By Ronan Murphy
Five years into his tenure as Republic of Ireland manager, everybody knows what to expect from Giovanni Trapattoni on match weeks. After a few days of media consternation over the squad selection, the anxiety then turns to the team selection. Trapattoni's consistency means that the day before any game, everyone will know his starting XI. There's usually uproar at the exclusion or inclusion of one particular player. This time Paul Green is the scapegoat.
For tonight's World Cup qualifier with Sweden, Trapattoni has named a very progressive lineup, with Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson, Robbie Brady and James McClean all starting. For most fans and pundits, this would be cause for celebration, especially when paired with the selection of Ciaran Clark ahead of Darren O'Dea at centre-half. However, Trapattoni has chosen Paul Green in midfield in order to deal with the threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and this has caused much derision.
Sweden boss Erik Hamren has chosen Tobias Hysen to lead the line, allowing Ibrahimovic to drop back to play between midfield and attack. "He has more of a free position," Hamren said earlier this week. "He is allowed drop, pick up balls and find space behind the No 9. Sometimes, he is the front guy, sometimes not. He's got that role."
The Leeds United midfielder has got the nod ahead of James McCarthy, a player many feel should be the first name on the team-sheet these days. While McCarthy has great qualities in midfield, Green also has something to offer the team, and Trapattoni believes he is the man to break up Swedish attacking play.
The Italian also highlighted Green's merits at staying back to allow the full-backs get forward on the ball. "It's an away game, we also have Coleman," Trapattoni said. "I want him to go [forward]. When he does we need a little bit of [extra cover]. The result is very important. We are going to play our game. We must also push...Against England, Sweden played very well, running, running a lot. I think it's important we have protection in midfield. McCarthy also plays well but I couldn't ask him to go in this position."
Apart from Trapattoni, almost everyone believes McCarthy should be starting, but while Green is getting all the flak, Stoke City's Glenn Whelan is escaping with his reputation intact. If any player should be dropped to accommodate McCarthy, it should be Whelan. During Euro 2012 qualifying, Trapattoni's worst hour was a 3-2 home loss to Russia. After the game, Green was once again criticised, despite putting in a better shift than midfield partner Whelan.
Neither player has had a truly standout game for Ireland, and Green proved in the second half against Poland last month that he is more than capable of dictating the tempo in the middle. Trapattoni sees this in the 29-year-old, and if the midfielder's 15th international cap works out as well as the manager envisions, then it will be a successful night for Ireland, with Ibrahimovic's impact being merely a footnote in the match report.