While Ireland will not grace the stage at the world cup in Brazil, there is still an air of optimism around the prospects for the national team. This has been reinforced by the recent performance against Italy and Roy Keane’s apparent commitment to the cause. In building a solid foundation for the future, Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane could do worse than learning from some key managerial faux pas of the Giovanni Trapattoni reign.

Utilise the full pool of talent available to the best of its ability

There was a growing sense that Trapattoni did not fully engage the talent that was available to him (this included the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Keiran Westwood, James McCarthy, and Darren Gibson who warmed the bench for the entire Euro 2012 tournament). Even where he did pick different players he did not exploit their strengths by deploying them in their best positions. This oversight becomes all the more severe in the context of a small football country like Ireland, where the initial talent pool is already severely limited

Pay attention to detail and keep close to the action

Trapattoni was apparently fond of saying “they are little details, but the little details are very important”. Despite this rhetoric his lack of enthusiasm for attending premiership games and visiting football grounds was frequently commented upon.  Understanding the ebb and flow of a player’s performance in the full context of a game cannot be done remotely via DVDs; there is simply no substitute for being close to the action. Many will recollect the story of Jack Charlton visiting Oxford United to see John Aldridge play and being introduced to a player previously not on the radar called Ray Houghton.

Foster inclusiveness accompanied by a unified sense of purpose

From the early guitar incident with Andy Reid, Trapattoni’s reign was characterized by a growing tension, distance and frequent falling out with his own players. Man management was not Trapattoni’s forte. With the legacy of Saipan as the media benchmark for football bust-ups Trapattoni’s failures in player relations might at first seem trivial. However, the list known to have run-ins with Trapattoni’s suggests otherwise (Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ireland, Stephen Kelly, Marc Wilson, Stephen Hunt Kevin Foley, Darron Gibson, and Shane Long). Rather than constructively engage players for the Irish cause, Trapattoni frequently pursued destructive vendettas which fragmented relations. Stephen Reid was an early regular in Trapattoni’s line-ups but on-going injury problems led to his career being dismissed off hand by the Italian who commented publicly that it would be ‘very, very difficult’, for Reid to return to his best following a knee injury. There also appeared to be limited reward for loyalty or recognition of player’s allegiance and pride in playing for Ireland. Present for over 7 years in every squad when he was fit to play, Kevin Doyle received news of his omission from the squad for the double-header with Sweden and Austria via text message.

Understand the significance of the top management team

It is perhaps no coincidence that the successful years of the Trapattoni reign were those where Liam Brady held the position of Assistant Manager. With expertise on the workings of the FAI and Irish football, vast insights and experience into the English Premier league, coupled with an extensive football network Brady’s value to Trapattoni cannot be underestimated. Indeed, one wonders if in picking Roy Keane as an assistant Martin O’Neill is also attempting to leverage something similar by way of Irish expertise and public association.

Be open to change when required

Trapattoni remained committed to his cautious approach and tactics even when most commentators and fans called for, and ultimately the results mandated, change. He likewise remained loyal to players like Darren O’Dea, Glen Whelan and Paul McShane when their performances at international level were not always deserving of it. More often than not key tactical or player changes were the result of injury or retirements rather than a change in mindset. Notably, in those performances best remembered, including against Italy and France, it has been suggested that the players pursued their own desired approach rather than rigidly adhering to the Trapattoni prescription. Overall, Trapattoni cast a technical shadow over Ireland’s play which served to inhibit creativity and suggested a distrust of his players.

Of course there is an argument that the distance, or even arrogance, of Trapattoni may have been a reflection of a Keanite type quest for professionalism. There are cultural differences likely to be at play here also; Italian football is a patient, technical and slow burning candle, only intermittently lit with the type of gung-ho frenzied excitement or action that Irish fans might expect. Trapattoni also inherited one of the weaker teams of current times, while Thierry Henry had a huge hand in ensuring lady luck was not on his side. In years and in past success Trapattoni is clearly deserving of respect. Nonetheless his desired approach did not result in Irish glory and may have ultimately been self-defeating. For the fledging dynamic duo of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane the challenge is to embrace the key lessons from the Trapattoni reign by managing efficiently while also leading effectively.

Brian Harney is a Lecturer in Strategy and HRM at DCU Business School and Deputy Director (Knowledge) of the LInK research centre 

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