Manuela Spinelli was on the Late Late Show on Friday night, and not for the first time did the smoothest Italian in Ireland catch Ryan Tubridy’s attention.

The lovely Manuela, in case you don’t know her, normally features on these sort of pages as interpreter for a man by the name of Giovanni Trapattoni.

Trap wasn’t at Manuela’s side this time around, however. Instead she was working for someone happy to speak Italian and let Manuela do her job.

Her assignment on Friday was also very different from the norm when Medjugorje Visionary Vicka Ivankovic was the star turn on Friday’s show, and poor Ryan didn’t get a word in edgeways.

He barely got to ask the questions he wanted to ask, had to sit back and listen as Vicka made the points she wanted to make, and was left to wonder what it was all about as Vicka smiled from start to finish without ever really telling him what he wanted to know.

So now Ryan knows how the Irish football media feel when we sit through a Trap conference, those regular gatherings where the great man never answers a question directly and often as not drifts off the subject! It was great television.

It was also fascinating to watch Manuela -- it normally is, by the way, but that could be interpreted as an Andy Grey type comment -- actually doing her job in an environment where she was allowed to do it.

All that only made me wonder what a Trap press conference would be like if he spoke entirely in his native tongue and allowed the interpreter to get on with her job.

We might never know. Trap is in town again in the next week or so ahead of the big game with Macedonia at the end of March, and I suspect he will do his best to speak in broken English again.

He might also be well advised to ask Manuela for Vicka’s number ahead of that Aviva Stadium clash with a handy enough Macedonian outfit, a side that has done serious damage to Irish hopes in the past as Mick McCarthy will tell you.

Trap, a devout Catholic, could do with some spiritual help come the end of March, judging by recent news from England.

Shay Given is definitely out of the European Championship qualifier, ironically after damaging his shoulder in the warm-up for one of only five first team games with Manchester City this season.

That injury, picked up before the Europa League game in Greece last week, means Given will undergo surgery for a second time on a joint that is no creaking.

He might not be the only big name missing. Robbie Keane, now at West Ham on loan after a similar lack of first team football with Spurs, believes he will be back from a calf muscle injury within four weeks, but you have to wonder.

Even if he does play again within that timeframe, he is hardly going to be at peak fitness for a game Ireland has to win.

So maybe Trap’s decision not to play Keiren Westwood against Wales a fortnight ago, or his unwillingness to nail down James McCarthy, will come back to haunt him.

Maybe we need a miracle in March – and a little help from Manuela and her new friend Vicka.

French Fry the Brits!

You can never beat some good old-fashioned Brit bashing, and this week it’s the French who have it in for our neighbors across the Irish Sea.

Fresh from their cheeky win at the Aviva Stadium two Sundays ago, France are cock-a-hoop ahead of the Twickenham game on Saturday that will probably decide this year’s Six Nations title.

England have looked imperious in their wins over Wales and Italy to date, France did well against the Scots but should have lost in Dublin.

And maybe that explains why their coach, the brilliant but often erratic Marc Lievremont, has decided to take the pressure off his players this week by winding up the English.

It’s an old trick. Fire insults at the Brits and get them so worked up before the game that they forget how to play during it.

The French have always been good at this little ploy, and Lievremont is no different as the following remarks, made before his team cross the channel this week, serve to prove.

He started with a simple admission, “We don’t like the English.”

He went on, “We don’t like them and it’s better to say that than be hypocritical. We have a bit of trouble with the English. We respect them -- well in my case at least I respect them.

“But you couldn’t say we have the slightest thing in common with them. We appreciate our Italian cousins with whom we share the same quality of life.

“We appreciate the Celts and their conviviality, and then among all these nations we have one huge thing in common. We all don’t like the English.”

Then Lievremont dragged Ireland into it, not that anyone this side of the Irish Sea will be too disappointed at this derision by association.

“We beat Ireland yet left Dublin with the encouragement of all the Irish who said for pity’s sake, beat the English,” added the French coach.

“With the Scots, it’s the same thing. It is also what gives you strength against the English, more than just because of rugby.

“This insular country, which always drape themselves in the national flag, their hymns, their chants, their traditions. They are people who one regards as a very proud people.

“But we are also very aware, in terms of planning and preparation, that the English are already in 2011 World Cup mode. We can feel that all of the English players are physically on a different level.”

Sadly, I won’t be at Twickenham on Saturday but after reading those words again, I am going to watch the match on television. In fact, I wouldn’t miss it for the world now. It might just be a little tasty.

Sideline Views

RUGBY: Great story from Galway, where Eddie the Eagle came a cropper last Friday night. Eddie, by the way, is the mascot who runs up and down the sidelines at the local Sportsground greyhound stadium whenever the Connacht rugby team plays big matches there.

He was in full flight last weekend when a group of Glasgow fans, over for their team’s heavy Magner’s League defeat, decided to “catch the pigeon,” to use their own words.

One of the kilted brigade did indeed catch Eddie and flung him upside down in jest, but left the poor bloke inside the Eagle costume with a dislocated shoulder.

The good news is that Eddie’s clipped wings won’t stop him returning to action next week. “He should be fine for the next day. It wasn’t intentional but we take a dim view of people entering the pitch,” said a spokesman for Connacht Rugby.

Eddie was unavailable for comment.

SOCCER: The Wolves midfielder Jamie O’Hara, on loan there from Spurs, has decided that he’s Irish again after leaving Giovanni Trapattoni waiting on an answer to his invitation to play for us for well over a year. The fact that England haven’t come looking for O’Hara in that time may have something to do with his new found Irishness. So maybe we should leave him waiting for a year now and see how he likes it!

GAA: Jedward were booed by some of the crowd of 35,000 who turned up to watch the Dublin double header at Croker on Saturday night when their footballers and hurlers both beat the reigning All-Ireland champions, Cork and Tipperary respectively, in the National Leagues. The Jedwards claimed afterwards the boos didn’t bother them. And it was good training for when they represent Ireland in the Eurovision song contest later this spring!

SOCCER: Rangers have confirmed that former striker and current coach Ally McCoist will succeed Walter Smith as their manager at the end of the season. I wonder did Smith’s declaration that Sunday’s 3-0 hammering at Parkhead was “my worst Old Firm experience” since his return to the club have anything to do with the decision. It wasn’t that the Gers were that bad on Sunday -- Celtic were that good.


Dublin hurlers don’t often hit the headlines, but their Croke Park win over All-Ireland champions on Saturday night was something special, not least because Conal Keaney scored an incredible 14 points against the Premier County. Keaney is concentrating on hurling this year after a spell with the county footballers -- judging by this display, he’s made the right decision.


Techically, this is old news because it happened last week, but what the hell was Gennaro Gattuso thinking of when he head-butted Spurs coach Joe Jordan at the end of AC Milan’s 1-0 home defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League? The former Rangers player has been hit with a four game ban for his disgraceful behavior, but he deserved a much harder punishment for the bad example he set to millions of kids watching on live TV.