I attended the Ireland vs Bulgaria WC qualifier at Croke Park on Saturday 28th March 2009. The team underperformed after a dream start and showed very little energy or appetite until conceding an equaliser in the final quarter of the game. A highlight was John O’Shea’s excellent performance and he’s having the best season of his career this year.
I got the feeling during the Bulgaria game that the players had one eye on the Wednesday night fixture away to Italy just 4 days later. Right from the kick-off in Bari it was clear that this was the case, the team were full of energy and showed plenty of hunger and ambition. Aided by the early sending-off meant Ireland could dominate the midfield area and both Hunt and Andrews showed good tenacity in chasing down Pirlo and upsetting his creative game.
Trappatoni made rapid and decisive changes in this game as Ireland fell behind so early on to a rather soft goal. McShane is playing with no confidence whatsoever at right full-back, Grosso targeted him and Italy profited.
The key philosophy of the manager for Ireland is organisation, discipline and unity. These words are terribly unfashionable with some of the pundits, who idealise renegaedes like Roy Keane. Trappatoni is very rigid in his commitment to teamwork and equal commitment to subduing individualism.
My feeling on the Andy Reid issue is that Trappatoni’s classical Italian mindset means he won’t pick a player who doesn’t look like a professional athlete. Unfortunately for Andy Reid, he’s never going to get on Trap’s first 11, the case of Stephen Ireland is rather different but his issues are more psychological than physical. I was at a Man City game in February 2009 and was very impressed by Stephen Ireland. He is a supreme midfield player, wonderful passer, good tackler and great mobility and stamina. If only we could get him back in a green shirt we would cause real problems for opponents with him threading balls to the front players.
So as we stand now in 2nd position in our group, the Rep. of Ireland have control of their own destiny at the half-way stage. With the return of Finnan and Duff we will have a very strong first XI for the June fixtures. Trappatoni has brought stability and certainty to the team that was badly lacking. His authoritory cannot be questioned at this stage, and his credibility remains ironcast.
Cappello is taking a similar philosophy to the England job, no room for egoes and no special rules for individuals. The results speak for themselves, and as an Italian footballing legend he has the clout to pull it off.
I’m definitely going to South Africa if we qualify, definitely!