Giovanni Trapattoni and Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli at the Euro 2012 draw in Kiev last wee
 There's an old saying in the racing game that came to mind as Giovanni Trapattoni took to a makeshift stage high on the fifth floor of Kiev’s impressive Palace of the Arts last Friday night.

As Europe’s football media battled for the attentions of the 16 coaches who will compete in Poland and the Ukraine next summer, many eyes were focused on the Italian in charge of Ireland.

Having already achieved the near impossible by steering the Republic to a first major finals in 10 years, Trap was loving every minute of it as he digested a draw that will see his team face Croatia, Spain and Italy next summer.

The Italians couldn’t get enough of him, and why not? He was their manager when fate dealt them a cruel hand, not once but twice.

The first time, Italy felt they were done out of the 2002 World Cup by a decision that was more than favorable to their opponents and the tournament’s co-hosts South Korea.

The second time, just two years later, there was nothing Italy or Trapattoni could do about it as Sweden and Denmark somehow managed to play out the 2-2 draw that saw them both progress from the group stages at the Euros finals in Portugal -- at Italy’s expense of course.

Trap’s blood still boils when he recounts both those stories as he does, frequently as it happens. He’s never quite forgiven FIFA or UEFA for those blots on his copybook, which partly explains why he looked like the cat who got all the cream in Kiev last Friday evening.

Those who stood on the podium, as Trap crossed his arms and lapped it all up, were happy too to pay homage. Current Italian coach Cesare Prandelli played for Trapattoni at Juventus and knows all about him.
Reigning World Cup winner and European champion Vicente Del Bosque of Spain has long since cited

Trapattoni as a major influence on his career, while all Croatia’s Slaven Bilic was short of doing was asking for his autograph on that press conference stage in Kiev.

It will be a different story come next summer of course, when Ireland are spared the more Spartan surroundings of the Ukraine and play their games against the Croatians, the Spanish and the Italians in the rather more cozy Polish cities of Gdansk and Poznan.
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By then Messrs Bilic, Del Bosque and Prandelli will have suspended their membership of the Trapattoni fan club, however temporarily, and football’s equivalent of war will be declared on the Irish and their Italian manager.

Trap wouldn’t want it any other way. Watching him at close quarters in the Ukrainian capital last week, it was obvious that he was loving it.

Loving it, loving it, loving it as Kevin Keegan might say.

He may be the manager of Ireland right now, but he is still a big fish in the pond that is European football. The reverence with which he was greeted proved that much at least and Trap responded like the old pro he is.

His face lit up like a Christmas tree as those he will go head-to-head with at Euro 2012 spoke of their respect for his achievements as a manager, not least with the Irish team.

For once in his professional life, Trapattoni wasn’t just able to enjoy the show in Kiev -- he was the show. With no result to worry about, he could entertain and be entertained.

It will be different when his team kicks off against Croatia next June and entertainment goes out the window. The result will be everything that night, just as it will be against Spain and Italy in the days to follow.
For now though, Trapattoni can enjoy his return to the spotlight and we can wonder about that racing analogy hinted at over 600 words or so ago.

It goes like this -- some horses run better at Cheltenham than they do at Market Rasen. And they win at Cheltenham.

Giovanni Trapattoni looked like a Cheltenham thoroughbred in the Ukraine last weekend, so don’t bet against his team winning like one in Poland next summer.

It may seem improbable, but stranger things have happened in football. Just ask our Trap -- he knows from very bitter experience.
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Master vs. Apprentice

GREAT line from the Italian coach Cesare Prandelli who once played for Trapattoni at Juventus and was a substitute in the European Cup final against Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium when so many fans needlessly lost their lives.

Now facing the prospect of a second encounter with Trapattoni as a rival international manager, this time at the Euro 2012 qualifier in Poznan next summer, Prandelli wasn’t a happy camper in Kiev.

“I am the apprentice, he is the master,” declared the Italian coach, whose reverence for our Trapattoni knows no bounds.

“I had hoped to avoid meeting Ireland and Giovanni Trapattoni because of the emotion of it all for me,” he added.

“My attachment with Giovanni runs too deep to enjoy a game against him as a rival manager. He was a huge influence on my career as a player and probably a bigger influence as a manager.

“I learned many things from him but some things Trapattoni kept secret. That is why he is one of the greatest football coaches ever.

“For me, he is the master and I am only the apprentice. He is the maestro and I didn’t want to play against him. I like to speak with him, to eat with him, to learn from him but not to play against him.”

Prandelli lost a friendly to Trap’s Ireland 2-0 in Liege last summer while his predecessor Marcelo Lippi couldn’t beat Giovanni’s Ireland in two World Cup attempts.

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Bulgarian fans are so fed up with the corruption in their game and their lack of success on the international stage that they got their own back this week by voting for their Prime Minister in the country’s annual Footballer of the Year awards.

As it happens, PM Boiko Borisov occasionally plays for the Third Division team Vitosha Bisritsa, but he is certainly not better than the Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov yet somehow the politician scored 44% of the votes, 20% more than the Old Trafford star.

An embarrassed Borisov, now 52 by the way, has asked the Bulgarian FA to declare the result null and void or present the award to the country’s top young player. I’d have thought that as prime minister he could have ordered them to do that,

And I wonder how many votes Enda Kenny will get in the FAI awards this year?

SOCCER: Word of warning if we do make it to Kiev for a Euro 2012 quarter-final next summer -- there are currently six Irish bars in the Ukrainian city and not one of them is genuine. I checked them out, purely in the name of research, and I’d say I was the first Irish person ever in at least two of them! I’ve never heard of an Irish pub called Belfast before either, and why anyone would want to call their pub “To Dublin” is beyond me. And they all smoke like troopers.

SOCCER: There’s a bit of an urban myth out there that Socrates played for UCD and/or Brazil while studying medicine in Dublin, but one thing is for certain -- he was one of the greatest midfielders of all time. Sadly Socrates died at the age of 57 last weekend, after medical problems compounded by a love affair with alcohol. As Mark Lawrenson said on BBC Radio, he was so good he could walk as he played football -- and in the Brazilian midfield at that. R.I.P.

SOCCER: The Croatian coach Slaven Bilic loves all things Irish and even warmed up for his team’s August friendly in Dublin by going to see the Pogues in Zagreb, so naturally we had to ask him if he had any plans to see Shane MacGowan in action before the Euro finals in June. “No,” laughed Bilic. “The Pogues are banned now until August, this is a competitive game and it is serious!”


GIOVANNI Trapattoni was the star of the show at the European Championship draw in Kiev on Friday and for those Irish present, the significance of our return to the big stage really became apparent. No matter what happens in Poznan and Gdansk, the country will have a party next summer. After this week’s budget hell, we should all be grateful for that small mercy.


ALREADY under investigation for making racist remarks to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, the Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is now under the cosh for an alleged gesture as his team lost at Fulham on Monday. Not that we should be surprised at his idiotic behavior -- this is after all the player who deliberately handled the ball in the last World Cup semifinal to deny Ghana the goal that would have made history.
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