SURPRISINGLY IT’S NOT settled yet.
And won’t be tonight.
We aren’t talking about Euro 2012 qualification, though, which will inevitably be secured against Estonia.
We’re talking about the ongoing debate about Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure. Although many say the end result of qualification completely vindicates him, it’s interesting how the nature of the 4-0 win over Estonia has seen an equally sizable portion of detractors argue even more vociferously.
To a degree, the result that should have ended the argument only saw it escalate again. The unprecedented avalanche of goals was offset by the caveat of two red cards.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to try and lay out the case for and against Trapattoni here. Bear in mind, we’re not falling on any line ourselves here at the minute. We want you to. Which side do you agree with?
For: Trapattoni has delivered Ireland to only a fifth international tournament in its history and first in a decade. That’s an achievement to be admired and celebrated. End of.
Against: But current international football is completely different to most of that history. It used to be the elite level of the game. In the last decade or more – particularly with the importance and demands of Champions League money – it’s been anything but. All the upsets of 2002 marked a turning-point towards an unprecedented period of openness which was best illustrated by Greece’s Euro 2004 win. Since then, qualification should be the minimum target for all mid-tier nations like Ireland. It’s an achievement of course. But, when the likes of Slovenia are also qualifying, it’s hardly a unique one.
For: Even aside from that, though, Ireland were hardly playing like a mid-tier nation in the six years before he took over. Brian Kerr’s teams bounced out of two campaigns meekly. Staunton was a disaster.
Against: Staunton was so bad a manager, though, that he gave an artificial impression of the squad. The players were never as poor as 5-2 defeats to Cyprus made out. Brian Kerr was also no more than a diet version of Trapattoni. Plus, he had to cater for the traumatic after-effects of Saipan. To a certain degree, Trapattoni has only restored Ireland to their rightful level.
For: The 12 years between Jack Charlton’s departure, though, have been characterised by Ireland conceding late goals. If nothing else, Trapattoni has given the team an unprecedented level of order and discipline. Amidst the often disorganised nature of international football, that has gone a long way. In every sense. Right to Euro 2012.
Against: But he’s probably gone too far in that direction. There’s no need to be that defensive. And, ironically, it actually creates more risk for the side and puts them under more danger. Because he pus players in such rigid positions in order to protect the defence, they actually can’t create enough angles or runs to actually properly possess it. As such, we keep losing control of games. Furthermore, that formation also always cedes control of midfield. It was an indictment the way Estonia – only following the examples of Armenia and Macedonia – completely commanded the centre of the pitch. It means Ireland never look convincing and are always relying on inspired rearguard actions. Against teams as naive and toothless as Estonia, that’s not going to matter. But – as we saw twice against Russia – it’ll be a real problem against teams with inspired attackers. Like in the Euros. Imagine we draw Spain and Germany in the same group? Could get embarrassing.
For: You say Estonia are bad. But they came through a group with three World Cup qualifiers. Ireland, meanwhile, came through a group with a Euro 2008 semi-finalist and a side that got to the World Cup last 16. Those are the benchmarks. What more do you want?
Against: In Estonia’s group, Slovenia and Serbia were hardly the sides that got to South Africa. They were in drastic decline. And, just like Estonia’s own atrocious defeat to the Faroes, those victories reflected the unusually open nature of that group. They still lost four games out of 10. That’s awful. And it’s worth noting that Russian side were eliminated from 2010 by – yes – Slovenia. If anything, the progress of Slovakia in that World Cup proves the point of the openness of international football.
Ireland shouldn’t be intimidated by stats like “three World Cup qualifiers”. They should openly aim for such targets. In that sense, Trapattoni’s achievement isn’t that great.
For: OK, but this is still one of the worst Irish sides in memory. For probably the first time in our history, a lineage of world-class players has been broken. We had Johnny Carey, then Billy Whelan, then John Giles, then Liam Brady, then Paul McGrath, then Roy Keane. Now: nothing. And that drop-off is also reflected in the general level of the squad. Look at the first XIs from 1988, 1990, 1994, 2002 or even 1982. It’s nowhere near as fearsome today. Trapattoni has done well with what is, at best, a moderate bunch.
Against: Alright, it can’t be denied that we don’t have a world-class player at the minute. And, certainly, the first XI is not as strong as any of those previous tournaments. But I’m not sure about 1982. Because it’s something of a myth to say this is our worst ever group of players.
In fact, the quality has never been so balanced through the first XI and even the entire squad. And that’s quite a high quality. A core of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, John O’Shea, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane would bolster most sides in international football. And all of them except Keane form a group of 25 players who appear in the Premier League. That’s 26 if you count Aiden McGeady.
In 1988, a fifth of the team were in the second tier or lower. In 1990, six of 22. In 1994, four of 22. In 2002, seven of 23.
So, although the first XIs aren’t as strong, how often do you actually get to play your first XI? Ireland’s current strength in depth means they aren’t as affected by injury or suspension and there’s a general level of consistency.
Also, we really have to go back to the top of the argument for this. Because, as we keep saying, international football has never been more open. Quality of player has never mattered less.
And that’s proved by the fact that, when you go through the squads man for man, Ireland have better panels than Greece 2004, Switzerland 2006, Greece 2008 and Slovenia 2010.
What do you think? Which arguments do you agree with?
Has Giovanni Trapattoni’s time with Ireland been a success?