Irish Examiner sports column, May 2

May 4, 2008

Meet Il Gaffer

HE CAME, he saw, he was céad mile fáilted.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure as Ireland football manager began officially in the RDS yesterday, a venue more usually associated with Sinn Féin Árd Fheiseanna.

Trap may not be the man to unite Ireland, but anyone whose arrival sparks Liam Brady to do a model’s twirl to show off his Italian suit shouldn’t be underestimated.

After a brief castanet whirr of cameras, the great man was left on the stage: slightly smaller than expected, slightly paler than expected, in a grey suit that was neat rather than flash, a tie that was subtle rather than sparkling.

Trapattoni was more the elder statesman than the bella figura, a description that marks the end of this writer’s grasp of Italian (and an ongoing embargo on all groan-inducing puns about pasta, the Godfather and the Latin temperament).

By contrast, Trapattoni’s enthusiastic use of English left his interpreter, Ms Spinelli, in the Clinton Morrison role (rarely used substitute).

On that count alone Trap scores far higher than his countryman in charge of England, Fabio Capello, whose exact command of the language of his players remains somewhat mysterious (though then again, his players’ command of their own language is equally vague).

Granted, Trap’s pronunciation of some names granted them an unfamiliar exotic ring — Carslay, Doof — but as they almost used to say about Abba, his English is a lot better than our Italian.

For instance, when asked about his backroom team, he was confident enough to try a joke, saying that Liam Brady had asked for time to consider the offer to join the Ireland set-up: “Liam says he has to think, one-two-three seconds, he says yes.”

The comic timing wasn’t bad either. Seriously.

IT is true to say however that from the moment Trap faced the press yesterday he was in command.

The hand gestures were emphatic, the suit jacket was soon unbuttoned, and a wayward pen on the stage was pressed into action for emphasis: at times the new boss looked one question away from scribbling some new formations on the stage backdrop to explain his approach.

Yet there was also a subtle change of pronoun midway through Trap’s on-stage performance. His prepared speech was formal and gracious in describing Ireland as an island of a thousand welcomes, but in responding to questions from the floor on how the team would handle qualifying for major tournaments, the word “us” got plenty of airplay.

A simple move, but a canny one. Trapattoni also referred to a slew of Irish internationals, thus skewering suggestions floating around that Duff and Keane were his only landmarks in green.

As a foretaste, perhaps, of times to come, there were a couple of inswinging crosses to be dealt with, but the former centre-back dealt with those comfortably: yes, Stephen Ireland was an important player and the manager would speak to him, while the training camp in Portugal was vital for him and the backroom staff to get to know the players, particularly the younger ones. But there was a hint of iron in the glove: he certainly wouldn’t be trying to change the players’ habits immediately, that was dangerous, but if those players who’d retired didn’t want to come back to international football, then they wouldn’t be coming back.

Common sense. But if you wanted a glimpse of the manager’s ability to forge a bond, there was a moment when the man from Gazzetta Dello Sport asked a lengthy question drawing on the tactical reputation forged under Jack Charlton. Trap grinned and asked the Irish media if they’d like the query translated. Us again.

After that it was a matter of standing in for photos with his new team — Marco Tardelli, fitness trainer Fausto Rossi, Liam BradiBrady, sorry — Mick Martin, Alan Kelly, Frank Stapleton. All told, a good performance from the new man, even if tougher outings and harder questions, inevitably lie ahead.

One question that Trap wasn’t in a position to answer yesterday, however, was this: is he the only Ireland boss who’ll be unveiled to the public this week?



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