SO now we know that the cliche in Italian is the same as the cliche in English.
“There is no use crying over spilled milk,” said Givoanni Trapattoni yesterday, as he attempted to put Ireland’s loss to Russia behind the team ahead of tonight’s game against Slovakia in Zilina.
Easier said than done, however, as Trapattoni more or less admitted when he revealed he’d advised his players not to read the overwhelmingly negative coverage of Friday’s 3-2 defeat at the Aviva Stadium
“You all must excuse me for what I say, it’s not meant to be offensive,” he told the Irish media.
“First I told the players that we would study a DVD of the game again but, for psychological reasons, I said you must not read the newspapers.
“I was a player and players know if they play badly or play well. But it is not good psychologically if all they read is bad, bad, bad. We looked at the game again to see what was positive and what was negative. But I told them that we cannot lose our trust and confidence. I said to them you must continue with the same mentality, attitude and trust. I asked Robbie (Keane) and (Kevin) Kilbane: how many games have you lost in your life? I know, I lost many games. But the good thing about football is that there is always another game, another day, another opportunity. Now, we have to begin again.”
And with at least one fresh face on board, in the unfortunate absence of Kevin Doyle.
Shane Long has been confirmed as his replacement, meaning that the Tipperary-born striker will make his first competitive start for his country since that dark night in San Marino three years ago.
And there could be a further change by kick-off this evening: should Liam Lawrence, who is nursing a thigh strain, fail to pass a fitness test this morning, then his place will be taken by the hero of Yerevan, Keith Fahey.
But, whatever about the personnel, as Trapattoni made clear in Dublin over the weekend and reiterated again here in Zilina yesterday, the system ain’t for changing. So it will be 4-4-2 from the off tonight, though the manager suggested that he could alter things as the game unfolds and if circumstances demand it. The veteran Italian – who insisted that he doesn’t take criticism personally – was still prepared to calmly defend himself against the charge that his rigid approach is suffocating the players.
“The system is not closed to creativity, absolutely not,” he emphasised. “The system is order on the pitch. We showed many times before that we are a solid team with a strong disposition. Every manager wins with players with their creativity. I don’t forbid them from playing their game. I have to inform them only about what they should do in this or that position. And until now we have played like this.’’
Of course, the criticism hasn’t all come from the outside. Richard Dunne spared no-one’s blushes in forensically dissecting the deficiencies in Ireland’s style of play after the Russia game and, since then, Glenn Whelan has more or less intimated that it’s Trap’s way or the highway for anyone who wants to stay in the team.
In fairness to the Stoke man, however, he also spoke very positively about the manager’s achievements, a theme taken up yesterday by captain Robbie Keane when he was asked if Trapattoni’s methods still enjoyed the players’ full support.
“We go into every game knowing exactly what we should be doing,” said the skipper. “The manager has been in the game a lot longer than all of us in this room so he knows football better than any of us. We’re fully aware of the tactics and situation going into every game.”
Of course, Keane himself has not been spared criticism since Friday – specifically the charge that he dived to earn Ireland’s penalty.
“To be honest with you, I genuinely thought the fellow clipped me,” he said. “Looking back at it now, I clipped myself – but I didn’t even realise that until the next day. I think you know me over the years. I’m certainly not a diver.”
While he was at it, Keane also availed of the opportunity to dismiss newspaper reports that he’d had a bust-up with Spurs manager as “one zillion per cent false.”
Possibly not since the humiliation of Nicosia four years ago, has the shadow of a defeat loomed quite so large over the build-up to a game three days later. Back then, Ireland restored pride with a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic and, as Keane sees it, the same process of recovery has already kicked in ahead of tonight’s match.
“You have to pick yourself up straight away and try to get the spirits up,” he said. “We’ve certainly done that in the last few days. Everyone’s back to normal.
Two under pressure teams and two under pressure managers go head to head here in Zilina tonight, with all concerned knowing that there is only one surefire way to really answer the critics.
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