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Ireland Euro 2012: The “Trap” will have to put stubbornness aside amidst the “Group of Death”

31 May 2012 by
Giovanni Trapattoni: Sticking to his Italian roots

Giovanni Trapattoni: Sticking to his Italian roots

As a man, Giovanni Trapattoni is reflective entirely of his homelad. His long white hair, constant style and undistinguished passion for both the game of football and life itself are all Italian trademarks. It would seem also that Italian influence has had it’s effect on the tactics of the man, as was shown in particular during Ireland’s qualification campaign for this summer’s tournament. His predecessor, Steve Staunton, was removed from his post in October of 2007 for a combination of poor results, and a quality of football that resembled the images portrayed during the Halloween season that followed shortly after his sacking. The managerial task for Trapattoni, as for Jack Charlton before him, is more a business of results as opposed to style. Certainly there are similarities between the two, whilst they both instructed their players to stick to defensive duties instead of lavishly roaming forward, they were both defiant in the face of heavy media criticism from football purists, although I think its fair to say that Trapattoni responded to criticism in a considerably more classy manner than the Englishman; Charlton was more Brian Clough than Luciano Pavarotti. Whether or not Trapottoni will change his style ahead of the tournament has been widley questioned. It seems unlikely, bearing in mind his rigid approach in selecting experienced players that he knows can do the job, as opposed to younger talents as James McLean found out on Saturday against Bosnia.   However, the threat of the likes of Spain and Italy are both huge, and unless Ireland adapt themselves to these challenges, they may well be flying home before the European party really gets going.

Trapattoni’s, a modern Jack Charlton and his approach to European qualification

Jack Charlton, Ireland longest serving manager

Jack Charlton: Ireland's longest serving manager

Although of a different era and a different nationality, links between the no nonsense Englishman and the classy Italian can be very strongly drawn. As previously mentioned, both have come in for heavy criticism about their methods, but have brought periods of success to the nation.

It is said that Ireland’s longest serving manager is also had the greatest influence on the philosophy of the Republic of Ireland team. His defensive policy, although adapted by McCarthy, Kerr and Staunton after him, largely remained intact. Charlton’s team were the epitome of organisation, every player more or less knew where they stood and their role in  the team, a policy that Irish fans today will also be familiar with. Trapattoni’s Ireland have prided themselves on the organisation that has successfully seen them through the challenges of qualification.



The 4-4-1-1 formation has characterized much of Ireland's play since the start of the Trapattoni's era

Charlton’s methods manifested themselves mostly in terms of the defense; centre backs stuck rigorously to their position and were not to be pushed and pulled around by the  intelligent strikers of his age. Their role was not completely defensive though, center backs along with the goalkeeper were regularly instructed to pump the ball upfield towards the strikers. Trapattoni’s center backs have similar duties; Dunne and St. Ledger have been purely defensive, as their position obviously entails. Nonetheless they are the no nonsense strong caliber of player that Charlton desired at the center of his defense.

The fall backs of Charlton’s era were also victims of the defensive organisation, they were prevented from roming forward in the manner that the likes of Patrice Evra, Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba do today.Trapattoni’s typical method of play is a 4-4-1-1 formation, shown on the left. The role of O’Shea and Ward is similar to that of the full backs that Charlton used during his era. There task has been a disclipened one, they have little freedom to roam forward and stick tirelessly to their positions, which O’Shea has managed to adapt to despite often performing overlapping runs and pushing forward during his Manchester Untied career. Albiet rarely, when O’Shea and Ward have had the ball at their feet, they have looked to dink passes over their opposite numbers, in order to make room for the likes of Damien Duff and McGeady.

Under Chartlon the midfield were strictly instucted the stick to their position, in modern times they might be seen more as defenders. With the main link up to the striker[s] coming through the defenders, the role of the midfield would be to stick in their own half, and double up on the opponents midfield. They were more Claude Makeleles as opposed to Andres Iniestas, but nonetheless their roles required a huge work rate and ability in a different sense to more modern midfielders. In an attacking sense, the midfield were considered as a link up between defense and attack, using their height and strength to flick on long balls. Although when off the ball the midfield forms a second bank of four in front of the defense in order to suffocate opposition attackers, when on the ball the story has been slightly different for modern Ireland. McGeady and Duff have been required to push up a lot more often, in order to stretch the opposition defense outwards. McGeady’s pace has been key in gaining the extra yard of space with which to put in a towards Doyle or Keane, whilst Duff’s workman like style makes him an important fixture in the team, and his creative intelligence and ability to cut inside and shoot have been of aid to Ireland in their qualification run in.

