Laying the Trap with the tried and trusted

Experience and defensive discipline – the Chelsea way – will be crucial for Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland, writes Glenn Moore

A veteran Italian coach, multiple title-winner in Serie A and elsewhere, disciplinarian, struggles with his adopted language, and heading for Euro 2012 with the nation's good wishes. That last clause is where the paths of Fabio Capello and Giovanni Trapattoni diverge. Whether "Trap" would have been a more suitable coach for England than Don Fabio will never be known, but the Irish believe they chose the right man when, like England, they looked to the home of tactical football for a new manager.

Capello was not taken to English hearts in the way Trapattoni has been welcomed across the Irish Sea. Earlier this year he took part in a charity walk up Ireland's holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick, where St Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days and nights. Upon his descent Trapattoni said: "The enthusiasm and passion of the fans here is incredible. I have a duty to return that by showing my affection for the country and the people and I hope to do that through football." So far he has done this so successfully the 73-year-old recently signed a contract extension taking him to the 2014 World Cup finals.

Trapattoni's £1.5m-a-year salary (part-financed by tycoon Denis O'Brien) is a fraction of Capello's with England but he is even more decorated, having won 10 titles in four countries, the three major European trophies and the Intercontinental Cup, and played for and managed his country at the World Cup.

When the Italian won his first league championship as coach, Serie A with Juventus in 1977, only one of his Euro 2012 squad was born, and Shay Given was still in nappies. Yet he stressed this week that all the titles and cups are history, that he is constantly looking ahead, forever honing his coaching philosophy. "That is the past," he said. "It is important I show everyone I am still useful because football changes and it's important I go with football. The new football, every four years it changes."

There is not, in truth, much evidence of a tactical breakthrough in Ireland's rigid 4-4-2 under Trapattoni, but that is in part because he can only work with what he has. Compared with Jack Charlton's Irish teams, which had at various times Roy Keane, David O'Leary, Paul McGrath, Denis Irwin, Frank Stapleton, Kevin Sheedy, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, John Aldridge and, when he cared to use him, Liam Brady, it is clear that Trapattoni has slimmer resources. Given is a solid goalkeeper, Richard Dunne an inspiring centre-half and Robbie Keane a talismanic striker, but all are past their peak. Only on the flanks is there real quality in Damien Duff, now 33 himself, and Aiden McGeady, who is the only player anticipated to appear in European club football next season, assuming he stays at Spartak Moscow.

Trapattoni thus focuses on making Ireland hard to beat. The wide men track back while of the main contenders to be sitting midfielders only Keith Andrews attacks the penalty box with any frequency though Glenn Whelan and Darron Gibson can shoot from range. The back four do not take risks with full-backs rarely asked to overlap. This approach has worked. Ireland go into their final warm-up match, against Hungary tonight, bolstered by a 13-match unbeaten run including 10 clean sheets. They have scored 21 goals in that run, but nine have come in two matches against Northern Ireland and Estonia. The captain, Los Angeles-based Keane, remains the most likely source of a goal. He now has 53, a Britain and Ireland international record, from 116 caps.

There is, though, some dissent in Ireland over Trapattoni's conservatism. Only two players are under 25, Gibson, 24, and James McClean, the 23-year-old Sunderland winger whose impact on the Premier League has forced Trapattoni to reverse earlier indications that he would not be selected. McClean, with his direct running, eye for goal and energy will be Ireland's surprise package.

However, Trapattoni has not called up Seamus Coleman or Marc Wilson, preferring tried-and-trusted players from the Championship such as Paul McShane and Paul Green. Stephen Ireland remains estranged while James McCarthy was a peripheral figure with three caps in two years even before he withdrew from consideration when his father was diagnosed with cancer. These players, and Everton's Shane Duffy, may be given a chance in 2014 qualifying in which Ireland have drawn Germany and Sweden.

For now Trapattoni is looking only at this summer. He made reference to Chelsea's Champions League victory over Bayern Munich last week and it is expected that Ireland will adopt a similar approach: defensive and industrious, while hoping Keane and the wingers can fashion a goal. Ireland can play sparkling football – as they proved in the fateful World Cup 2010 play-off against France in Paris – but Plan A is not to lose. Trapattoni underlined 'it is about the result, not the show, people forget the show'.

