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Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 19:41 UK

Jury still out on Trap

By John Haughey
BBC Northern Ireland

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni has led the Republic to second place in their World Cup qualifying group

Victory over Italy will not silence all the doubters - as Brendan Behan once suggested the Irish race has a propensity for revelling in nationwide splits - but Giovanni Trapattoni will surely feel a little more love from the Emerald Isle if the Azzurri are turned over at Croke Park on Saturday.

Twenty months on from the Football Association of Ireland's appointment of Trapattoni, the statistics suggest that the governing body's suits came up with a masterstroke.

Unbeaten in eight World Cup qualifiers - including an away draw against the world champions in Bari - and on the cusp of a play-off to secure a place at the finals in South Africa, appears an impressive return by the wily Italian.

Particularly given that he is managing arguably the most limited bunch of Republic players for a generation.

But still the suspicion lingers that the relationship between his adopted country and Trapattoni has the potential to turn sour if results go against the 70-year-old and his unspectacular troops over the next six weeks.

As with the majority of Irish sporting controversies, the view on Trapattoni's stewardship of the national team has divided into two voluble camps.

Trapattoni is wringing every last drop of ability from this squad in terms of results

Sunday Tribune football correspondent Ciaran Cronin

Advocates of Trapattoni, such as the Sunday Tribune's football correspondent Ciaran Cronin, have marvelled as the Italian's ability to get results from a "handful of Premier League regulars".

"The system he employs may sit close to the Catholic Church on the scale of conservatism but its implementation is the only reason why Ireland find themselves in such a promising position in terms of qualification for the World Cup," insists Cronin.

"Trapattoni is wringing every last drop of ability from this squad in terms of results," he adds.

However, not all opinion formers in the Dublin media are convinced.

Irish Times football correspondent Emmet Malone believes that the jury is still out, adding that the FAI in awarding Trapattoni a new two-year contract before the completion of the qualifiers gave the Italian latitude which they were not prepared to grant Brian Kerr four years ago.

"Brian Kerr was in a virtually identical situation in terms of points garnered from the same amount of games at the same stage of the qualifying campaign," adds Malone.

"On that occasion, the FAI said time and time again, that they were going to wait until the tournament was over and qualification sorted out before they decided to give him another contract.

The new contract might prove a bit rash - if things don't go too well over the next five days or in the play-offs

Irish Times correspondent Emmet Malone

"On that occasion, Ireland didn't qualify and Kerr didn't get a new contract.

"This time, the FAI has decided to jump perhaps when they are feeling under a little bit of pressure and that Trapattoni might qualify and would have other options and might walk.

"The new contract might prove a bit rash - especially if things don't go too well over the next five days or in the play-offs.

"But if Ireland qualify for the World Cup, his popularity rating will go through the roof."

Like many journalists, fans and neutrals, the Irish Times correspondent remains baffled by Trapattoni's continuing decision to omit a now slimmed-down Andy Reid from his squad.

Despite going on to achieve near Sainthood in Ireland, Jack Charlton came under fire during his early years of his reign for leaving out David O'Leary from his squad before the Arsenal defender's later rehabilitation at Italia '90.

Reid's exclusion looks even more unjustifiable - especially given Stephen Ireland's self-imposed exile from the Republic midfield.

Suffice to say, Reid has paid a heavy price for his rumoured late night and guitar-accompanied Wiesbaden warblings 13 months ago after the qualifier win over Georgia in Germany.

Andy Red
Andy Reid's omission by Trapattoni is continuing to baffle many

The latest indignity handed to the Sunderland midfielder by the Republic manager came this week when he opted to call up QPR's Martin Rowlands as cover on Monday.

A day later, Trapattoni still failed to summon the in-form Reid after the withdrawal of midfielders Damien Duff, Steven Reid and Darron Gibson from the squad.

"There are many reservations about the team selection - particularly in central midfield and his continued omission of Andy Reid and his failure, however beyond his control, to bring Stephen Ireland back into the fold," added Malone.

Certainly, Reid's ability to get on the ball and find colleagues with decent passes was markedly missing as the Irish midfield toiled during the decidedly fortunate 2-1 qualifier win in Nicosia last month.

Cyprus manager Angelos Anatasiades lambasted the Irish team's long-ball tactics after Robbie Keane's late winner and even the normally measured John Giles felt the need to join his RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy in delivering a scathing appraisal of the standard of football served up by Trapattoni's charges.

However, another win, albeit an ugly one, had been fashioned and Trapattoni's supporters will continue to hold the edge in the simmering debate if the Republic keep their qualification hopes alive over the next week.

The odds are that the Irish will clinch a place in next month's play-offs although defeat on Saturday - and a win for Bulgaria in Cyprus - would make for a nervy final group encounter against Montenegro at Croke Park on Wednesday.

Possible opponents in the play-offs include Germany, Russia and France, who all would be huge favourites to advance over the Irish.

But the luck has been with Trapattoni so far in the campaign and he insisted earlier this week that his troops could be competitive against even the best of oppositions.

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see also
Lawrence set for Republic start
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Given aims for return to finals
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Trapattoni extends Republic stay
25 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Trapattoni focusing on Italy game
06 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Trapattoni hails 'important' win
05 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Cyprus 1-2 Republic of Ireland
05 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Trapattoni keeps same Irish squad
21 Aug 09 |  Internationals
Republic boss unfazed by defeat
12 Aug 09 |  Internationals
Rep of Ireland 0-3 Australia
12 Aug 09 |  Internationals
Ireland remains out for Republic
30 Jul 09 |  Internationals
Bulgaria 1-1 Republic of Ireland
06 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Pick your Rep of Ireland XI
05 Feb 07 |  Internationals

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