By Ewan McQueenFollow @JfGpodcasts
Tensions are rising across the footballing nations as the qualification phase for the 2014 World Cup continues. After poor starts, some European sides looking to book their place in the planet’s most prestigious international football competition are becoming more and more paranoid, anxious and nervous. Every lacklustre performance, awful result and minor slip-up is magnified and exaggerated and, even after just two games, seen as irrefutable proof that the nation will not clear the hurdle and thus will not make the trip to Brazil in two years. The fans grow weary, the players lose interest as well as respect and the press become hostile and, naturally, it is the coach who absorbs the pressure and criticism from all sides and must either do the honourable thing and resign or do something wonderful and fire his team into action and ensure they reach the big stage.
One such manager currently facing this problem is Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. The legendary Italian manager has come in for some heavy criticism after suffering a 6-1 loss to Germany in their World Cup qualifier on Friday night. This followed a very unconvincing 2-1 win over Kazakhstan last month and a disastrous Euro 2012 campaign where they exited at the group stage with no points and only one goal scored.
So does Trapattoni deserve this criticism? His overall record with Ireland since taking charge in 2008 is fairly impressive. In 51 matches, he has won 22, drawn 17 and lost only 12, giving him a win percentage of 43%. In competitive matches, he has 11 wins from 26 games with only five losses.
Ireland were extremely unlucky not to qualify for the 2010 World Cup when they lost 2-1 to France in the qualification process after a controversial handball from Thierry Henry. This came after an excellent performance in the ten group matches, where Trapattoni led Ireland to an unbeaten campaign in a group which included defending World champions Italy.
However, he only managed four wins in those ten games which has always been a source of criticism for the Italian. The two wins over Cyprus and Georgia both only came by solitary goals home and away. In the first leg of the play-off against France at Croke Park, Ireland almost seemed too content to play for a draw which ultimately cost them, Henry’s handball not withstanding.
The Italian has a long and decorated history winning league titles in Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria over three decades, but at 73 he can be considered yesterday’s man. Whilst 4-4-2 was ditched as a philosophy by most managers in the mid 2000s, Trappatoni persisted with this tactic until very recently during his time as Ireland boss. It often made the Irish side very tough to beat, but also showed their lack of creativity despite playing two wingers in the shape of Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff. At the Euros, they were torn apart by teams who exploited Ireland’s soft centre as they conceded nine goals in the three group matches.
It certainly cannot be denied that Germany are a team blessed with hugely talented youngsters such as Marco Reus, who scored twice against Ireland but the way they cut Trapattoni’s team open at will was embarrassing. Bizarrely, he selected Darren O’Dea at centre back, a player who has recently joined Toronto who haven’t won a game since he joined. Whilst Jon Walters played well against the Germans, it also seemed strange that he picked him ahead of Shane Long, who has been in excellent form for West Brom so far this season.
Trapattoni probably has more time than many other managers would get due to the fact he led them to their first European Championships since 1988.
However, if he suffers a disastrous loss to the Faroe Islands on Tuesday night, then he might be looking for a new adventure in his old age.