I wouldn’t say Ireland particularly deserved to beat a tidy but unambitious Italian side at Croke Park on Saturday night but it was still a huge disappointment not to be able to hold on to a 2-1 lead for three minutes. Mind you considering the luck that manager Trapattoni has enjoyed during the campaign it’s probably best to get hit with a sucker-punch now than in the 90th minute of the play-off.
Eight years ago Ireland went through the 2002 qualifying campaign undefeated against Holland and Portugal, winning seven of their ten games and conceding just five goals in what was an outstanding effort. This Irish squad employs just five players from that era with the likes of Niall Quinn, Stephen Staunton (ahem), Roy Keane, Matt Holland and Mark Kinsella all having retired. I think this underlines the scale of adjustment forced on subsequent managers in a relatively short period of time.
But at the same time Trapattoni has made a rock for his own back with his persistence in selecting all three of the limited Darron Gibson, Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews while ignoring Andy Reid. I also am bemused that he has no time for Clinton Morrison (6 goals in 9 games this season – the same number scored by his Coventry team-mate Leon Best) while continuing to select Shane Long and Caleb Folan (0 goals between them).
Ireland have been turgid in this qualification group only really coming to life in the two games versus Italy and as much as I respect and admire the man I still have a huge question-mark over Trap. Having said that the floating image of “The Gaffa” quickly remind me of where we’ve come from and that I should be thankful for small mercies.
I only ever saw John Barnes play in the flesh once, in Chris Hughton’s Ireland testimonial in 1995. I had always admired him on the TV but to see this guy live was a real experience. It may have been a friendly and distinctly uncompetitive but there was something quite poetic about the way he stroked the ball around and the presence he carried on the pitch.
However, his management career has been disastrous with both Celtic and Tranmere disposing of him very quickly ten years apart. At Celtic he lasted for 29 games and although he only lost 8 of them (recording a 65% win rate), this is Scotland we’re talking about. An embarrassing and infamous 1-3 reverse to Inverness Caledonian Thistle sealed Barnes’ fate at Celtic. He recorded just 3 wins in 12 games at Tranmere with some fans claiming that the tactics were incomprehensible and he used his press conferences to blame the players. He was sacked last week.
In between he had a nice little job as Jamaica national team manager where he won 7 and drew the rest of his 11 games in charge. His gamble to walk away from the sun-soaked beaches of his hometown of Kingston for Prenton Park last summer might be the last mistake he gets the opportunity to make in management.
At some point you need to acknowledge that you may not be cut out for something. Clubs make hasty decisions of dispensing with managers all too often. But just maybe this time both Celtic and Tranmere got it right. Not being privy to what goes on behind the scenes who knows what the feedback from players and staff were about Barnes? It’s about more than the results.
Also given his cards last week was Notts County manager Ian McParland. From the moment Sven Goran-Eriksson arrived it was likely that the manager would be out on his ear sooner rather than later. There has been understandable sympathy for him with commentators pointing out that County – 19th and 21st in the last two seasons – sit in fifth place just four points off the lead.
But with ambitious owners (whoever they may be) and a Serie A-winning manager overseeing the football management of the club, three consecutive draws against middling-to-poor sides in eight days was not going to impress the men upstairs. The early season form that saw them thump Bradford, Macclesfield and Dagenham & Redbridge and Northampton had promised much but last week’s action seem to suggest that ejecting McParland was always on the agenda once they felt results gave them the mandate to do so.
Clubs like Hull and Wigan climbed quietly through the leagues in recent years and both have prospered in the top flight. Notts County appear to be making all the wrong noises right now. It would be a shame to see such a famous club flounder (David Platt??) and result in their wealthy backers losing interest.
It always seems to be a quiet football week when the internationals are on. Hence the English media have been creating a bit of a fuss over England’s defensive and attacking options. Phil McNulty discusses the disquiet over the form of central defender Rio Ferdinand following yet another of his all-too-frequent defensive errors against Ukraine. Personally I think there is some truth in it but also no surprise. Ferdinand is an accomplished, athletic player whose career copybook has been blotted by public relation misjudgments (parties and contracts) and similar misjudgments on the pitch.
He’s 31 next month and as his reliability continues to be called in to question, you have to wonder who is going to step up as an able replacement whether a Rio absence is enforced or by design. Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King can’t be relied upon due to fitness issues and Matthew Upson, who seems to be next in line, has not yet proven his international credentials. Incidentally he is also 30. The next World Cup may see John Terry grooming Gary Cahill or David Wheater if they progress enough in the next four years. In the meantime Capello does have a weakness in the backline to address.
Not every commentator is using such strong language as Paul Wilson in the above piece but Kevin McCarra makes a similar point in his piece this week – without Rooney England are just not as good. While It’s true to say that if you take out most team’s best player then they will suffer but perhaps it is more true for this current England team.
There are still people who argue that Rooney is overrated and not world class – an opinion that I find utter garbage. Many football opinions are tainted by over-subjectivity: Frank Lampard is accused of being both a fatso and world class while Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world and a big-game bottler. People see what they want to see.
But I think you would have to be a little myopic not to acknowledge that Rooney is a far superior player to any other English striker. Michael Owen is the last top class striker that England had but his best days seem to be behind him. Emile Heskey, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch are useful players but not in the same class as Rooney. Outside of the Manchester United forward (and leaving aside the currently unselected Michael Owen) none of the current England strikers have excelled in top European competition or international football.
I think Wilson and McCarra’s point is that if you’re lining up against France in the World Cup semi-finals and you’re bringing on Defoe or Carlton Cole to find you a goal while top European players like Henry, Benzema and Anelka lay siege at David James/Ben Foster/Robert Green/Paul Robinson, then there is certainly some food for thought.
England better hope he stays fit … and keeps his cool.