewhere else.

Earlier this week, Trapattoni acknowledged that the stakes are higher tonight than they normally might be for a November friendly.

Last month’s 6-1 defeat against Germany is still fresh in the memory, and though the manager’s job no longer appears to be in any immediate danger, he knows the value of a win against the team ranked 12th in the world.

The key, he explained, is striking the balance between winning the match and continuing to blood some of the young talent who impressed when given their chance post Euro 2012.

“We change, we try, we discover the other players and we give them confidence,” could be Trapattoni’s mantra for this week.

Robbie Brady wins his fourth cap as he starts on the wing, and in the Manchester United youngster, Trap sees the first shoots of something special.

He is one of the players with creative fantasy. At this moment, we have no other players with this creative situation.

I’m sure with confidence he can do better in this position because he has the quality to do this. He is creative.

In defence, Clark is another who will have a chance to build on his club performances and earn the manager’s trust. With his Aston Villa team-mate Richard Dunne easing himself back from injury and in no way certain to be fully fit for Ireland’s spring internationals, there is a real opportunity there.

Trapattoni said: “I know how important the result is tomorrow. I said it also to the players.

“You know. I know. Because everybody is waiting to see what happens.

But I try also to discover Ciaran Clark because maybe after I can take more confidence in him and he can play with St Ledger or O’Dea.

Join Adrian Russell for minute-by-minute coverage of Ireland v Greece from the Aviva Stadium tonight >

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Niall Kelly

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