The Football Association of Ireland is at a crossroads over the Italian manager; can it afford to pay off his contract or does it risk keeping him in charge?
By Ronan Murphy
When Steve Staunton was sacked as Republic of Ireland manager in 2007, the 103-cap defender had two years remaining on a four-year-contract, forcing the FAI to give him a considerable payoff. If the FAI decides to dispense with the services of Giovanni Trapattoni and his backroom team, it could end up paying out almost €2 million. Such sums are eyewatering in the current financial predicament faced by the association.
There are two major stumbling blocks in the sacking of Trapattoni. One is that the FAI can't afford to buy out a contract that is only a few months old, and the other is that there is a severe shortage of viable options as his replacement. The FAI is often its own worst enemy, and claims that "a world class management team" to replace Brian Kerr saw the inexperienced Steve Staunton take the reigns.
It also, argubly, shot itself in the foot by offering fresh contracts to Trapattoni, Marco Tardelli and co before the denuding of the Euros and not after. CEO John Delaney remains heavily dependant on businessman Denis O'Brien to fund Trapattoni's wages, and it's unlikely that O'Brien will want to pay off the Italian and, moreover, continue to pay the wages of his successor.
The FAI is already heavily burdened by financial problems, with Delaney forcing staff to take redundancies and pay cuts. While names like Harry Redknapp, Owen Coyle, and Mick McCarthy are being bandied about by bookmakers as possible replacements, it's unlikely that the FAI could afford to pay them more than they could earn managing cross-channel.
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Friday night's performance against Germany was the worst Irish defeat since Staunton lost 5-2 to Cyprus in 2006, and the dismal showing at Euro 2012 rightly heaped pressure on Trapattoni. The Italian also admitted that his side weren't good enough against Germany and that he is already a point behind expectations despite two away wins in World Cup 2014 qualification.
However, despite a comfortable win in the Faroe Islands, the 6-1 loss to Germany was put into perspective last night by Sweden's performance in Berlin. Trailing 4-0 with half an hour remaining, the Swedes showed fight and belief that was undeniably absent from the Irish players on Friday, and came back to draw 4-4 to move to seven points alongside a vulnerable Germany at the top of the table.
Speculation that Trapattoni had lost the Irish camp abated last night after a convincing performance in Torshavn, but now almost every squad meet-up is accompanied by stories of a falling-out between one of the players and the manager. This is constantly denied by the backroom team, but with Darron Gibson and Kevin Foley absent due to self-imposed exile, there is definite proof that Trapattoni needs to handle his fringe players better. James McCarthy's endorsement of the Trap regime, though, will have brought succour to the veteran manager.
Nonetheless, overlooking the likes of Premier League regulars Shane Long and Ciaran Clark could easily alienate the in-form duo, with Clark forced to watch from the bench as Darren O'Dea gifted goals to Germany on Friday evening. Long looked visibly annoyed in his substitute appearance at the Aviva Stadium, as he knew he was facing an impossible task, coming on with 40 minutes left.
The decision to replace Robbie Brady with Simon Cox at half-time in Torshavn was a strange one, but par for the course with Trapattoni. Brady had shown some promise on his first competitive start, flighting in some accurate set-pieces, but Trapattoni turned to Cox once again. Cox is a decent striker, as shown with Nottingham Forest this season, but he is not a winger despite Trapattoni's repeated experiment.
Trapattoni has made some poor tactical decisions throughout his tenure, and survived through Euro 2012. However, the tide has turned on the Italian, and the old system is now failing. Ireland showed that they could pass it along the ground last night, but may have to be free of Trapattoni's shackles before they can progress.
This is the decision the FAI must now make. Is Trapattoni still the right man for the job? With two away wins at the start of qualifying, Ireland are still mathematically on course for Brazil 2014, but can the Italian take us there?
And if not, can we afford to replace him with someone who can?