The end of the Trapattoni affair was carried out in a dignified fashion. These things are important, even at a subliminal level. There is a lot of head-scratching and sympathy for Trap not only in Italy but across Europe, where many believe his progress with Ireland has not been appreciated, much less understood, here.
Whether the posturing and media pressure to replace the 74-year-old Italian legend facilitates an orderly succession stakes remains to be seen. A lot depends on timing and patience and ignoring much of the agent-speak that passes for insider info nowadays.
So how emotionally charged was the final minutes of Trap’s reign? “There were some tears shed,” admitted FAI chief executive John Delaney. “We were all determined to part as friends.”
And how does one look a man in the eye and put him out of a job? “By doing just that, having an open and honest exchange about parting company — but as friends.”
And was that achieved? “For certain. Paddy McCaul, Michael Cody and myself told Trap and Marco it had been an honour to work with them. However this campaign had been a disappointment, and objectives set out in the contract had not been met. But we were desperate not to fall out after five memorable years. That was really important to me personally, and I expressed that. It was an emotional few minutes.”
Had David Alaba’s late goal for Austria in Vienna proved the tipping point? “That and the Swedish result in Kazakhstan. If the Swedes had been held to a draw, we drove on to the end of the qualifiers.
“We had a brief moment or two in the airport on the way home Tuesday night, but I said to Trap and Marco: ‘Tomorrow, let’s meet. Go home and get some sleep now’. I slept on it myself, and as soon as we had the financials worked out — the additional cost, in football terms, was minimal anyway — we knew what we had to do,” the FAI chief told the Irish Examiner.
Delaney confirmed the brief for Trap’s replacement is open-ended. The calls and texts from agents representing potential successors are already arriving.
“The new manager does not have to be Irish. We are an attractive proposition for the future with the standard of player coming through and the expanded 24-team Euro finals in 2016, which clearly gives us a better shot at qualifying,” said Delaney.
Will the FAI Board of Management appoint a headhunting committee again? “We may. But that will depend on the board. These are the sort of things we will finalise when we meet, probably next week. Thus far we have had two key objectives — ensure that the departure of Trap was properly handled and secure the ongoing financial support of Denis O’Brien, which we now have for at least the next two years.”
Delaney wouldn’t confirm whether or not feelers had been put out to candidates, but insisted he had no idea if bookies favourite Martin O’Neill was even interested in a return to management. Quite how the layers have O’Neill at odds-on is anyone’s guess. At one point, the same folk installed Billy Davies, then at Derby, as a leading candidate last time out.
The FAI chief said if the new manager was in place for the trip to Cologne to play group winners Germany next month, it would be on the basis of good fortune, not necessity.
“It would be nice, but it is not essential. A lot of things would have to fall into place pretty quickly for that to happen. We are looking for a manager who will get the best out of our players over the next three years in effect — it’s 12 months till we play our next competitive game and there’s a two-year road to [2016 hosts] France.”
It may be that Noel King, Republic U21 boss, takes charge of the seniors for the back-to-back fixtures in Cologne and at home to Kazakhstan. The latter could be played out against a depressing backdrop of disinterest and empty seats if a new manager is not in place, but Delaney cautions: “We’re looking longer term here, getting the right person.”
It’s possible too that the negotiated settlement with Trap saved the FAI the sort of figure they’ll miss out on with a small crowd for the dead rubber on October 15 at the Aviva.
Delaney must also fret over a tonking in Germany — which could become a reality if Joachim’s Low’s squad are of a mind to inflict one in the absence of our first-choice centre-halves. That would scarcely increase the allure of the Republic job for would-be candidates.
Though the climax of next year’s World Cup habitually stirs the managerial merrygoround, waiting that long in the hope of an attractive candidate is unwise. Hence, the likeliest course is a relatively swift one. Not that the FAI chief executive sees it that way.
“It may be that this is done quick enough, but only on the basis that it is the preferred candidate. I can’t speak for the Board of Management, but I don’t see the need to rush this. It’s too important.
“We must take our time to get this right. Trap was the third most successful manager we have had after Jack and Mick McCarthy, and we must build on that.
“Denis O’Brien (pictured above), whose support of Irish football has been outstanding, has given us the platform and the financial muscle to do that — to go out in the marketplace and get the best possible candidate. It won’t matter if he’s Irish, British or European as far as I’m concerned.”
Whether the FAI deem Martin O’Neill the best candidate depends to a large extent on how they interpret the job specification. If they accept Ireland has, and will continue to have, a pool of technically limited players — shaped by the lesser lights of cross-channel football — then the association may opt for O’Neill’s reputed dressing room ability to foster a club spirit.
That’s pretty limited ambition but one has to be cognisant too there are only three squad members playing consistently in the top half of the Premier League. Delaney’s language in the last 48 hours suggests that while there is no rush with the appointment, qualifying for the next European Championships is critical.
Of course, if there is a serious appetite to drive a policy of technical improvement up from academy level to the senior squad, they would be better looking farther afield. How long it would take for such a metamorphosis to take place is a moot point — look at England. And would the likes of Guus Hiddink, for instance, even be interested in such a conversation?
Perhaps it will prove more beneficial to aim somewhere in between. Someone who understands European football but is cutting their teeth elsewhere — Arsene Wenger protege, Dragan Stojkovic of Serbia, currently in Japan with Grampus Nagoya, comes to mind.
Fifa yesterday issued its latest world rankings. Ireland suffered its sheerest drop in memory, down to a sobering 59th among football nations.
It’s the Republic’s lowest ever FIFA rank. Many of the squad mainstays have departed, or will do shortly. It’s hard not to conclude a period of transition is upon us. To misquote Barack Obama, this may not be a one-term deal.