A little over a year ago, in the wake of Ireland’s shambolic performance at Euro 2012, Roy Keane criticised the attention the media paid to the Irish fans, claiming that, however inspiring they might be, loyal supporters, flags and incessant chanting can’t turn a poor team into a solid side overnight.
“They [the fans] want to see the team winning – let’s not kid ourselves, we’re a small country, we’re up against it, but let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again,” said Keane with the usual diplomacy, which saw him widely criticised by the followers of the boys in green.
However, 12 months later, Keane has had his wish – Ireland, bar a sporting miracle, will not go along for the sing-song and the next time they will – the cynics might say that it’s a case of “if”, rather than “when” – Giovanni Trapattoni won’t be directing the orchestra.
The Italian’s largely unspectacular reign came to an end in a predictably disappointing, and not-so-surprising fashion, as Ireland succumbed to two consecutive defeats within four days which did their hopes of reaching Brazil all the good that swimming in the Irish Sea in November would do to a man affected by pneumonia.
Defiant until the very end, the 74-year-old Italian claimed that he didn’t see himself walking away from the job, despite Tuesday night’s disastrous performance against Austria, but the FAI took Trapattoni’s future out of his hands and ushered him and his staff out of the door “by mutual consent”.
“I want to thank everyone in Ireland who has given us their support during our time here, which has always meant a lot to us,” said the Italian. “We leave this country with emotion because we understand the Irish supporters who have a well-deserved international reputation and they have our utmost respect.”
Unfortunately for Trapattoni, those feelings became increasingly unilateral following last year’s catastrophic display in Poland and Ukraine when, to borrow a quote from Roy Keane, Ireland only made up the numbers.
Trapattoni’s ultra-pragmatic and defensive style that had steadied the ship and kept Ireland in place following Steve Staunton’s disastrous tenure rapidly became shackles that holding the boys in green back as the Italian did his best to restrict the already limited talent at his disposal.
An unbeaten qualifying campaign to the 2010 World Cup ended in farce as Thierry Henry’s hand robbed Ireland of a place in South Africa, while the same stubbornly unspectacular approach steered Ireland to Euro 2012, the country’s first European Championship since 1988 and their first appearance at a major tournament in a decade.
However, stability and solidity quickly developed into an alarming lack of progress as Ireland’s game stagnated to embarrassingly low levels, with Trapattoni’s obstinate tactical beliefs proving detrimental for a side whose only aim was, too often, to avoid defeat.
Ireland might lack the talent of more glamorous European teams but even those who could have provided a guiding light through the darkness of the qualifying campaign, were prevented from doing so by Trapattoni’s tactics.
James McCarthy, James McClean and Seamus Coleman might not be world beaters but have proved they can treat the ball with confidence even at Premier League level, while Wes Hoolhan’s peripheral role is all the more baffling considering the lack of creative options in the Irish ranks.
With the likes of Robbie Keane and John O’Shea entering the winter of their international careers, the new manager will be asked to continue the development of a couple of promising youngsters, with sights firmly set on qualifying for Euro 2016.
Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy have been earmarked as front-runners to succeed Trapattoni, but neither seems to be the inspired choice Ireland needs to, finally, qualify for a major tournament with real hopes, rather than simply going along for a sing-song.