Good ‘furbo’ Italian took Ireland as far as he could

“Of course Trapattoni would never be sacked. He’s a furbo,” said the butcher in my village yesterday.

Luciano knows his football as well as his meat — he was president of the local club for 10 years and he’s a lifelong Juventus fan as well, so he knows his Trap as well.

Furbo is one of those Italian words that tell you a lot. You can be a bad furbo or a good one. A bad furbo is the prime minister who pushes through a law giving the prime minister immunity from prosecution. A good furbo is the farmer who acquires a useless piece of land in the knowledge that the electricity company will have to put a sub-station there.

Trap has always been a good furbo and admired for it. And for the past couple of days Italians have been recalling his ability to anticipate trouble and jump before getting the push. The one exception was Stuttgart, where he fell out badly with the two Danish players, Jesper Gronkjaer and Jon Dahl Tomasson, who accused him of being “scared to attack”. Both were dropped, results failed to improve and Trapattoni was dismissed after just nine months in the job.

10 years earlier, in 1996, Trap ended a disastrous run with Cagliari — 21 games, 24 points — by handing in his resignation moments before being fired by club president Massimo Cellino.

Cellino, an arch-furbo in his own right, notoriously trigger-happy with 36 managerial changes in 20 years — but on this occasion he’d held back, allowing an emotional Trap to leave with the words:

“I tried in every way to shake up the players, but I only partly succeeded. Now is the time for a drastic decision... I’m leaving, it’s my initiative... the group needs calm... Perhaps we all made a mistake, perhaps I was more mistaken than anyone else. For this reason I am leaving.”

In a sense, Cagliari are the Ireland of Serie A: outsiders, without the resources to compete but with a spirit and never-say-die attitude that gives them a chance against the big boys and the ability to pull out shocks every once in a while.

That’s how Italians have seen Ireland with Trap in charge, anyway. When Ireland were on the brink of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, there was genuine outrage when Thierry Henry handled in the Stade de France (the French are never the most popular side in Italy at the best of times). There was also real appreciation when Ireland reached the European finals, followed by muted embarrassment at the calamity that followed.

But they also recognised the conservatism and obstinacy that were Trapattoni’s undoing at Cagliari and at Stuttgart, and eventually with Ireland as well. Winning — or getting results — with tactical tweaks is the hallmark of the old generation of Italian managers, Trap perhaps most of all.

The speculation now has him linked with a further adventure — in Libya. It seems far-fetched, though less so than Poland or China. There’s also the thought that a World Cup opportunity might fall into his lap, as happened with the 70-year-old Cesare Maldini and Paraguay in 2002.

The Libyan connections do exist. In Colonel Gadaffi’s time, Italian clubs were regularly being linked to potential Libyan investment. A Libyan consortium had a small shareholding in Juventus. Gadaffi’s son was on the books of three different Italian clubs. Some Italians have the sort of obsession with Libya that only occurs with former colonial powers, and some of course have roots in the former colony, among them Trap’s friend and pupil, Claudio Gentile.

But the expectations of many are that this may be the moment to call it a day.

“Time for retirement Old Trap” wrote one fan in La Repubblica. “You have no need of more money or fame”. “If you’re looking for a free bench,” wrote another, “you could always try a public park.”

Harsh, but by now many Irish fans might well agree.

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