Meanwhile, the strikers, although not a focal part of Charlton’s team were crucial to potential success. With the midfielders mostly in a defensive role, the likes of Quin and Aldridge would have to snap up chances, however rarely they arised. However, Quin would often be asked to drop a wee bit deeper, in order to form a -loosely speaking- 5 man midfield with him attacking as an attacking midfielder. His deep runs would create space for the pacey John Aldridge ahead of him, similar to the way that Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez operated in the 2010-2011 title winning season for the Red Devils. Doyle and Keane have performed similar duties, although have often swapped positions, with Keane playing right at the top of the pitch in order to take the chances that the Irish midfield present to him. However he has often been employed slightly deeper, as the above tactics board shows. In Ireland’s friendly against Czech Republic in March, Trapattoni played Keane just behind the striker, similar to the role that Quin played, and the Italian has liked his role to that of his countryman Francesco Totti, with more influence in midfield. The relative success of this role is difficult to judge on just this match alone, as Trapattoni was experimenting with his team and Keane was brought of, but nonetheless is an example of how Ireland can be dominated, yet stay strong defensively and take a chance on the break.

Approach to the tournament

Threat: Spur's Luka Modric


I would not be surprised if in Ireland’s first game, against Croatia, Trapattoni stuck to with what the team knows and tried to suffocate the space for Luka Modric to rip to create chances for Ivica Olic in front of him. Croatia are undoubtably a strong prospect going forward, with the likes of the aforementioned Modric, Krancjar, Srna, Rakitic, Olic and Jelavic, but at the back have been shown to be fairly shakey, and as such Trapattoni might encourage the Croat’s to plough forward with a defensive stradegy, thus making them vulnerable on the break.

The matches against Spain and Italy, however, are entirely different prospects and as such the Italian might have no option but to adapt his team slightly. Firstly, this is a different caliber of opposition, a quality that Ireland have not faced particularly in qualifying and a stradegy of hopefully pumping the ball upfield whilst sitting behind the ball could be fairly easily caught out. Against Italy, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Trap” took a minor risk. Italy are a strong defensive unit, and will not pour forward in the manner that Croatia and Spain might. He may decide to move Duff into a more central role alongside Glenn Whelan, to disrupt the space for the Italian’s 5 man midfield. This would then allow him to move either Sunderland’s James McClean, or Stoke City’s Jonathon Walter’s on the opposite side to McGeady. This pace on the break would ensure that Ireland can get at the Italian full backs and put in a cross towards Keane and Doyle, whilst remaining solid against the Italian threat going forward.

Campeones: Spain pose a huge threat to Ireland's qualification hopes

The match against Spain is an entirely different entity, and will call for a change in formation. Should Del Bosque choose to go with Llorente up front, the Irish center halves will have the strength and height to deal with Villareal’s beasty striker. The full backs will train rigorously in order to track the runs up field of their opposite numbers. It’s the midfield that worries me, two men in the center will not be enough to cope with the creativity of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, and there is a worry that Del Bosque will replicate the strategy of Guardiola in crowding the midfield. As such Trap may well sacrifice a striker, most probably Shane Long and put in a defensive midfielder to help the defense when Fabregas comes forward from the midfield, and Llorente or Torres drop off. This man could either be Glenn Whelan, who has the defensive discipline that has made him a formidable part of Stoke City’s solid Premier League season. Meanwhile, Duff in front of him could provide the energy to disrupt the Spanish midfield. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trapattoni put Darron Gibson in the midfield, since his move to Everton he has become much more disciplined and mature, meaning he could help both defensively and on the break. The hope is that the Spanish center halves will push up, and be caught out by the long ball, but in all honesty I can’t see the Irish posing much threat on the break, the operation will be purely defensive and to nick a goal would be a massive, if unlikely, bonus and nothing more. Should they gain a win or draw against Croatia, this will undoubtably be their strategy, as a 4th point would be a massive bonus and in a competitive group may, just may, be enough. They will simply have to be defensive against Italy and Spain, because after the first game when the two meet, at least one of the favorites will have dropped crucial points that they need to top the group and avoid a tricky tie against England or France.

The task facing Ireland is such a difficult one. They are huge underdogs for a reason. However, they are a team with defensive discipline and a great deal of heart, two qualities that any manager would want when confronted with a group of this manner. Sticking to defensive duties and long balls may suit their personnel relatively well, but there is a strong chance that unless they pull out all the stops, their opposition will eventually find the breakthrough.

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