Giovanni Trapattoni can baffle and beguile in equal measure but when you eliminate the charm and strip his infamous Trappish right down to the bone, you’re invariably left with the impression that he views us lads and lassies of the media as plain, simple folk whose understanding of higher matters like the game of football leaves just about everything to be desired.
That seems the most likely explanation for the frequency with which, in response to any sustained questioning of his judgment, he’ll sooner or later just happen to mention his 50 years’ experience in the game, with specific reference to the “big, important” clubs he has managed, the major honours he has won in a variety of countries and the luminous names — those of Platini and Boniek tend to crop up a lot — who have benefited from his wisdom.
Part of the man’s undoubted charm is that this doesn’t come across as idle boasting so much as a statement of the bleeding obvious, against the force of which — to pick a germane example — your correspondent’s achievement in once reaching the heady heights of the Templeogue College ‘B’ team hardly qualifies as a devastating riposte in the ‘show us yer medals’ stakes. In any event, you suspect that everything Trap has ever thought about the meeja must have been stunningly vindicated on Thursday morning when he found himself being asked if the Greek goal against Ireland the previous night had been the best he’d ever seen and maybe even the best in the history of the game.
The heard-it-all-before 73-year-old Italian couldn’t have looked more dumbfounded if he’d been asked if he ever attended a bunga-bunga party but, still, he managed to respond by spluttering a few words in his customary broken English before his use of the phrase “Ireland opposition” alerted his audience to the possibility that, not for the first time at a Trap presser, something had been seriously lost in translation.
Needless to say, it had — as you might have guessed, the question had not been about Jose Holebas’s somewhat run-of-the-mill winner for Greece against Ireland but rather about the ever so slightly more exotic effort by Zlatan Ibrahimovic against England on the same night
But, even at that, Trapattoni was not about to wholly indulge his inquisitor. Once the confusion had been cleared up — much to his visible relief — he quickly offered a top-of-the-head list of contenders for arguably even greater goals, ranging from one by Pele to one by, er, Simon Cox.
The latter, as it happens, was indeed a stunning effort from earlier this season in a game for Nottingham Forest against Birmingham City while, to be fair to the increasingly maligned striker, it’s worth noting that he is also the only Irish player to make a list of greatest club goals of all time in England in the latest issue of 4-4-2 magazine, courtesy of a wonder goal he got when playing for Swindon Town a few years ago.
Still, it says something about the worrying extent of the gulf which currently separates Ireland and their World Cup group rivals Sweden that Trapattoni was finding a way to sing the praises of Simon Cox on the same day that the name Ibrahimovic was ruling the rest of the football world. That gulf has been widening since the countries’ contrasting fortunes at Euro 2012. True, both went out at the end of the first phase but there the similarities ended, with the Irish shipping seven goals in their first two games while the Swedes were narrowly losing out 2-1 to Ukraine and 3-2 to England. Then, in their respective final appearances at the Euros, while Ireland lost 2-0 to Italy, Sweden beat France by the same margin, the quality of their display as much as the victory doing a lot to restore pride.
And the two teams have been on pretty much divergent paths ever since, even if both struggled to see off Kazakhstan, with Ireland mustering only a meagre consolation goal in the face of a six-goal savaging by Germany while, against the same opposition, the Swedes mounted an incredible comeback from four-down to secure a famous share of the spoils.
Which brings us to last Wednesday night and, while Swedes were joyously celebrating the opening of their packed new stadium with another four-goal haul, capped off by the goal that shook the world, we Irish were huddling together for comfort in a half-empty Aviva and doing our best to look to a brighter future on the back of a one-nil defeat by Greece.
Swede dreams, everyone.
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