16 October 2008

Ireland 1-0 Cyprus: Keano collaboration

From Lost Worlds by Michael Bywater:

...we should pay our respects to the Daily Sport, which dispensed with the idea that 'news' should be true. (FOOTNOTE: A bit like the Daily Mail or Fox News, but more honest.) This innovation allowed it to come up with the most engaging pair of front pages in the history of journalism. In the first, it took a picture of the moon and superimposed a Second World War bomber on it, under the headline: 'WW2 Bomber Found On Moon'. Shortly afterwards, it simply published the picture of the moon, headlined 'WW2 Bomber Found On Moon Vanishes'.

The Irish media got a similar two-stories-for-the-price-of-none this week regarding Andy Reid. One day they were reporting on a supposed rift between Reid and Giovanni Trapattoni, the next they were reporting on its apparent non-existence. This speaks of two things. Firstly, the media here grows ever more keen to poke at a wound until it gets infected (of which more, I'm sure, at a later date). Secondly, it reflects the affection there is for Reid amongst many here and their longing to see him in the green jersey.

I'm mightily torn on this. I heart Andy Reid. He is my favourite current Irish player because he is so un-Irish. There has never been such a thing as a distinctly Irish style of football. We are firmly within the English sphere of influence and as such everyone grows up with the two straight lines of four and the big fella up front and all the other typically English facets, for good and for ill. Reid seems to have been born in the wrong place. The mere fact that he sees the game in three dimensions, beyond the linearity we are usually cursed with, makes him almost illicitly exciting. It's hardly bearable when the director cuts to the bench and we see Reid huddled up in his big FAI jacket. Letting his talent wither on the vine is something that we're going to end up regretting when we look back on this era.

Yet one can see why Trapattoni has not yet used him. He has a particular system in mind: a 4-4-2 with two tidy central midfielders, one a ball-winner, the other to be a reasonably accomplished ball-player (Steven Reid played in this role in the first two qualifiers); two wingers (versus Cyprus, Duff and McGeady) and two strikers. Steven Reid's absence from this game had many clamouring for Andy Reid to play in the centre. While this would add a spark of creativity to the position, Trapattoni's reasoning is that it is quite sufficient to have a pair of attacking wide men and just have the central duo go about their work quietly. The central midfielders are expected primarily to solemnly keep watch in front of the defence, and this is not Andy Reid's game. You could play Reid wide, but he is a poor defender.

He could be employed behind a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, but then you'd have to drop Robbie Keane or Kevin Doyle.

It's a dilly of a pickle. For what it's worth, I'm erring - just - on the side of Trap's policy right now. This is despite the problems mentioned later on, and my Reid thang. It's a matter of the benefit of the doubt going to one of the most successful managers in history, and the desperation induced by successive inglorious failures since the last time we were at the big show. If I suddenly go missing around about November 2009, it'll be because I've embarked on a pilgrimage of repentance to some place dark and lonely.

More stuff about the game:

Damien Duff slinked his way through the Cypriot defence and dinked a sexually good chipped cross for Robbie Keane to head into an empty net, and went on to have a fine game. Welcome back, Duffer!

If I had a daughter I would insist she marry Kevin Doyle. He's as reliant and dependable as they come. His work ethic is a marvel - it doesn't matter how the game is going, how well or how badly he or the team are playing: he will never stop. And his efforts are not of the headless chicken variety, nor is it a case of someone throwing in a couple of wild slide-tackles to give the appearance of full commitment. It is more intelligent than that, and when allied to a mature mind and sold technical ability, it's no wonder there is more than one top-flight club angling for him.

If Doyle was already spoken for, I'd settle for being Richard Dunne's daddy-in-law. Christ, he's amazing when he's on top form. Whenever I see Dunne in an Ireland shirt, I think of an alternative universe in which Phil Babb decided that he wouldn't play Hutch to Mark Kennedy's Starsky and slide over the bonnet of a cop car in Dublin days before the World Cup qualifier against Holland in 2000, thus avoiding disciplinary action and keeping a young Richard Dunne on the bench. I think of Patrick Kluivert having a field day and of Kenny Cunningham's eyebrow furrowed in a mixture of anger and sadness. I shudder.

But - why is there always a but? - the fact that the best aspects of Ireland's game were the workrate of a centre-forward and a near-heroic centre-half's performance tell a story. Giovanni Trapattoni bowled the nation a googly by selecting Darron Gibson to replace Steven Reid in midfield, to play beside Glen Whelan. It, um, didn't really work. They neither provided the required cover for the defence nor gave anything when Ireland had possession. Trapattoni does not demand anything spectacular from the central two in the latter situation, but when the team would try to string some passes together, the lack of the ability - or will - of Gibson and Whelan to try anything vaguely positive forced the play deeeper and deeper until it ended up at the feet of Shay Given, with an aimless hoof the result. The second half was a hearty workout for the back line, punctuated by counter-attcks of varying degrees of success (luckily we had the attackers to make something decent of such scraps).

Frustration, thy name is Aiden McGeady. He possesses talent rare in an Irish player, but his footballing intelligence is questionable. One minute he is pulling a Garrincha, the next he is coughing up the ball after a mazy run because his head has been down the whole way and he has no idea of what's been happening around him. I'm going to sound like a patronising gobshite here, but he needs to get himself to the Premier League.

Cyprus were not at their best (they were scintillating against Italy last month) yet still deserved something from this one.

I love Paul McShane in a Philippe Senderos kind of way. His debut against the Czech Republic in 2006 was an example of the type of thing which gets me right in my dysfunctional heart: shutting down Jan Koller and not allowing him a single meaningful chance...except for the one which Koller turned into an equalising goal (it finished 1-1). Having McShane play, even at right-back, is a bit like Homer Simpson being in charge of safety at the nuclear plant. The enduring images from this game will include several of McShane on his arse, Ioannis Okkas having skedaddled past.

Éamon Dunphy is a bleating, know-nothing, blowhard, self-serving, egomaniacal, bufoonish hack. But then we knew that already.


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