He's an Italian who speaks pidgin English, but he is by far Ireland’s most popular man, especially after leading the Irish soccer team into the European nation’s championship finals next summer.
When they face off against Spain, the World champions in Poland in summer it will be an extraordinary moment for Ireland on the world soccer stage. Giovanni Trappatoni has made it all possible
Irish soccer managers have a love-hate relationship with the soccer-mad Irish nation.
Jack Charlton, an Englishman became a national hero when he led Ireland to the World Cup finals in 1982. Steve Staunton an Irishman was one of Ireland’s most criticised when he failed as a manager despite having been an amazingly popular player.
Giovanni Trapattoni, now 72, is in the Charlton mould. To the Irish nation he is Trap, the way Charlton was Jack and he is their latest hero.
The soccer team beat the odds to advance to the finals. In a country riven by economic calamities Trap is a bright shining light, a man who has put Ireland into one of the two biggest football tournaments in the world.
He is a practical man. He understood Ireland’s limitations and his sides do not play the beautiful game like Spain or Brazil. They are defensive, dour and technical, but they get results.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s new contract with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) may have been a ‘formality’ but the Italian will gladly tell you that there are only three certainties in this world – birth, life and death.
The 72-year-old is now guaranteed to accumulate over $13 million from his spell as Ireland football team manager by the time he passes the mantle on, preferably in his eyes to understudy Marco Tardelli, after the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.
That figure, albeit with the substantial financial help of FAI benefactor big businessman Denis O’Brien, surpasses the earnings of previous bosses Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton combined.
It may come across as a startling statistic but Trapattoni has never engaged in the bargain basement of football management. His is a career adorned with big trophies and big cheques. A ‘good player but not a great player’ with AC Milan and Italy, he has been a far better manager.
So much so that he is still the most successful club manager in the history of European football after winning all around him with Milan and Juventus before spells abroad with Bayern Munich, Benfica and Red Bull Salzburg with four years in the Italian job, and two tournaments, thrown in for good measure.
Yet those who know him best will tell you that the farmer’s son from a quite ordinary and very rural background is, at heart, a simple man. His upbringing in a little village outside Milan, where his father taught him his trademark whistle as they herded sheep, allows him no other outlook on life.
“In Italy we always say that the farmer lives a simple life,” said Trapattoni the day after his team
completed the win over Estonia and gave the country a reason to talk positively about Europe for once.
“The farmer lives his daily life with the consciousness of sacrifice and work, hard work.
“In practise and in reality, that is how farmers live. Before the game against Estonia, I received a very beautiful SMS from a friend back in Italy.
“It said ‘experience is the mother of all science’. The farmer’s life is the same thing. I appreciate it, I understand it. It is one of the reasons why I like Ireland, the Irish people. They know we must work hard.
“My attitude comes because I am the son of a farmer, I am old and that is clear. My experience in life tells me that, as a philosopher once again, there are only three certainties in the life. You are born, you live and you die. That is the only three certain situations. The others can change.”
Trapattoni’s ability to change the outcome of a football match is exactly what endeared him to the FAI four years ago when they called time on the Steve Staunton experiment and went looking for a manager with a proven track record.
Prompted by Eddie Jordan in early 2008, billionaire Denis O’Brien provided the finance necessary to lure the veteran Italian, winner of every club competition in Europe, even though at first he thought the Irish job was a lost cause.
“I have a professional reputation and I cannot destroy that, I am no idiot,” insisted Trapattoni recently. “I have improved Ireland, I know that. We saw the DVDs and the results from previous games. From Cyprus. It is all about results.
“I was with Inter, with Italy, in Portugal and Germany. I cannot destroy the reputation I have built. I myself have a professional responsibility and I cannot damage that.”
Taking Ireland to next summer’s European finals has ensured his reputation is safe but don’t expect any free-flowing football when Ireland return to the big stage. Like Jack Charlton before him, Trapattoni knows one way and only one way to play football. Approaching 73 next St Patrick’s Day, he is not going to change.