Republic of Ireland fans vent frustration over Trapattoni tactics

By Stephen FottrellBBC Sport
Giovanni Trapattoni and James McClean
Irish fans claim Trapattoni has kept young players like James McClean at a distance

Optimism and excitement in the Republic of Ireland have given way to cynicism and a hardening of attitudes ahead of the country's first appearance at a major championship in 10 years.

The national team's veteran Italian coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, has not been without his critics for his conservative tactics and regimented approach during his four years in charge.

But many have been willing to concede that it has achieved its aims by leading the Irish to a European Championship for the first time since 1988.

The past week has seen a wave of frustration, however, with fans voicing their discontent during last Wednesday's 1-1 friendly draw with the Czech Republic in Dublin.

The match - Ireland's last before Trapattoni selects his Euro 2012 squad ahead of a final warm-up tie with Bosnia in May - encapsulated the underlying frustration in the relationship between fans, media and manager.

With a number of promising creative players - including James McClean, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman - waiting in the wings, the 72-year-old coach opted to start with many of the same players who featured throughout the qualifying campaign, leaving the young pretenders on the bench.

The move appeared to send a clear message to supporters and pundits that there would be no room to shuffle the pack ahead of the summer's daunting group ties with Croatia, world champions Spain and Italy.

McClean has leapt to the front of the queue of those players knocking on Trapattoni's door, after an incredible 12 months which has seen him go from one of the most promising players in the League of Ireland to one of the most talked-about in the English Premier League, thanks to a string of brilliant performances for Sunderland.

The 22-year-old's rise culminated in a clamour for him to be fast-tracked into the Irish squad, and has given Trapattoni one of the biggest selection headaches during his time in charge.

Despite that, the Italian waited until the 79th minute to hand the Sunderland winger his debut last Wednesday, but was left in no doubt as to the fans' feelings, with supporters giving the Derry man a standing ovation and a massive roar of approval, a reception which he admitted gave him "goosebumps".

What followed was a much less enjoyable experience for his international manager, with much of the media criticising Trapattoni's decision to introduce McClean with only 11 minutes to go, while McCarthy and Coleman saw no action at all.

Veteran Irish football pundit Eamon Dunphy described the Trapattoni approach as "amateurish and arrogant", while former Irish manager Brian Kerr predicted that the current system would see the Irish "run ragged" by their Group C opponents.

The fierce criticism saw the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) take the unusual step of issuing a statement on Friday, reacting to the press coverage by defending their manager's approach.

The FAI's response followed Trapattoni's comments in a press conference the day after the Czech draw in which he indicated that McCarthy and McClean were "too young" to make the European Championship squad.

The Italian also added: "I know the way it is with the media and the people and James [McClean] is young and full of enthusiasm. I'm happy for him. But [regular starters] [Aiden] McGeady and [Damien] Duff merit respect."

Clearly sensing that the comments could further inflame the situation, his employers sought to clarify the matter by stating that "nothing has been set in stone as regards [Trapattoni's] selections, and he will continue to monitor all players during the coming months".

Whether he does finally heed the calls for fresh blood, what is undeniable is the Irish boss's ability to get the best out of his core group of players, to whom he has stayed fiercely loyal.

The Czech result, achieved courtesy of a late Simon Cox equaliser after a pretty ordinary display from the home team, extended the Irish side's unbeaten run to 12 games in as many months.

Damien Duff
Damien Duff will be a key Irish figure at Euro 2012

And while many agonise over the lack of adventure in the manager's selections or tactics, the former Juventus boss maintains his side's most potent quality in Poland and Ukraine will be its unity.

Trapattoni says he can "smell the team spirit" among his squad of regulars, which includes the likes of Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan and Kevin Doyle - all of whom have become established senior internationals under the Italian's guidance.

Duff himself also admitted that the established players were happy to stick with their tried and tested formula in June.

"Ah listen, we're not going to try something different at this stage," the Fulham player said last week.

"We've played 4-4-2 for years, especially since the boss has come in, so we know which way to play.

"We're playing Spain, Italy and Croatia - three of the best teams in Europe. They are going to have a lot of the ball, so we're going to have to keep a good shape about us."

The safety-first mentality, coupled with a cast-iron team ethic, may well deny the newcomers their chance to appear on one of the biggest stages in the game, then, as it appears the man who is never short of an analogy has charted his route through a choppy Group C.

"In the past [the Irish team] had ships with sails and they had to go wherever it was the wind took them," Trapattoni said last week.

"Now, you can set a course and that is what I have done with this team. But if you depart from the course then you end up on the rocks."

Whether the Irish manager can get all of the fans and media on board with his final squad selection, before his team set sail for their group venues of Poznan and Gdansk in the summer, is another matter.