LIAM MACKEY: The changing of the Swiss guard
By Liam Mackey
The news that Frank Lampard has signed a contract to write children’s books seemed the perfect hook for a quip-happy column until I learned that Frankie had beaten us all to pun, as it were, by naming the second in his series — about a young boy with a magic football — Frankie Versus The Rowdy Romans.
What odds the Romans in question turn out to be rich and Russian as well as rowdy, I wonder? In any event, the fact that a famous football personality is up for such an unlikely career change left me wondering if there was anyone else in the game who could surprise us by taking up a very different occupation.
And then it dawned on me that, in Giovanni Trapattoni, we have the perfect candidate to fill the vacant seat in the Vatican.
He’s Italian, for a start. He’s a Catholic too, which can only help. And, as anyone with even a passing interest in football will readily confirm, there’s no doubt that he’s a conservative who won’t rock the boat, a traditionalist who will staunchly hold the fort against the liberal tide of 4-2-3-1.
But would his candidature survive the political intrigue of the selection process? I don’t see why not, since it could hardly be any more byzantine than the doings of the celebrated FAI conclave which somehow resulted in Jack Charlton becoming manager of Ireland.
Having to express himself in Latin should pose no fresh problem for Trapattoni either, since it could hardly be any more impenetrable than the language he currently speaks. His existing nickname would only require minimal amendment too – and with ‘Il Trap’ becoming ‘Il Trappa’, the Vatican’s storied football lineage, broken with the passing of ex-goalkeeper John Paul II, would be instantly and gloriously restored.
But should he fail to land the top job – on the grounds of age, perhaps, given that he’s a mere 73 — he would at least be in the right place to fulfil a real ambition of which he has spoken in the past: to manage the Vatican City football team, the so-called God Squad. And, no patient reader, I’m actually not making this bit up.
Back in February of 2010, Trapattoni was guest of honour at the launch of the fourth Clericus Cup, a tournament for priests and trainee priests, which was taking place in Rome. And he availed of the opportunity to inform the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: “I have been asked to coach the Vatican national side but I am currently working for Ireland. But when I retire, I would like to.”
Intensive research at the time – hello, Mr Google – revealed that althoughVatican City is not a member of FIFA, their team did draw 0-0 with Monaco in an international match in 2006. Otherwise, the side, which is drawn from the ranks of the Swiss Guards, Vatican museum guards andmembers of the Papal Council, is restricted to occasional friendlies against representative sides.
Of course, it will be March at the earliest before we’ll know if Trap really needs to consider his options but, in the meantime, it’s safe to assume that he must have had somewhat mixed feelings about seeing his beloved Juve cruise to victory in the Champions League in Celtic Park on Tuesday. I use the word ‘cruise’ only in relation to the scoreline, however, since the home side fairly put it up to the Old Lady before suffering a late collapse. The bittersweet part for Trapattoni, however, would have been seeing Neil Lennon’s men succumb to an early and largely self-inflicted wound, just as Ireland had against Croatia in Poznan in the summer. Sadly for Celtic, it looks like they’ll have to rely on something akin to divine intervention when they go looking to make up a three-goal deficit in Turin.
By contrast, the Manchester United-Real Madrid tie could hardly be more finely balanced, or so the conventional wisdom has it. Myself, I’m leaning more and more to the idea that United will pull clear and not only – or even at all – because they have that away goal in the bag.
The telling difference for me is that Madrid are fatally flawed at the back, a problem which suggests that, while their attacking quality should be rewarded with a goal in Manchester, they will struggle to prevent United from scoring one or two more, especially since it’s inconceivable to think that RvP will be as profligate in front of goal at the second time of asking.
Madrid’s defensive frailty is personified by Sergio Ramos. Big and brawny, he looks the part of a warrior centre-half but, in reality, is cursed with the footballing equivalent of a boxer’s glass chin. He is also, irritatingly, one of those theatrical types who is only too happy to feign mortal injury.
No doubt then that the stage will beckon for Ramos, should he choose to take up another career. The pity, of course, is that he’ll probably come up against a lot of other footballers at the auditions.
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