Maybe I’m biased but I can’t help thinking that England might have employed the wrong veteran Italian coach when they appointed Fabio Capello. It may be because when I was a 21-year-old kid, who had been sold against his will to AC Milan, Giovanni Trapattoni was the kindest of team-mates and a true friend. It may also be that Capello reminds me so much of the square-jawed, mean-hearted Milan manager Nereo Rocco, whom I loathed during my brief spell in Serie A. But it is mainly down to the outstanding job Trapattoni has done in leading the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2012. And in a month when I was made to feel very old by reading that it was me who had scored England’s 1,000th goal – and that our national team had scored another 1,000 goals since – it was certainly heartening to hear that Trapattoni, who is a year older than me, is in talks over a new deal.
Trap will be 73 by the Euro finals and he will be 75 when the next World Cup comes around, yet he’s desperate to lead the Irish to Brazil. Good on him because it shows that if you are mentally and physically healthy, it does not matter how old you are. Trapattoni is one of only two managers to have won league titles in four countries. He also won the European Cup as a player with Milan, the year after I left, and as a manager with Juventus. From having known him as a player, I’m pretty certain Trap will be the sort of man-manager who is warm and decent with his men – which, for me, is the key quality of any international boss.
At Milan, Trap and Gianni Rivera were the two players who took me under their wing, as they both spoke more English than the rest. During my frequent training-ground rows with Rocco, I can always remember Trapattoni saying: ‘Yimmy, Yimmy, don’t say nothing, Yimmy’. It was good advice – but I usually ignored it, answering back and causing another blazing row with the boss. Trap was a typical Italian player, a ball-winning midfielder who would grab his opponents by the throat or the testicles – yet he was also a visionary passer of the ball.
It does not surprise me that many Irish fans and commentators have complained that his teams have been too cautious or negative – not that they’ll be moaning any more, of course. That great Milan team was not exactly free-flowing and cavalier. When it comes to football, Italians have always tended to be safety-first. It just seems that they are a little more liberal when it comes to spending euros! But in many respects, Trapattoni reminds me of another former team-mate of mine, Jack Charlton, who transformed Irish football thanks to the strength of his personality.
On a player-by-player basis, Trapattoni’s Ireland should be well beaten when they meet Capello’s England – either in a post-season friendly or in the group stages in Poland and Ukraine. But from what I saw against Sweden the other night – and from knowing how well Ireland always seem to do against the English – I think there’s every chance they could get a result against us. Not least because of Trap’s vast experience and know-how.
The funniest thing for me about watching the Sweden match on ITV was Adrian Chiles introducing a clip of me scoring England’s 1,000th goal in a 5-1 win over Wales at Wembley in 1960. I’m absolutely convinced that nobody ever told me at the time, nor at any moment since, that I’d achieved that landmark. I wasn’t aware that I had scored the 1,000th goal until they started writing about who would score the 2,000th in Tuesday’s newspapers. Nobody was that botheredabout stats back then – but now football is a vast ocean of facts and figures. Perhaps they’ll present me with a plaque to mark my achievement. Gareth Barry has now been given the 2,000th goal, which is just as well because Swedish defender Daniel Majstorovic sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted any recognition for the milestone goal.