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Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008
Ireland's recent hire produces more questions than answers
LONDON — Giovanni Trapattoni, the new Republic of Ireland manager, can claim to be the greatest club coach of all time.
So why on earth would the 68-year-old who speaks halting English want to be in charge of a mediocre national team, 36th in the FIFA rankings that lost 5-2 to Cyprus in the Euro 2008 qualifiers?
Why did it take the three-man selection panel, comprised of Under-21 manager Don Givens, ex-international Ray Houghton and former England coach Don Howe, 113 days to find Steve Staunton's successor?
And why did the panel not think Terry Venables, who has managed England and Australia and who was the Ireland players' preferred choice, not a more suitable candidate for the job?
England has Fabio Capello, Ireland has Trapattoni who fittingly was born on March 17 — St Patrick's Day. The Italians are taking over, but the choice of Trapattoni has left most Irish delighted and bemused, shaking their heads asking "Why. . .?" Ireland even needed a little financial help to trap Trapattoni, who will earn around $4 million a year, seven times Staunton's salary.
The offer by Denis O'Brien, the fourth richest man in Ireland, to make a private donation and help to pay the new manager's salary was one the Football Association of Ireland could not refuse.
Former Bank of Ireland Deputy Governor O'Brien did not influence the panel's decision, he merely wanted to ensure Ireland appointed the best manager possible and his financial assistance enabled the FAI to raise the financial bar considerably.
Bookmakers are delighted with the delay in appointing Trapattoni because since the panel began interviewing would-be managers nine candidates at one time or another were short-odds favorites.
Apart from Trapattoni, David O'Leary, Didier Deschamps, Liam Brady, Paul Jewell, John Giles, Kenny Dalglish, Gerard Houllier and Venables were all backed at or around even money at some stage.
Trapattoni has agreed to a two-year contract to take charge in May after his Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg's season finishes. His first game will be the home friendly against Serbia on May 24. He is keen to work again with Brady, currently Arsenal's youth coach whom he managed at Juventus in the early 1980s.
"I am hopeful Arsene Wenger will let Liam do the job as well as his Arsenal commitment," said Trapattoni. "I knew Liam as a player and I asked him if it was possible for him to work with me a bit. He speaks good Italian and he knows the players. We can work together but not all the time because Liam has a good job at Arsenal."
For all Brady's qualities he will be seen as much as an interpreter as a coach. Ireland will hope the Italian learns English better than he did German because when he was in charge of Bayern Munich he was lampooned for calling the players "empty bottles" on television.
Former England international David Platt, who played under Trapattoni at Juventus and Sven-Goran Eriksson at Sampdoria, during his stay in Italy, has no doubt which coach he preferred.
Platt said: "Trapattoni's idea of football was to defend first and risk nothing. It was frustrating for me as a midfield player who wanted to score goals because I was expected to defend. I was perfectly happy to do that but when we won the ball I wanted to go forward.
"Eriksson was by far the best coach that I worked under because he had a sense of balance in that Sampdoria were difficult to break down, but, when the team got the ball, there was an offensive tactic and a willingness to gamble. I have never been so well prepared for games tactically and mentally."
Trapattoni has vowed to lead the Republic to the 2010 World Cup finals, a task made more difficult by the fact he will be up against world champion Italy.
"Qualifying for the World Cup will be hard and playing against the Italian team will make me proud but it should be possible for Ireland to come first," he said.
While no one would expect Trapattoni to say Ireland won't qualify, even the most fervent Irish fan will wonder how on earth it will be possible for it to finish above Italy.