How extraordinarily intelligent of the Football Association of Ireland to hire a Joycean manager for Dublin. The streams of consciousness that have been babbling out of Giovanni Trapattoni in the momentous past few days have been as baffling and as endearing as ever.
Take his last public utterance before Saturday's potentially defining meeting with France at Croke Park, for example. The man all of Ireland knows as Il Trap had just been discussing the significance of his side playing with a strong mentality and balance when he climbed to his feet. "The players know that is our strength," he said. "But we also have Picassos. Picasso was a painter....'' he said. And seconds later he was gone.
There have been so many more of these bizarre occasions – none less memorable than when, after declaring that Ireland did not deserve a handball against Montenegro, he performed a wild practical demonstration of where a ball can hit a player without him intending it – that it is surprising that the brand of football the 70-year-old has brought to Ireland is so uncomplicated. Six defenders, four attackers: that's how Trapattoni has always organised his teams in a Serie A and international career rich in trophies, and that's how he does it with Ireland.
There's a recognition in all he does that his charges will be the underdogs but with favoured sons Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan always behind the ball – classic Italian catenaccio – there will always be the chance of a counter-attack. If Brazil taught England the lesson in Doha on Saturday that sometimes beating the elite does not mean always setting the pace but waiting your turn, then Ireland have learnt that lesson.
The nation has taken him to heart because of it. Trapattoni has tamed Ireland for the same reasons that Jack Charlton did – his appreciation that the country is looking for heart and spirit in a side. His team, after all, is made up from the ranks of Stoke City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hull City and Middlesbrough, where brilliance may be lacking.
But now for perhaps his greatest challenge yet. Trapattoni might have won seven Italian leagues (six with Juventus, one with Internazionale) to go with one Bundesliga, a Portuguese title at Benfica and yet another in Austria. He might also have finished the World Cup qualifying campaign unbeaten (becoming only the third Irish manager to do so). But in Paris tomorrow night he must dispense with a little of the Italian pragmatism which has marked out his regime and bring some gold dust. "We obviously have to take a few more chances than we usually do," said Damien Duff, acknowledging that another characteristic 0-0 won't do and neither will some of the defining results of the manager's tenure – the 1-1 draw in Italy for instance. "It is tried and trusted with the gaffer and the shape but we are obviously looking for a goal, or two, or three," Duff said. "We will have to take a few more chances."
There was more of the Joycean spirit to hand from the manager. "Obviously, words possibly change every days. You write, tomorrow you can change," Trapattoni said, which sounded vaguely meaningful. Those looking for something to cling to will also cite the fact that Il Trap was born on St Patrick's Day. But when the words and the omens are put away and the action starts it is down to something that even the manager can't complicate. "It is all about trying to win 1-0 in Paris, as that would take the tie into extra-time," he said. "And then everything is possible."Reuse content