Three former Irish greats yesterday waded into the row over the current problems with national soccer team on the side of beleaguered manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
Jason McAteer, Phil Babb and Packie Bonner were in Dublin for the announcement of ESPN’s coverage of English and Scottish Premier League games and all three insisted that the FAI would be wrong to sack the 73 year old at this time.
McAteer said that Trapattoni could not call on the same calibre of players that were available to Irish managers in the past, especially during the glory days of the Charlton era.
He praised Trapattoni for the job he has done with such limited resources at his disposal and said that: “It’s a really difficult time for Ireland at the minute. It was exceptional, the job he did in getting that squad to the European Championships. I don’t see any great players coming through. When Mick (McCarthy) took over Jack’s team, Mick’s experienced players were Phil, Steve Staunton myself, all playing for Liverpool. Roy Keane was playing for Man United.
“We qualified for Japan (2002), and the younger players — Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, Gary Breen, Richard Dunne, Shay Given — bedded in very quickly, got themselves established with their clubs and became top, top players. That’s not quite happening now for me with this Irish team.”
McAteer criticised the level of ability that the current crop of Irish players and said that, as much as Trapattoni’s suitability for the job, should be under the microscope.
“The experienced players that Trap has been left with, the likes of (Keith) Andrews, (Kevin) Doyle, for me have never really been good enough at international level and now they’re having to carry young players who aren’t playing at club level regularly.
“As much as we’re asking is Trapattoni the right manager, as a manager you’re only as good as the squad you’ve got, and I think he’s got a really weak squad at the minute. And I don’t know if any manager’s going to be able to come in and change it,” McAteer added.
Phil Babb questioned the future of Irish football given the lack of young players coming through at the top European clubs and the scale of the problems facing domestic football in this country.
“Whoever comes in it’s a poisoned chalice. How far can we take Irish football? What is our long-term goal? Are we held back by the coffers? What are we doing at the grass-roots level?” he asked. “Do we want to get into the top 20 of world football? What is the long-term issue? Is it just to qualify and have a party? I don’t know if that’s good enough,” he asked.
Bonner said that the manager must be given time to see if he can rectify the situation.
“The manager must make his choice about how he plays the game and who plays, but the logical thing is, if the FAI gave him a contract extension to take us into the World Cup, you don’t sack the manager after four months, no matter what. You’re got to give him time and that’s the bottom line.”
Both McAteer and Bonner counseled the young players and those within the squad reported to be frustrated by lack of opportunities and their treatment by management to be patient as their day will come.
“They just need to bite the bullet because they know it’s got to change,” said McAteer. “They know they’ve got to be given the chance because otherwise he’ll (Trapattoni) get the sack.
“If he gets the sack they’re going to the their chance anyway under a new manager. Sometimes players just need to calm down.
Bonner added: “The young players need to bide their time and it will come. It’s up to the manager to blend them in gradually. People are looking for them all to come in at the one time, and I don’t think that’s logical either.”