COLIN YOUNG of the Daily Mail explains the difficulties of working with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
IF THE football writers who cover England thought Fabio Capello was hard work, a few days with his fellow countryman Giovanni Trapattoni would have them yearning for the good old days under Don Fabio.
After Giovanni Trapattoni’s press conferences, conducted in what those who follow the Republic of Ireland call Trappish, the journalists get together in an effort to agree on what they think the Italian said.
Trappatoni has been manager of Ireland for four and a half years, but Colin Young, who has covered Ireland for the Daily Mail and The Sun since the Mick McCarthy era, said: “His English has actually got worse during that period.
“When Capello was in charge of England, the problems he had and what he was criticised for by the media and English players…they didn’t know how lucky they were, compared to being with Trapattoni.”
His press conference ahead of the friendly against Greece had even experienced Trapattoni watchers scratching their collective heads, his muddled English compounded by saying “black” and “eight” in reference to players. Young said: “It was possibly the most baffling one yet and they are always baffling.
“It just didn’t make sense. Twenty hours later, just before the Greece game was to kick off, we were still trying to work out what it all meant. Even those of us who went through the tape recording of the press conference couldn’t make complete sense of it.
“A lot of what Trapattoni says you have to assume what he meant or translate yourself. His usual translator, Manuela Spinelli, who has been with him from day one, wasn’t there on Tuesday. Peter Sherrard is the FAI’s director of communications and while he speaks very good Italian, he doesn’t have the sort of grasp that Manuela has of what Traps is trying to say.
“Tuesday’s press conference by Trapattoni would not have been allowed by the English FA. The Irish press are far from happy with the situation but he’s got away with it. I once wrote the answers Trapattoni delivered verbatim so readers could appreciate just how difficult it is for us to put what he says into proper English.”
After press conferences the Irish written media get together in an effort to agree what they should say Traps said. Neil O’Riordan of the Irish Sun is usually the man entrusted with the final version which, to ensure uniformity, he emails to his colleagues.
Perhaps to his credit, Trapattoni has always insisted on doing his press conferences in English. Young said: “The problem is, he’s 73, he lives in Milan and the only time he speaks English is when he comes here. He’s not going to start English lessons now, especially as he might not be in the job too much longer.
“I find his press conferences frustrating. I’ve begged the FAI to make him do them in Italian. I can understand why he wants to be seen speaking English but the downside of that is television struggle to find even a small segment to broadcast. The purpose of a press conference, from the FAI’s viewpoint, is to sell tickets, not to sell newspapers. But the manager is not doing his job.
“He is becoming a figure of ridicule, not the legend he really is. A couple of times during the press conference there were sniggers and guffaws from the press audience. And how his captain John O’Shea managed to keep a straight face, I really don’t know. He looked as baffled and bemused as the rest of us.
“When Ireland played Italy twice in the 2010 World Cup campaign he did his press conferences in Italian with Manuela translating. There were some lovely, anecdotal, colourful stories. It was the same when Ireland played Bulgaria and Cathal Dervan [sports editor of the Irish Sun] and I had some time with Trapattoni. He spoke in Italian with translation. It was brilliant…the fans had been chanting his name after the 1-1 draw in Sofia which he really appreciated and he became quite emotional when he spoke about his mother and upbringing.
“It was so much easier and so much better, but he is the one who dictates which language he speaks in and he insists on Trappish.”
Trapattoni’s lack of English also presents inevitable problems for the players. Young said: “We have signed former player Kevin Kilbane as a columnist and he has given an insight into the difficulties the players face. Quite often communication is not a problem because he doesn’t communicate with them.
“When he was appointed, Liam Brady was there and he was a brilliant go-between because he spoke Italian and understood what Trapattoni was trying to say in terms of theories and tactics. Brady has since left and now at half-time Trapattoni doesn’t say anything, neither does his assistant Marco Tardelli. The players do it all. It’s a really bizarre ritual with the manager saying nothing but that’s the way it has always been.”
Initially Trappattoni’s stature as a club manager – seven Serie A titles, one European Cup, three UEFA Cups, one Cup-winners’ Cup in Italy, plus championships in Germany, Portugal and Austria – gave him instant respect. “That helped him a lot and got his foot in the door,” said Young. “The majority of the squad knew of his achievements but the newer, younger Ireland players who are 19 or 20 are less aware of this reputation. They don’t remember what he did with Juventus, Inter and Bayern Munich.”
Trapattoni’s inability to talk to his players in a way they are used to with their club managers has seen confrontations with some squad members. Darron Gibson (Everton), James McCarthy (Wigan), James McClean (Sunderland) and Kevin Foley (Wolves) have all had communication problems with the manager. Young said: “There are no one-on-ones and Trapattoni doesn’t feel he has to explain his decisions to anyone. He’s the complete opposite of someone like Mick McCarthy.”
Wolves utility player Foley was in the original squad for the Euro 2012 finals and was in the training camp in Montecatini, Italy. He was informed just hours before the Euro Finals deadline that he would not be going to the finals before the warm-up friendly against Hungary. Young said: “Trapattoni dropped Foley from the squad in a cold hearted way, but he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. If Mick had to tell a player he wasn’t going to a finals he would have had sleepless nights for a week worrying about how he would announce it and the effect it would have on the player.”
Trapattoni had previously watched his players playing for their clubs on television or on DVDs at his home in Milan, but at a recent meeting with FAI chief executive John Delaney the manager was told he must attend matches to see Ireland internationals first hand.
Young said: “It wasn’t a problem before because they had qualified for Euro 2012, so whatever system he had in place six months ago was working. Ireland were unbeaten in 14 games, most of those matches clean sheets, they were at a major finals for the first time in 10 years so while what he was doing then was being scrutinised, it certainly wasn’t criticised.”
Euro 2012 could hardly have gone worse for Ireland who left the finals without a point, scoring one goal in three inept displays. The FAI had extended Trapattoni’s contract for a further two years before the squad left for Poland and Ukraine and Young said: “In hindsight they got a little carried away with themselves and they now cannot afford to get rid of him.”
Trapattoni’s popularity is plummeting yet despite the record 6-1 home defeat by Germany and needing two goals in the final three minutes to beat Kazakhstan it is not beyond the realms of possibility for Ireland to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Young said: “If they grind out results against Sweden and Austria as they did in the last two qualifying campaigns they could finish second.”
In the Euro 2012 qualifiers just about every break went Ireland’s way, being the recipients of some generous penalty decisions, opponents being harshly dismissed and then drawing Estonia, the weakest link in the play-offs.
“At various points in the last two campaigns he’s been lucky, the sort of good fortune that often deserted his predecessors, though Trapattoni may counter that with the Thierry Henry incident in the 2010 World Cup play-off against France in Paris.”
In any language, the Hand of Gaul cost Ireland dearly
Trappish…Giovanni Trapattoni’s word-for-word reply when asked after Ireland 1-0 defeat by Greece whether his side’s failure to convert possession into goals is the biggest disappointment:
[Asks for clarification of something in Italian]. “Yes, yes, there is this situation. You have to no forget this team is there [unintelligible] plays is strong team, play, play, played a long time together is a good maybe missing little bit heavy in the [something Italian], in the box, but possession is no enough is right what you say. But it was important our confident, the look, the score, look also this situation. Eh this watch about our personality because is there, is the first game Coleman, the first game also okay Long play something time, but I think we had this good impact approach because it was important. It was important after make a good performance after this disappoint, the German. Also Faroe eh Kazakstan [starts speaking in Italian, translated roughly as ‘we have seen a progression’]. Yes.”