England v Republic of Ireland: Wembley veteran Giovanni Trapattoni dreaming of repeat
It is half a century since Giovanni Trapattoni first walked out at Wembley. His job that day was to mark Eusebio, the best player in Europe; Trapattoni did as instructed and Milan won the European Cup. Fifty years down the line he is still doing his job, as efficient off the pitch as he was on it, and at the age of 74 still bubbling with an enthusiasm for the game that has occupied his life.
At the end of a season that has seen Sir Alex Ferguson call it a day aged 71, Trapattoni shows no sign of following suit. He trotted energetically out on to the Wembley turf again to take training having held court to the media with such passion that his flailing arms had his translator ducking for cover.
"I played against Pele, Eusebio – I didn't think about them as big players," said Trapattoni outlining how his players must approach if they are to succeed against his "good friend" Roy Hodgson's side. "I won the first European Cup for Milan against Benfica. We need to think all is possible in football."
Trapattoni has been in charge of Ireland for five years. Only Joachim Löw and Denmark's Morten Olsen, himself 63, have been at the helm of major European national sides for longer. It is no longer a secure tenancy – there have been calls for him to step down during a World Cup qualifying campaign that has included a 6-1 home defeat by Löw's Germans. But he is going nowhere, not while qualification for Brazil remains possible.
With that aim, this game, for all its emotional baggage, is for the Italian the most glorified of warm-ups for a home qualifier against the Faroe Islands on 7 June. Ireland play another friendly against Georgia and, post-Faroes, travel to the US for a friendly with Spain, but beating the Islanders matters the most in the struggle with Austria and Sweden to secure the runners-up spot behind Germany.
"Our aim is about the Faroes," said Trapattoni, an opinion seconded by his captain Robbie Keane. "I have to preserve the energy for the Faroes."
Keane, who arrived in London fresh from a hat-trick for LA Galaxy, will partner Shane Long in attack for the first such fixture since the abandoned match in 1995. Keane, aged 14, was at Lansdowne Road that night.
"It was the first time I've seen anything like that," he said. "It wasn't nice. I think in every aspect we have moved on. It's time to put everything that happened to bed."
Belfast Telegraph Digital