First, it was Giovanni Trapattoni comparing Richard Dunne to “a wardrobe”. Then the manager likened Stephen Ireland to “a hedgehog”. And now Marco Tardelli has described Robbie Keane as “a good woman.”
To be fair to the linguistic skills of Ireland’s assistant manager, he quickly corrected himself and, amid fits of laughter, reassigned the correct gender to Ireland’s captain. But, as he spoke pitch side following training in Malahide yesterday, there was no mistaking the serious thrust of Tardelli’s thinking going into the vital World Cup qualifier against Cyprus on Saturday.
And, in a nutshell, the Italian believes that Irish shame about that 5-2 humiliation in Nicosia three years ago will help motivate the team to pull out all the stops in the same venue.
And a win for Ireland, he further believes, would really put the fear into world champions Italy ahead of their date in Dublin in October.
Tardelli says the Ireland management were well aware of the team’s infamous hiding in Cyprus when they took the job but adds that the Cypriots’ own recent jaw-dropping setback – a 6-1 friendly defeat against Albania in Tirana – is further proof that freak results happen in international football.
“When we arrived, we know everything,” he said. “We know also that the 5-2 was not a true result. It was an incredible result. Also Albania against Cyprus is an incredible result. I watched the DVD for the first half and it was a normal match but after Cyprus changed two or three players, Albania got a penalty that wasn’t deserved and it changed the match. It was an incredible result because Cyprus played well. I don’t understand why they lost 6-1.”
However, even the diplomatic Tardelli was not about to suggest Ireland had played well in Cyprus three years ago.
“I think the players, they are very ashamed for this match,” he said. “But, for me, it’s normal that sometimes you have the big defeat. After, we start again. And I repeat: it’s another team now. It’s another mentality. And Giovanni is a good coach with the experience to make sure the mentality is right for Saturday’s game.
“And we will use the last match against Australia, as a reminder of what can happen if the players are not concentrated. The correct approach is very important for this match. We need to play like we did in Bulgaria not like we played against Australia.”
Even though Georgia have yet to be beaten in Tiblisi in Group 8 – Ireland’s away win against them having taken place in Mainz – Tardelli doesn’t think that Italy are likely to drop any points there on Saturday, meaning an Ireland win in Nicosia will be vital to keep the pressure on the Italians.
“We believe in ourselves, in our own potential so we are not looking for a gift from Italy,” he says. “It’s better to not lose always but we go to Nicosia to try and win because it’s important for us. If we win in Cyprus, then it’s maybe 90% certain we will finish second and be in a play-off for South Africa. But if we win it’s possible to play for first in the table. Because if we win in Cyprus, it’s a big result and it’s possible Italy will be afraid.”
As Tardelli spoke on the sideline at Gannon Park, he was well insulated against the wind and rain but the Italian insists that the soaring late summer temperatures in Nicosia won’t be a problem for Ireland.
“In Bulgaria it was very hot, also in Bari and Montenegro,” he reminded his listeners, “so it is not a concern. The weather is not important for us, it’s the pitch that is important.”
In squad news, Hull City’s Paul McShane was an unexpected sight on the training pitch yesterday, having been called up late, ostensibly as cover for Kevin Foley even though the Wolves player was ruled out before the weekend. Inevitably, speculation turned to the idea that McShane had been brought in to provide extra cover for centre-half Sean St Ledger who is still nursing a knee injury which yesterday restricted his involvement in the training session to 20 minutes of running. However, Tardelli continued to insist that the Preston man should be fit and indicated that McShane was more likely to see action in next week’s friendly against South Africa in Limerick.