Of the three, legendary ‘keeper Bonner was most emphatic that there could have been no alternative but to keep the Italian in his job.
“If the FAI gave him a contract four months ago to take us to the World Cup, you don’t sack the manager after four months, no matter what,” he declared. “You’ve got to give him time. That’s the bottom line. It’s illogical to think you’d sack him in October.”
For Babb who — along with McAteer joined the then veteran Bonner in the Irish squad ahead of the 1994 World Cup — declining to change the manager will only make sense if the manager himself is now prepared to embrace change. “I think what Trap’s done to get the team into a major tournament is fantastic,” he began, “but, in my opinion, some of his team selections and formations during that tournament — against very hard opposition — were wrong at times. I think I’d still give him a couple of more games. I think with, arguably, his neck on the line, let’s see if he listens to public opinion and to some of the senior players — if there’s any left — and see what he takes on board. Trap needs to change and if he doesn’t then I think there will be change.”
McAteer, whose most famous exploit in the green shirt was the goal which beat the Netherlands at Lansdowne Road en route to the 2002 World Cup, believes the limitations of the Irish talent pool would pose a significant challenge for any manager.
“I think it’s a really difficult time for Ireland at the minute,” he said. “I thought it was exceptional what he did getting that squad to the Euros and I saw this transitional period being really difficult because I didn’t see any great players coming through. So as much as we’re asking is Trapattoni the right manager, you’re also only as good as the squad you’ve got. I think he’s got a really weak squad at the minute and I don’t know if any manager’s going to be able to come in and change it.”
Nevertheless, the former Liverpool midfielder is not short on ideas about how such change might be implemented.
“There’s a lack of guile and craft in midfield with Andrews and Whelan,” he said. “They’re good honest pros but that’s not going to get you very far. I think James McClean should be in the team. I think (Aiden) McGeady flatters to deceive. Robbie (Keane) is hanging on, isn’t he? He’s not the Robbie of five years ago but he still has something to offer, even if that’s coming off the bench to be an impact player. But is he going to come back from America to do that? I can’t see that happening. I think it’s time for two up front, (Jon) Walters and (Shane) Long. And (Darron) Gibson and (James) McCarthy in midfield would be a more creative combination.
“Maybe it’s time to let the reins off a little bit and let them go at teams rather than playing this very Italian way. There’s a difference between going to win a game and going to not lose it. And I think Trap tries not to lose a game and then hope to nick it.”
“That in my eyes is fear,” interjected Babb, “fear of losing your reputation as a world-class manager. Fear of the unknown and that fear trickles down to your players. There aren’t many teams in 2012 still playing route one. Even with the limited quality that we have, there are lads out there that are willing to get on the ball and try something different. But they’re not allowed to.
“So why not try something different? Why not bring Aiden in off the wing and play him centrally off the striker. And I’d play Seamus (Coleman) on the right and Stephen Kelly, one of the fastest full-backs in European football, behind him.
“Maybe Trapattoni’s mindset will change,” Babb concluded. “But if he goes on doing what he’s doing, he’ll get himself the sack.”
And in the event that he does, the ever mischievous McAteer reckons he knows someone who might be interested in stepping into the breach.
“I was with Terry Venables the other night, and his eyes lit up when the sixth goal went in for Germany,” related McAteer with a broad grin.