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What Ireland can learn from Spanish flair

European champions Spain's adventurous, attacking play shows it is possible to win major tournaments without going negative. But there's no reason why, with the right management, Ireland shouldn't be able to hold their own against the Continent's top sides.

Tony Cascarino, 14 Jul 2008

There’s no doubt that the best team won the Euros. I thought that, right from the outset, Spain looked the best team in a fantastic competition full of adventurous sides who were approaching the game in the right way and trying to score goals.

The biggest disappointments were France and Italy, who went about it in a very cautious, conservative manner and got exactly what they deserved: nothing. France were really drab, and it seemed obvious that Raymond Domenech had no clue what his best team was. He couldn’t find the right formula, and seemed to be making the script up as he went along, shuffling his pack in the desperate hope that it would all fall into place. The feeling in France was that they’d reached the World Cup Final two years ago in spite of him, with the senior players basically running the team themselves. Italy didn’t look the force they were, either: Luca Toni was a bit of a blunt instrument up front, and they didn’t deserve to go any further than they did. On the other hand, Croatia were really enjoyable to watch and very unlucky to go out, Holland played some beautiful stuff before having a bad day against the Russians, and even Germany played some exciting stuff.

Ireland, England and Scotland weren’t exactly missed, but I think too much is made of this idea that the continentals have some magic ingredient that makes them better, smarter footballers. It just isn’t the case. We have good players in these islands, and you need proper management, which Ireland and England didn’t have in the last two years. The Scots had a good manager and beat France twice and came very close to qualifying, without any world-class players, which goes to show how much can be achieved with a bit of good organisation. Managers need to be tactically astute, and all the evidence is that Capello and Trapattoni should rectify the situation, given their past achievements. There are strong points to the way football is played here: the level of physical fitness is very good, and we tend to be good at closing down opponents. What’s needed is a bit more wit when it comes to breaking teams down, and finding cleverer ways of opening up the opposition. Ireland, and England for that matter, have been outwitted too often in recent years. But there’s no great crisis in terms of player quality.

At the time of writing, Robbie Keane is being linked with a move to Liverpool, possibly as part of a swap deal involving Peter Crouch. If it happens, it’s a great move for Robbie. The thought of him playing alongside Torres is incredibly exciting. It’d be the first time he’s played for a really massive club. I know he was at Inter Milan for a while when he was about 20, but he never quite cracked the first team and maybe wasn’t ready for it. I’d hope that if Benitez buys him, he’d give him a regular starting spot on a week-in-week-out basis, because Robbie thrives on confidence. Benitez has been rotating far too much for his own good, and there were hints towards the end of last season that he’s starting to learn his lesson. It’s the perfect time for Robbie to make a move like this: he’s 27, a great age for a striker, and he should have a great five years left in him.

Best of luck to Paul Ince, who’s got the Blackburn job after doing great work at Macclesfield and Milton Keynes. There’s been a lot of mention of the fact that he’s the first black English manager to get a Premier League job, but I think people are making too much of that. It’s purely down to the fact that there haven’t been enough good ones. Like anything else, what’s important is a man’s ability to do the job, not the colour of his skin. I don’t believe for a minute that any chairman has taken skin colour into account. I saw John Barnes interviewed not long ago, and he came across as quite bitter about the fact that he’d never been given a second chance after messing up the Celtic job. He seemed to think it was racism, but that’s nonsense. If he’d done a good job, it would never have been an issue. Now Ince has a great opportunity, and hopefully he’ll prove his worth.

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