Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Republic of Ireland: What change is needed?

The topic of the future of the Irish national team has been discussed almost to death of late, especially since the abysmal performance at the 2012 European Championships. Qualifying for the tournament gave the Irish people a sense of false hope. People who know nothing about football were jumping on the bandwagon and there was a suicidal belief that the team would qualify from their group. In reality, the Republic of Ireland are most certainly not in the top 16 teams in Europe. They were extremely lucky to qualify for the tournament and if I am going to be brutally honest if they got any draw other than Estonia they probably would not have qualified. Croatia, Czech Republic, Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina are all better teams. Turkey and Montenegro are probably on par with them, Estonia were the only side in the playoffs that I feel they could have beaten. Qualifying for the Euros overshadowed a lot of problems for the Irish team. Trapattoni didn't get the Irish to Euro 2012, drawing Estonia did. 

Since the shambolic exit from the Championships the public and media have been calling for wholesale changes. One man who has been the centre of attention is the man in charge - Giovanni Trapattoni. In a way the criticism is deserved. He is undoubtedly a great manager and you could say the Irish are lucky to have him but the system he insists on playing simply doesn't suit the Irish, in my opinion. There seems to be a real belief that Trapattoni is going to dramatically change his style and approach to the Irish team for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. Why? I do not know. If you honestly think that he is going to make any drastic changes to the players, system and mentality then I'm sorry to say it but you are delusional. What evidence is there to suggest that he will change? None. Look back at the man's career as a manager. He is stubborn and has never changed in the past so why would he now? He has come under criticism with previous jobs for the exact same things and he didn't change, he instead responded to criticism by saying "If you want entertainment, go to La Scala" (the opera house in Milan.) His stubborn manner was most visible when Seamus Coleman was called up for the first time. There was a real sense of excitement among Irish fans but Trapattoni left him sitting on the bench for no apparent reason. This time will be no different, so get used to seeing Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan lumping the ball up the field with no real purpose other than getting the ball as far away from goal as possible. 

One major problem that I personally have with Trapattoni is that he seems to be sticking to his system despite not having the players to fit it. He selects the likes of Glenn Whelan despite having better players available who would prosper in a more adventurous formation. Players like Anthony Pilington, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean and even Keith Fahey would be much more effective if he would adopt a more attacking approach. I know Keith Fahey has played in this current system but having seen him for many years in the League of Ireland and in his time in England it is clear to me that he has a lot more than he is being allowed to offer. One baffling decision made by the Italian was when Fahey had to pull out of the squad for the European Championships and instead of calling up Wes Hoolahan (who is a very similar type of player) he opted for Paul Green, an unattached, waste of space in the Irish set up. His reason for overlooking Hoolahan on a regular basis is that "he doesn't fit the system", despite his style being almost identical to that of Fahey's.

Putting the system before the players is perfectly fine for the manager of a club team because in that situation players can be bought and sold to suit the system. In an international side, however, this is not the case. Your system must suit the players. You only have a limited group of players to select from and you cannot insist on playing a formation with a style that does not suit your best players. The system is not the only problem, the players he selects are also hugely responsible for the failure. Many players are well past their peak and should have been moved on some time ago.

I don't understand why this nationwide call for change is only happening now. It is not a new problem. Look back to 2009 to that infamous night in Paris when the Irish were denied a place at the 2010 World Cup not by the Henry handball, but by their inability to finish chances and defend properly. That handball was probably the worst thing to happen to Irish football because it gave people an excuse. That handball was not why Ireland didn't qualify for the World Cup. Even if that goal wasn't given Ireland were not going through, it would have been level. Damien Duff and Robbie Keane wasted chance after chance that night. If you're looking for someone to blame for not qualifying blame them and the defence, not Thierry Henry. Why did nobody clear the ball? Instead they allowed it to go over everybody and then stood and watched with their hands in the air as Gallas headed home from a yard out. Roy Keane said it at the time and received a lot of abuse, I don't know why, he was right. Even before this game in the game against Italy in Croke Park the defense was a disgrace. Sean St Ledger scored what looked to be a late winner but then the whole team just appeared to forget to defend. Italy instantly went down the other end and Alberto Gilardino scuffed in the equalizer.

The time for transition was at the beginning of the European Championship Qualifiers. Players could have been slowly integrated into the squad and by now they could be regulars. It didn't take place. It didn't even show signs that it would ever take place. Now, it has to. It cannot be put off any longer. The time for transition is now. Robbie Keane's international career is over. He rarely performs anymore and is getting into the squad purely because of his past. I appreciate everything he has done for this country and he has been a brilliant servant to the national team but that isn't enough to keep selecting him on a regular basis. He isn't needed anymore. He hasn't scored in the last 13 games he has played for Ireland and for the main striker that just is not good enough. There are plenty of alternatives. Players like Shane Long, Jonathon Walters and Simon Cox are all more than capable of replacing him without having a detrimental influence on the team. On top of his lack of ability, he is now living on the West Coast of America. Is it realistic for him to travel such a distance for one or two matches and be able to perform to the best of his ability while adapting to a new time zone? No, I don't think so. I would like to see him and Duff retire from international football so they can go out on their own terms. This way they avoid the humiliation of being exiled and they do deserve at least that due to their years of commitment for their country.

It is long overdue that Seamus Coleman becomes a regular fixture in the team. The full backs need to be given more freedom to go forward and attack. The two central midfielders need to be given a more advanced role if Trapattoni insists on playing 4-4-2. Players like Pilkington, Hoolahan, McClean and of course James McCarthy need to become regular players. Walters and Long in my opinion are the best two front men available, although Kevin Doyle might have something to say about that. Damien Duff also needs to step aside now and allow the likes of McClean to take his first steps into the side. 

To conclude, there are a lot of changes needed in the Irish team. The potential changes excite me. They could turn Ireland into an exciting team with a lot of flair. These changes need to take place as soon as the next squad is to be announced. I, along with many others would not pay a penny to see this current team play and the boring style and questionable selection is why I stopped going to the games. The unfortunate thing is I can't see change taking place under the current regime and think a new manager is needed to implement these changes. Why wait any longer?

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