Giovanni trapattoni made many mistakes as Ireland manager, but which was the most glaring of all?
Was it constantly ignoring Wes Hoolahan in big matches? Leaving out Seamus Coleman from the Euros squad? Rarely deviating from his favoured 4-4-2 system? Obstinately refusing to learn English properly?
There is a strong case to be made that one moment in particular eventually led to his demise — letting Liam Brady go from his staff. Granted, the team still managed to qualify for the Euros without the assistance of Brady, but did the side ever look as impressive as during the away games against France and Italy in their first campaign under the Italian? Although they still got the desired results, the performances were far less convincing, while the only campaign where they managed to go the entire group stages unbeaten was their first. And aside from our 4-0 destruction of a highly inept Estonia side, did we ever put in an above-average performance after that first World Cup campaign?
Moreover, without Brady, Trap’s team selections grew increasingly eccentric and his tactics were even more devoid of creativity or attacking ambition than before. And perhaps Brady could genuinely have made a difference had he not left his role as assistant boss. Although he more often than not defended Trapattoni while working on RTE’s soccer panel thereafter, he also conceded that the Italian was slow to introduce players such as Coleman and McCarthy, in addition to suggesting that the coach should have used Hoolahan more frequently.
So even great managers such as Trapattoni are flawed in some way and it’s invariably the people around them that help mitigate such shortcomings, provided they have the willpower and personality to do so. Tardelli seemed too similar in mindset to Trap to have any real impact in altering his philosophy, and consequently, a strong voice such as Brady’s was surely sorely missed in the dressing room.
All of which brings us to Martin O’Neill. Assuming he gets the Ireland job — and it’s still quite a considerable assumption at this stage — an optimal scenario would see the Northern Irishman paired with someone who could temper his excesses.
O’Neill’s managerial record, after all, is not perfect by any means. His time at Sunderland, in particular, highlights his faults (detailed comprehensively here) — though many of which, fortunately from an Ireland perspective, were down to his tendency to make ill-advised signings such as Adam Johnson and Danny Graham, which clearly won’t be a problem in international football.
Yet the Northern Irishman could still do with someone who has the ability to curb his excesses, and that famous fiery personality would mean that it would require an individual who is both brave and respected enough for the role. Roy Keane, therefore, seems like the perfect candidate in that regard.
John Delaney has so far refused to rule out hiring the former Manchester United man and has said in interviews that he considers Saipan now to be very much “in the past”. So it is not inconceivable that the FAI would look to the individual that they have undoubtedly cursed privately on numerous occasions in the past.
Another potential stumbling block, though, is whether personalities as single-minded as O’Neill and particularly Keane would ever be willing to work together and co-exist peacefully. Nevertheless, O’Neill would naturally have a great level of respect for the United legend and knows him from their days working together at ITV, while Keane has stated continuously in recent times that his heart lies in management rather than punditry.
Moreover, though the Ireland assistant manager role may not be the job the Corkman is hoping for, he’ll hardly have received a flood of attractive offers from elsewhere in recent times, and may be enticed by the prospect of taking the hotseat from the 61-year-old O’Neill eventually.
Granted, a dressing room with two characters as impulsive as O’Neill and Keane would conceivably be the most explosive environment ever conjured, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
Trapattoni and Tardelli were two fairly laidback and passive figures by most accounts, with the likes of Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne often effectively giving the half-time team talks themselves. And that situation did not end particularly well, as the team’s performances were decidedly lacklustre more often than not. So perhaps the introduction of genuine authority figures could have the opposite effect and inspire them to greater heights.
And if one of the duo falls out with a certain player à la Trapattoni, the other could surely act as a far more effective interlocutor than Marco Tardelli ever was.
Indeed, it’s commonly recognised nowadays that managers need a great deal of help with the arduous task that’s in front of them. Most clubs have a director of football and even Alex Ferguson allowed Carlos Queiroz and René Meulensteen to have a big say in how the Man United team was run prior to his retirement. Therefore, it’s imperative that O’Neill’s number two is every bit as impressive an individual as he is, and few obvious candidates fit the bill better than the Cork native.
Keane, of course, has a mixed managerial record, but as with O’Neill, most of his mistakes were in the transfer market. And no less an authority that Dwight Yorke has said his former boss’ intense approach to management was not suitable in the long-term at Sunderland, but asserted that it was, conversely, very much conducive to international football.
Accordingly, the former Ipswich boss could surely motivate a team demoralised by Trapattoni’s negative outlook on their playing abilities — and few people know much more about possession football, the style so many in the media want the side to attempt — than Keane. Similarly, just think of the advice he could give fellow central midfielder James McCarthy alone.
And one other benefit? Should Keane be involved — his perfectionism would help instigate a level of professionalism that has seldom been seen before in the national side’s set-up. Thus, Ireland would undoubtedly never have to play on a car park-esque training pitch again and the inveterate ineptitude of the Trapattoni era would swiftly be forgotten.
- Originally published September 17.
- Sports & Recreation
- Liam Brady
- Seamus Coleman
- Wes Hoolahan