THE older Giovanni Trapattoni gets, the more Jack Charlton-like he becomes if you follow my drift in this first “drink free” column of the Lenten era.
Having given up not just the pints but also the coffee for the 40 days and 40 nights of Lent, things are looking a lot clearer these days. Or so it seems.
That may explain why I felt like I was traveling back in time -- back to the days when Big Jack held court for five or six of us journalists at the Dublin Airport Hotel -- when about 40 of us sat down with Trap last Monday morning.
No matter what you think of his squads or his tactics, there is an endearing quality to the 70-year-old Trapattoni that is best illustrated when he is relaxed on those occasions when the day job is still some time away.
This week’s press conference was one such occasion. Trap won’t meet up with his Ireland squad again until Sunday when they gather in London for Tuesday’s friendly with Brazil.
So he was very relaxed as he chewed the fat with men and women from newspapers, television and radio in the FAI offices on Monday, having just named the 23 players who will report for international duty this week.
The wounds of Paris and World Cup heartache last November may still be raw, but Trap sees this week as a fresh start.
“I have done my crying, it is time to move on now. You cannot cry forever,” beamed Trap with a storyline almost straight from one of his beloved operatic performances at La Scala in Milan.
Big Jack couldn’t have put it better, not that the man who led us to the promised land of World Cup finals in Italy and America and a European Championships in Germany was ever one for tears.
Like Jack, Trapattoni is very much set in his ways. He knows what he likes in a player and he is not for turning.
Just as Jack spent years with David O’Leary in exile, so Trap has banished Sunderland’s Andy Reid to the backburner.
Even the journalists have given up asking about Reid, and Stephen Ireland’s name only came up on Monday because Trap brought it up when he used the Manchester City player’s style as reference for new call-up James McCarthy.
And when one hack asked about the Wolves defender Stephen Ward and his mysterious absence from the squad, Trap played a line straight from the Big Jack book.
Ward, you see, has been a Premier League regular at left-back with Mick McCarthy’s Wolves and is seen by many observers as the obvious candidate to replace the aging Kevin Kilbane in the Ireland set-up.
Trap doesn’t see it that way, however. Instead of giving Ward a chance against Brazil in Tuesday’s friendly, Trapattoni has opted instead to call-up the Manchester City teenager Greg Cunningham.
That’s the same Greg Cunningham who has played just 45 minutes first team football this season, and that in an FA Cup tie at Scunthorpe.
Of course it may help Cunningham that his club manager, Roberto Mancini, is an Italian and can speak freely to Trap about his player.
Mick McCarthy’s English is not at the same level as Trap’s so maybe that’s why Cunningham will be in London and Ward, at this stage anyway, won’t be there unless there is a barrage of withdrawals from the squad on Sunday.
But back to Big Jack. When Trap was asked about Ward, he made the rather curious observation that he had seen enough of the player when he was on B team duty for the game with “Sheffield United” at Dalymount Park to know what the player is all about.
It was a classic Jack moment. Ireland played Nottingham Forest and not Sheffield United in the B game he is referring to.
And Ward was as good that night as he has been for Wolves all season.
But that’s not important here because Trap will care little whether Ward played against Forest or Sheffield, and he won’t care at all what you and I think about him.
All that matters to the Italian is his team and his tactics. Just like Jack.
What he now has to accept is the pressure about to descend on him as he attempts, again, to follow in Jack’s footsteps.
With the return of international football and the first game since the France debacle imminent, the honeymoon is now over for Trapattoni.
He should have got us to the World Cup and he didn’t. He won’t get the same latitude second time around in a European qualifying group that is probably there for the taking.
Mistakes surrounding the likes of Ward will be tolerated ahead of a meaningless match against Brazil in London.
But come September and the start of the European qualifiers against Russia, Slovakia and their likes, the real pressure will be on Trapattoni.
He has already told us he wants to manage until he is 80, and he wants to manage Ireland until the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil at the very least.
To achieve both aims, it is time to prove to us that he is worth the most expensive pay packet in Irish football history.
Beating Brazil in London won’t do that, but getting Ireland to a European Championships and a World Cup finals will.
Just like Jack!
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