Trapattoni's Irish mission driven by Italy's disgrace
Republic manager prepares for last hurrah amid turmoil in his home country
Sunday 03 June 2012
Giovanni Trapattoni balks at the question. "No. Never," he says sternly. "They know me. And my mentality." The subject is whether he's ever been approached about fixing a match. And, in the context of the last week in Italian football, it's an eminently fair question. For Trapattoni, though, it's also a very personal issue.
When he immediately respondedto the news of Italy's latest scandal on Tuesday morning, the Irish manager sounded devastated. "This situation humiliates us. And it humiliates me. We are sad and disappointed because not all Italian football is like this. We don't have a good reputation and it's important it is cleaned up."
Trapattoni initially gave his views when he was doorstepped by Italian journalists at Ireland's own hotel in Montecatini first thing that morning. Such incidents have borne out misgivings about situating the Irish team's pre-Euro 2012 base in the manager's native country and so near to their group-stage opponents – the Italians themselves – no matter how ideal the conditions.
The tragic earthquake in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region – which shook the Irish hotel too – also put the week into context. Nevertheless, in purely football terms, Trapattoni insists it was a productive seven days for his squad. "There has been a very good atmosphere this week. There were a few doubts 10 days ago. Now, nothing."
And, in the grander narrative of the manager's own career, it's difficult to deny there's a sense of destiny about this final venue.
As Trapattoni approaches his mid-70s and, quite possibly, his last major campaign in football, both the site of Montecatini and the tournament itself tie together many strands of his career.
For one thing, Trapattoni senses the anxiety around the Italian arrests more acutely precisely because he was in his native country with his new team. But that does not mean his opinions have been altered. He already had very strong ones. Indeed, he already had a sense of mission about them.
Earlier this year, Trapattoni granted a rare one-on-one to the Italian-based journalist Paddy Agnew. In it, he went on a surprisingly long monologue about perceptions of his country. "It happens a lot that people tell me we Italians are all Mafiosi. It's frankly embarrassing but all I can do is try to be different, showing people I am a normal person who works hard and does his best."
Not to mention show his best. Make no mistake, Trapattoni feels every success he has had also improves his country's image. With Juventus, he earned respect beyond Italy but, with Italy themselves, the ultimate achievement eluded him. Trapattoni's national squad failures in the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 have added another dimension to his trip home: vindication.
Throughout Trapattoni's time with Ireland, he has never made much mentioned his previous tournaments with Italy as any kind of extra motivation. Indeed, disputes over previous decisions aside, he has curiously evaded the topic and did so yet again at the team's base on Friday.
Many close to him in the Irish set-up, however, insist that it's always there; that he wants to succeed in international football.
And, by succeed, he means in the very truest sense. At pointed occasions – not least when Ireland qualified in November – Trapattoni has dropped the name "Greece" into interviews. He genuinely believes the feat of 2004 can be replicated by a similarly unfashionable team.
"We have a great opportunity to show people," Trapattoni said on Friday. "I am sure the players understand this. My feeling is they believe; they trust what we can do."
Of course, while the aim may be Greek, the approach will be Italian. Or, at least, classically Italian. Criticised throughout his career for catenaccio-style football, Trapattoni has stripped that down even further with Ireland. They defend ferociously, they look for opportune attacks... and that's it. But that has made them very hard to beat. As it stands, Ireland haven't been defeated since October 2010.
Barring the way in two weeks will be Cesare Prandelli's modern, Barcelona-inspired Italy. Old against new, another strand to be tied in.
Today, Trapattoni and his team leave his home country for Hungary and a last friendly tomorrow before Euro 2012 starts.
The team he puts out, he claims, will likely be the one that starts against Croatia next Sunday. From there, he'll be hoping for the final word. In every sense.
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