Nostalgia is big business this side of the world right now, even as the future looks a lot less rosy than our immediate Celtic Tiger past. In and around Christmas time the biggest hits at the office parties were the songs of yesterday, the golden oldies that are the dance floor staple at any Irish gathering. Abba are right up there as kings and queens of the genre, heroes to the generations who hark back to their glory days in the eighties. Anywhere festivities were in the air over the holiday season and there was bound to be an Abba song on the jukebox and a full house on the dance floor. The world may be in recession, but times are good for Sweden's very own Fab Four. Year in and year out they sell more albums and CDs than most of the current pop world's biggest sellers, and the release of Mamma Mia!, the movie, in 2008 only swelled their coffers. The fable, starring our own Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep, has already proven a massive hit both at the box office and on its DVD release in time for the Christmas market. Now, you might ask, what has Navan man Brosnan singing Abba songs got to do with matters of a sporting nature in the third week of January as an arctic chill grips Ireland? Not a lot really, unless you are one of those people who likes to scratch below the surface and find links when they don't seem apparent. The first link was thrown up by the pages of the BBC sports website on Monday morning when a little article about the then imminent arrival of former world player of the year Kaka at Manchester City caught my attention. The Brazilian, probably the finest striker in football at present, was the subject of a massive $150 million bid from City that was scheduled to go through this week. City, now owned by an oil rich Abu Dhabi sheikh, played host to Wigan at their Eastlands home on Saturday, and at the time of the game the Kaka deal was very much alive and kicking. The home fans, fed up of years playing second fiddle to their United neighbors in England's premier football city, were so enthused by the prospect of Kaka defying logic and swapping AC Milan for their Manchester City that they even unveiled a song in his honor on Saturday, an ABBA song. "Knowing Me, Knowing You -- Kaka," they sang to the chorus of that old Swedish favorite called, you guessed it, "Knowing Me, Knowing You." The ingenuity of the Blue Army, whose normal anthem is the old fifties classic "Blue Moon," gave a me a good smile in these difficult times when I read about it on Monday morning. The Kaka deal has since fallen through by the way, the player opting to stay with the aristocrats of Milan rather than taking all the Arab money on offer at the City of Manchester Stadium. Kaka's failure to grab the immoral amount of cash on offer is to be applauded, though I reckon he realized, as one Eamonn Dunphy suggested in Monday's Star, that Sinatra never sang karaoke. The other story of the week thus far also has a City angle to it, and the latest enactment came not an hour after I read of the fans at Stephen Ireland's club singing "Knowing Me Knowing You -- Kaka" in honor of the Brazilian who never signed. On Monday morning the Irish soccer press got to sit down with Giovanni Trapattoni for the first time this year as he arrived at the FAI's Abbotstown headquarters to unveil his plans for the World Cup qualifier against Georgia early next month. Trap was in town to announce his squad for the next World Cup qualifier a full three weeks and a bit before the game, fueling all sorts of speculation. Many pundits felt the early call was to allow people to become accustomed with the return of Stephen Ireland to the international scene for the first time since Grannygate exploded in Slovakia almost 18 months ago now. The timing of the event was seen by many as confirmation of the player's return, a story given credence by claims from many of his family that he is ready to play for his country again. Of course nothing could have been further from the truth. Trapattoni named 25 players for the forthcoming World Cup game when he sat down with us on Monday, and there was no mention of Stephen Ireland, Andy Reid or, I'm sad to say, Lee Carsley. Instead we will rely on the young reliables again against Georgia at Croke Park when the likes of Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews and Darron Gibson will be asked to man the decks in a game Ireland has to win. Trap is just being loyal to the players who were loyal to him in the recent past for this squad, and the national infatuation with Stephen Ireland and Reid appears to be grating with him at this stage. As you will read elsewhere in this issue he claimed the subject is closed now. Reid doesn't fit in his famous "schema," and Ireland has yet to pick up the phone and tell his manager he wants to come back. As a result both midfielders will be out in the cold for the foreseeable future and, like Carsley, I fear they may never actually play for their country again. The bottom line here is that Trapattoni plays one way and only one way, and Reid certainly doesn't fit that "systema." Nor, I suspect, would Trap find it easy to accommodate a free spirit like Ireland in his team. He will play 4-4-2 against Georgia next month, and again when we face Bulgaria and Italy over a five day spell at the end of March and into April. The front two for those games, injuries allowing, will be Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle, with a probable four of Duff, Andrews, Whelan and McGeady behind them. Reid and Ireland, if they were part of Trap's thought process which they are currently not, would have to displace Keane from that line-out and persuade the manager that they can play in a classic Number 10 role. It's all conjecture, of course. A bit like the City fans drooling over Kaka last Saturday, we will probably never know what an Ireland team including the player of the same name and Reid would look like under Trapattoni. He has set his stall this week and he is not a man for turning. Whether he is right or wrong will be decided, not in newsprint, but on the football pitch between now and the end of November when World Cup places will be decided. If Trap steers Ireland to South Africa then he will be national hero. If he doesn't, then his treatment of Messrs Ireland and Reid will surely come back to haunt him. This is one instance in which the winner very definitely takes it all. Sounds just like another Abba song to me!
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