Has Trap left Ireland in a better place?

If one of the most basic aims of management is to improve a team’s existing status, it’s going to be interesting to see where the starting point for the next Ireland manager is considered to be.

Because, on the face of it at least, the national team isn’t in that good a place at all at present. For one thing, they’re in an unfamiliar position of utter obscurity as regards the 2014 World Cup group. The 1-0 defeat by Austria did not just end the Giovanni Trapattoni era, it also ended Ireland’s involvement in the qualification mix at a starkly early point. This is the first time since 1983 that the squad have not at least had some faint hope going into October.

Such results have also seen Ireland drop to 59th in the latest Fifa world rankings — the lowest since the system was introduced in 1993.

In other words, or at least going by the bald numbers, Trapattoni has left the squad in an even worse place than that which he encountered after the chaotic regime of Steve Staunton.

Except, for all that the Italian himself frequently waved away questionable performances by insisting on only looking at the end result, this is one occasion where it actually greatly serves him to delve so much deeper than the final outcome.

As should go without saying, Ireland are not really the no-hopers that fourth place implies, nor the international irrelevance such a low Fifa ranking indicates.

By contrast, a historic football figure like Trapattoni has made the team much more relevant simply by virtue of first taking the job, and then by finally qualifying for a tournament again.

That perception can and often does matter.

For appropriate context, consider some of Europe’s other sides. While Hungary’s second place in Group D feels somewhat fragile because they have not managed to hold onto such a qualification spot in 28 years, Slovenia’s recent struggles have not seemed so severe on account of making three of the last seven tournaments.

As regards a team’s external image, the impact of qualification for a major tournament far outweighs a poor run in qualifying.

While that may still seem somewhat superficial in terms of evaluating a side’s actual quality, it is significant in terms of their ‘aura’ when facing opposition and — most pointedly — their attraction to a better calibre of coach.

One thing you can say for certain is that the immediate list of replacements was much superior to that when Staunton departed.

Trapattoni did undeniably restore respect, even if the last 15 months began to erode it again. Whatever about the realities of those recent displays, too, there is a significant difference between being humiliated by Germany and woefully unravelled by Cyprus.

For all the current Ireland side seem to lack a sense of direction in attack, they never quite lost their way completely in the manner of some of Staunton’s displays.

The memory of a stable structure was always there.

That was a further point with Trap’s teams. The issue was never poverty of performance, but rather the lingering feeling that there was always more potential on top of the defensive base he put in place.

So it appeared in the last two games. As dismal as the defeats to Sweden and Austria became, both matches did initially offer sources of encouragement. The first game saw Ireland put Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s side on the rack only to lose their nerve, while the second featured a good 50 minutes of balanced football. Such realities suggest a team closer to qualification than fourth place.

Part of that is because Trapattoni did a better job at managing transition than Euro 2012 indicated. A new manager does not suddenly have to blood a different squad after a period of playing one style of football; the Italian did at least attempt the process, with some of the passing football played by the likes of James McCarthy in Stockholm offering encouragement of a new departure even under Trap.

Unfortunately, the inevitable decline of a cycle after more than four years meant that never came. The 74-year-old, however hasn’t exactly left a vacuum.

The basic numbers don’t reveal the true nature of it all. When Trapattoni arrived, he encountered a squad on its knees and for whom qualification was a distant prospect. His replacement will take on a team with a better reputation, a group of young players ready to improve and be released, and a country with a recent experience of qualification. It isn’t the worst starting point.

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