GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI echoed Martin Luther King yesterday by revealing that he too has a dream. A more modest version, perhaps, but one which still trusts a good deal to faith.
The Republic of Ireland manager, who has just agreed a two-year contract extension with the FAI, has not given up on our chances of qualifying automatically for the World Cup finals in South Africa, even though that would almost certainly require the Irish beating both Italy and Montenegro in Croke Park next month and also that the world champions would trip up at home in their final Group 8 game against Cyprus.
Looking ahead to the October 10 meeting with his homeland, Trapattoni said: “We have three possible results – lose, draw, win. We have to look at the game four days later and hope the pressure is on Italy’s shoulders. We have Montenegro at home, they have a game against Cyprus. Yesterday, I had a dream – maybe the last game will decide qualification. We must win against Italy for that to happen. With Juventus I lost the championship on the last day, even though we were two points ahead when we played Verona in the final game. That is football. Or look at Manchester United versus Manchester City. An incredible game. All is possible in football. So yesterday, I dream. But we must believe this.”
To his short-term aspirations, Trapattoni can now add the longer-term goal of qualification for the Euro 2012 finals, after the FAI announced that the manager, and his assistant Marco Tardelli, have been signed up for a further two years.
The deal has once again been facilitated by financial help from businessman Denis O’Brien who is understood to be contributing some €3 million over two years to help pay the wages of the Irish management team.
FAI boss John Delaney declined to go into specific figures beyond indicating that O’Brien’s input is “of a seven-figure nature”. As for the man of the moment, Trapattoni appeared to suggest that there was no increase in his existing salary, believed to be in the region of €1m a year. “No, no more,” he said in response to a question about his salary from the floor, going on to cite the economic downturn here and in his native Italy.
“Money was not an issue for discussion,” he added.
Both Trapattoni and the FAI made it clear that they would also like to retain the services of Liam Brady on the management team but accepted that he would once again need time to discuss the international role with his employers at Arsenal where he is Youth Academy director. “I wouldn’t expect Liam’s situation to be answered in the short-term,” said Delaney.
Trapattoni himself was clearly pleased yesterday to have his future resolved.
“You will have to put up with me for another two years,” he quipped. “We are proud of this. We began this journey well and we hope to continue like this and to finish our job. You know how the team was when we arrived and how it is now. So you can decide if our work is good or not. We also know the players, we speak to them and get a sense of what they think. If I’d felt the team wasn’t happy, I would not have accepted the renewal of my contract.”
Trapattoni, at the age of 70, also made it clear that, even with this contract extension, the Irish job will not necessarily be his last in football. “I love this work,” he said, “it is very gratifying for me when players believe in what we say and show it on the pitch.” And he insisted that, despite his age, he can speak to young, modern players in a language they can understand. “It is not about ‘in my time’,” was how he put it. “The time is all the time.”
But, for now, he is entirely focused on managing the Irish team, even though he says that he has received expressions of interest from clubs in England and further afield. “Now, I don’t wish to meet with them,” he added.
On what was an eventful day for the Ireland boss, he also unveiled a preliminary 27-man squad for the final qualification games against Italy and Montenegro. And for the first time since the opening brace of qualifying games, Steven Reid is among those included, even though Trapattoni notes that even the Blackburn midfielder himself has conceded that he wouldn’t expect to feature in the two games as he slowly recovers his match fitness after a year out with injury.
Nursing an altogether more recent injury is Aiden McGeady but he too is included in the squad, with Trapattoni insisting that the Celtic player’s ankle knock is not serious.
“No boss, I’m okay,” he quoted McGeady as telling him. “I’m sure it is not a bad injury,” the manager added.
The presence of Italian television cameras at yesterday’s press conference in the eircom headquarters in Dublin was the first sign of the unusual level of interest which will attend next month’s big game in Croke Park. And Trapattoni wasn’t slow himself to add to the growing sense of anticipation.
“It’s Italy versus Ireland/Trapattoni,” he said, almost turning the fixture into something on a boxing bill. “It’s an important game psychologically for both teams. Italy will want to show what they can do – they are the world champions, after all. They will play 100% against a team built by Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli. For 90 minutes the two teams will give their all.
“But even if Italy are world champions you can’t be world champions forever. We have a humble team but we have a sense of our own objectives. And we must play without fear. Some teams play fantasy football but we are not rubbish. We must believe that all is possible.”
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