They cannot afford to be lose the first game, against Croatia on 10 June, for Spain and Italy follow. The target is to go into the final game with qualification attainable not least because Italy, having not beaten Trapattoni's Ireland in three attempts, may be nervous.

Trapattoni's spell as Italy coach was one of his few failures. In the 2002 World Cup they were knocked out by South Korea in the round of 16, and in Euro 2004 they did not escape the group stage. Trapattoni may feel he has something to prove at international level. If so, the opportunity to do so beckons.

Tournament odds 80-1

Play-off joy Ireland's road to Euro 2012

Armenia (a)won 1-03/9/10

Andorra (h)won 3-17/9/10

Russia (h)lost 3-28/10/10

Slovakia (a)drew 1-112/10/10

Macedonia (h)won 2-126/3/11

Macedonia (a)won 2-04/6/11

Slovakia (h)drew 0-02/9/11

Russia (a)drew 0-06/9/11

Andorra (a)won 2-07/10/11

Armenia (h)won 2-111/10/11

Final Group B table

P WDLFA Pts

Russia 10 721174 23

Rep of Ire 1063115721

Armenia 10523221017

Slovakia 1043371015

Macedonia 102268148

Andorra 1000101250

Play-offs

beat Estonia 5-1 on aggregate

Ireland squad list: Trapattoni's chosen 23

Giovanni Trapattoni

Manager

Age 73 Appointed 2008

First match Serbia (a), May '08, d 1-1

 

1. Shay Given

Goalkeeper

Club Aston Villa Age 36 Caps 121

Goals 0 Debut March 1996

 

2. Sean St Ledger

Defender

Club Leicester Age 27 Caps 26

Goals 2 Debut June 2009

 

3. Stephen Ward

Defender

Club Wolves Age 26 Caps 11

Goals 2 Debut April 2000

4. John O'Shea

Defender

Club Sunderland Age 31 Caps 75

Goals 1 Debut August 2001

 

5. Richard Dunne

Defender

Club Aston Villa Age 32 Caps 72

Goals 8 Debut April 2000

 

6. Glenn Whelan

Midfielder

Club Stoke City Age 28 Caps 38

Goals 2 Debut June 2008

 

7. Aiden McGeady

Midfielder

Club Sp Moscow Age 26 Caps 48

Goals 2 Debut June 2004

8. Keith Andrews

Midfielder

Club WBA Age 31 Caps 28

Goals 3 Debut June 2008

 

9. Kevin Doyle

Striker

Club Wolves Age 28 Caps 47

Goals 10 Debut March 2006

 

10. Robbie Keane

Striker

Club LA Galaxy Age 31 Caps 116

Goals 53 Debut March 1998

 

11. Damien Duff

Midfielder

Club Fulham Age 33 Caps 96

Goals 8 Debut March 1998

12. Stephen Kelly

Defender

Club Fulham Age 28 Caps 30

Goals 0 Debut May 2006

 

13. Paul McShane

Defender

Club Hull City Age 26 Caps 27

Goals 0 Debut October 2006

 

14. Jonathan Walters

Striker

Club Stoke City Age 28 Caps 6

Goals 1 Debut November 2010

 

15. Darron Gibson

Midfielder

Club Everton Age 24 Caps 18

Goals 1 Debut August 2007

16. Keiren Westwood

Goalkeeper

Club Sunderland Age 27 Caps 9

Goals 0 Debut May 2009

 

17. Stephen Hunt

Midfielder

Club Wolves Age 30 Caps 38

Goals 1 Debut February 2007

 

18. Darren O'Dea

Defender

Club None Age 25 Caps 14

Goals 0 Debut September 2009

 

19. Shane Long

Striker

Club WBA Age 25 Caps 25

Goals 7 Debut February 2007

20. Simon Cox

Striker

Club WBA Age 25 Caps 11

Goals 3 Debut May 2011

 

21. Paul Green

Midfielder

Club Unattached Age 29 Caps 10

Goals 1 Debut May 2010

 

22. James McClean

Midfielder

Club Sunderland Age 23 Caps 2

Goals 0 Debut February 2012

 

23. David Forde

Goalkeeper

Club Millwall Age 32 Caps 2

Goals 0 Debut May 2011

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