Friday, 29 June 2012

Caught in a Trapp

3 games.

3 defeats.

And a goal difference of minus 8.

Pretty conclusive reading.

A dream to get to the European Championships.

A nightmare at it.

However, Ireland were in a much worse place when Giovanni Trapattoni first took over.

Embarrassing defeats like the 5-2 hammering by Cyprus meant Steve Staunton didn’t last long.

And while the FAI chased Paul Jewell to become the man to lead Ireland back to where the nation craved - a wily old Italian was having ideas of his own.

With 26 major honours to his name, ‘Il Trap’ was about to step in and lead the nation forward.

Never in our history had this nation been managed by a man so successful.

Indeed, an FA cup was all that had been won by all previous Ireland managers combined.

And after 3 campaigns in which Ireland had failed to even make the play-offs - Giovanni’s task was simple.

So too was his plan.

At least it was simple on the eye.

Make ourselves as defensively tight as possible and adopt his 'Italian' approach.

Cyprus would not be scoring 5 goals against us again anytime soon.

In fact most teams would not be scoring against us at all.

Giovanni’s system has been in place 37 years now.

It’s not the same in 2012 as it was in 1975.

It has been tinkered with plus thought about and adjusted accordingly over the years to allow for all the gradual changes that occur over what is now 5 decades that the Italian has been managing in.

It is a system that has brought him Italian titles.

German titles.

Portuguese titles.

Even every major European title that was on offer.

It was a system intended to bring qualification to a major tournament to a squad of players who so desperately craved it.

And it worked.

After 2 years in charge, the Irish came within extra time of qualifying for a World Cup.

A far cry from that night in Nicosia.

Defence was tight.

The team remained undefeated in a group that contained Italy and Bulgaria.

And a limited squad of players had come to the brink.

Failure to qualify for the fourth campaign in a row was suddenly not as ghastly as before.

This time we came close.

Very close.

The system was working.

Fast forward 2 years and with largely the same squad of players, Giovanni had masterminded his team through the play-offs and straight to the promised land.

The system, with 2 more years of adjustments and a squad well rehearsed at it - had qualified.

It wasn’t very attacking.

But it was very effective.

Ireland had gone 14 games undefeated.

Conceding only 1 goal in 12 games.

The system behind it all, of course.

Until suddenly Croatia played us.

Then Spain.

Then Italy.

And the system crashed around our feet.

4 years hard work under the highly decorated Italian had suddenly gone to waste.

And the system was to blame.

What else could it be?

What had been good enough to get us to Euro 2012 was actually not good enough to allow us compete at it.

The tight defence on which it was built had collapsed.

It was Cyprus all over again.

Ireland were leaking goals at almost every attack.

And not even threatening the oppositions goal.

Giovanni had perfected his system after managing in so many of the top league teams around.

But there in may lye his problem.

Ireland are no top side.

In fact, Ireland are a very limited side.

Whereas he could call upon Michel Platini or Lothar Matthaus or Francisco Totti in the past, he was now relying on players who were playing for Stoke City, Wolves and West Brom.

Honest, hard working professionals.

But not world players of the year as before.

The system is only as good as the sum of it parts.

And while it may be world class - the players unfortunately, are not.

The system is great if you can rely on Francisco in the final third to get you the goal.

Or Lothar running from midfield putting the opposition on the back foot.

Ireland unfortunately, are reliant on players like Keith Andrews and Kevin Doyle to do this.

The team made up of the lower half of the Premier league and beyond had found themselves able to turn over the likes of Armenia, Montenegro and Estonia in this system.

Something they'd struggled with before.

But when they faced real competition like both games against Russia and the 3 group games in the tournament - it was a different story.

It appeared the system had failed.

In some ways it had.

Not because it couldn't work against other teams.

But perhaps because the players weren't good enough to make it work...

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