World Soccer's Kevin Palmer recently caught up with Republic of Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who has the Irish within one game of reaching their first World Cup since 2002. Down 1-0, Ireland visits France on Wednesday in the second leg of their playoff for a European berth at South Africa 2010.
World Soccer: What have you done to get Ireland back on track?
Trapattoni: I have helped the players to believe again. They did not believe they could win as an Irish team, but this attitude is changing. I knew that once we got the players to believe in themselves, and in us as coaches, that we would make progress. Now I can see they are getting into good habits and they are conscious of the little situations in games that are so important. Corners, free-kicks -- they can change a game, but the mentality was not right when I arrived.
World Soccer: How do you change the mentality of the team?
Trapattoni: Tell them not to fear any opponent. There is no reason why this Ireland team should not do better than it did in recent years. All the players are working in the strongest league in the world: the Premier League. They would not be there unless they had top quality, and I told them from the start not to accept the established order in international football. So, when you go to play Italy, don't believe they are better than you before a ball has been kicked.
World Soccer: What do you think of FIFA's decision to seed the draw for the World Cup qualifying playoffs?
Trapattoni: I have said that decisions like this will kill football and I stand by that. We all know it should be an open draw, to give everyone a fair chance, but they change the rules when it is clear some of the big nations cannot qualify. Some of the people making the decisions are from countries that need some help at this moment. It was a sad decision for the game, but I will say to my players not to let it upset us. France or any of the big nations in a playoff, we can beat them. We have already come through a tough group so why not upset the expectations again?
World Soccer: You have come under fire in some sections of the Irish media for not getting Stephen Ireland to come out of international retirement. How do you react to that?
Trapattoni: If the player does not want to play for his country, there is nothing I can do. I believe he will regret this decision when he is older because there is a chance he could have helped his country to make the World Cup finals. I have had conversations with him, but he says he is happy not to play. My door is always open to him and some of the best champions of the past have enjoyed successful comebacks. He can be like them if he wishes.
World Soccer: Did you have any doubts about signing a new contract with Ireland?
Trapattoni: It would have been a shame to walk away from the job we have done here as the work is not finished. My wife wants me to finish and enjoy some time relaxing, but I would miss football too much. For now, this is my life and it has been since I was 11 years old, when I started in football. I'm also interested in my family, in politics and opera, but opera is only a show. Football can give you so much more.
World Soccer: Is it true you took a pay cut to stay on?
Trapattoni: Yes, yes. I understand the current economic situation, so I said to the Irish FA we will take less money, no problem. All that mattered to me was they were satisfied with the job we were doing. We could have said "thank you" and gone home, but we wanted to continue the work we had started and I am happy with the new agreement.
World Soccer: Do you rule the Irish squad by fear?
Trapattoni: This can never work anymore. If you go back to 30 years ago, maybe people like Alex Ferguson and myself could rule by fear, but players don't care for this anymore. You are looking for respect and that brings discipline, but this does not come by making players scared of you. It is all about knowing how to pull the right strings in a player.
This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of World Soccer magazine. To subscribe, click here.
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