Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

No end yet to Ireland’s Irish exile

Giovanni Trapattoni, man of mystery.

Is the 69-year-old Italian with the twinkling blue eyes a stubborn conservative who puts blind faith in his system of play, or is he recklessly gambling with the family silver?

His words at the announcement of the Republic of Ireland squad to play Georgia suggested the former, but his actions and decisions on playing personnel portray something different.

Andy Reid is no Liam Brady, but in Trap's eyes he is not among the top 25 players available to the international manager. That's a huge call. Stephen Ireland's case is hugely complex, and between player and manager there's a game going on that is potentially destructive to the Irish cause.

Let's remember what is at stake here. The FAI have a huge organisation, most of it admirably dedicated to the growth of the game at all levels, not to mention the 70 internationals played each year from schoolboy upwards.

But their main source of income is the international team.

And that's where Signor Trapattoni comes in. He and his merry men in green are the box office attraction that will provide the bulk of the ongoing funding for the Irish football family.

If they don't perform, the bottom will fall out of the team's marketability with Irish soccer fans.

World Cup qualifying points, beginning with the home game against Georgia on February 11, are thus the currency of hope for the Association and the supporters.

Charming, suave, and speaking his improving English, Trapattoni asserted that this is a 'must win' game, because three points would put the Irish level in the Group with his native Italy.

And almost in the same breath he dismissed Andy Reid because he doesn't fit into "the system" while backing off the Stephen Ireland issue, saying it's up to the player to make the first move.

Right there is the paradox — rigid conservative, pragmatist, yet taking the risk that he can do without either player and their creativity, even when the chips are down and you might need a moment of magic to unlock the Italian, Bulgarian, or even the Georgian defence.

Trap is right when he says the players have shown admirable spirit and willingness to date, and let's not forget that they are unbeaten in the group with two wins and a draw so far.

But he has just bought a lottery ticket by placing his faith in a top 25 that doesn't include the names of Reid and Ireland.

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