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Out Of The Traps

After a couple of months in the job, Giovanni Trapattoni is fast realising the challenge ahead of him. The bottom line: we need a few of those who retired back for the World Cup.

Tony Cascarino, 26 May 2008

So the Trapattoni era has got off to something less than a flying start, with a 1-1 draw against Portuguese Second Division side Portimonese. I wouldn’t be at all worried about the result: a lot of the big players are missing and the rest are knackered after a long, hard season. The whole point of the trip, apart from bonding the squad and getting a nice bit of sunshine, was for Trap to get to know the players. He needs to get a feel for the group, and they need to get a sense of what he’s about. You can’t just expect him to dive in at the deep end for the World Cup qualifying games.

The biggest question mark, in terms of the squad, is where exactly we stand with the players who’ve recently retired, and whether we can get them to change their minds. The one that everyone’s talking about is Stephen Ireland. While we’d obviously be stronger with him than without him, I don’t see why we should bend over backwards trying to persuade him to play for his country. I find it hard to understand why a 21-year-old should need his arm twisted to pull on his country’s shirt. He hasn’t achieved much yet in his career, but he’s acting as if he’d be doing us a massive favour just playing for Ireland.

He seems really reluctant, and it’s a bit insulting to the country. Even before the dead grannies fiasco, there’s a history of him displaying a bad attitude within the international set-up. If he’s like that at 21, God knows what he’s going to be like at 26 or 27. The proper approach for Trap is to tell him ‘if you want to join the squad, fine. If you don’t, good luck.’

As for the others, the indications are that Steve Finnan will be available after the summer and he will certainly come in very useful. He’s tons of top-level experience. We really do need him. In Andy O’Brien’s case, he felt that he’d been scapegoated for the 5-2 defeat in Cyprus, when – in truth – everyone had a nightmare. He probably looks at the squad and thinks, if he’s not going to be part of the first team, there’s no point going on thousand-mile treks to Georgia and Montenegro, just to sit on the bench. Lee Carsley’s a different case: he’s 34, but he proved last season that he’s still well capable of doing a job for us. The chances are that his powers will fade over the next two years; it’s difficult to see him lighting up the World Cup finals at the age of 36. But for the time being, he’s worth his place.

Trap has said he’s been a bit taken aback at how high people’s expectations are. That’s the way it is, because of what we’ve done in the past. There is a need for people to be a bit more realistic about where we are and what we’re capable of, but you don’t want to set your sights too low either. The minimum requirement is that, if we don’t qualify for the World Cup, we should at least be in contention going into the last game or two.

On a slightly different subject, I’m sure there’s great distress in Ireland at the way Rangers’ season seems to have fallen apart. It’s had a lot to do with their fixture pile-up. To an extent, they’re being punished for getting so far in the UEFA Cup. The other side of the coin is that maybe it serves them right for being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage, which Celtic got through. Being a bit short of money, they couldn’t afford to strengthen the squad in the transfer window. That’s come back to bite them, and with hindsight, they maybe should have sacrificed one or both of the domestic Cups, to give them the best chance in the SPL and the UEFA Cup.

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