Watching Ireland lose 3-1 to Croatia on Sunday was really quite depressing. Not merely because of the defeat, but because of the manner of the defeat.
Ireland looked like a prehistoric side, totally bereft of ideas and guile, with only one speed and one game plan. The effort was there and along with some bad luck, but the thing that struck me was how terrible Ireland were with the ball. At times, it was embarrassing.
Giovanni Trapattoni's tactics have gotten Ireland to the group stage and he has done a fantastic job to qualify, but that's not enough.
First and foremost, I am a football fan, and, I want to see some ambition in my team. I want to see the team try and pass the ball.
Ireland, under Trap, refuse to do this. He doesn't want the team to get the ball down and play. Against Croatia, it was embarrassing to see how limited Ireland were on the ball. Time and time again, they passed it back to their fullbacks who aimlessly hoofed the ball long up the pitch and straight back to the Croats.
The lack of movement of the Irish team was telling. No one showed for the ball in midfield, as if the idea of showing for a pass was pointless, as they knew it would be lumped up the field. It was brutal to watch.
Trapattoni's selection of Green, Whelan and Andrews—whilst leaving out the likes of McCarthy, Coleman, Houlihan—sums up his ambition or lack thereof. He doesn't want players who can play. Trap just wants workhorses in midfield, and then hopes our front players will nick a goal.
What does this say to the kids in Ireland who want to become professional footballers?
Ireland should be encouraging passing football; promoting skill and technique, and not fearing the ball. The midfield should have technical players in it who can control the tempo of the game.
The Football Association of Ireland need to make a complete overhaul of the Irish setup, and they need to get all the Irish club sides and school youth teams involved. Ireland should take a look at FC Barcelona's La Masia, and try to get Irish clubs to incorporate their coaching techniques into their youth system.
Ireland should pick a formation (personally, I'd go for the 4-3-3), and get all the youth teams to agree to use this. We need to ban long balls from the youth system and stick to passing it short at all times (including the goalkeeper).
We shouldn't worry about the scores in youth football, and instead focus on promoting passing and technique. We should also incorporate "El Rondo" ("the round" possession technique) in all youth setups.
No Irish players should be afraid of getting the ball, as was so evident against Croatia. Ireland need to be brave on the ball. I do not believe for a second that Ireland cannot produce technical players. We can and we have. The problem is that we don't encourage them.
Ireland don't like players to take risks or to keep the ball. They panic and want them to "get it up the field," and a lot of youth coaches are to blame for this.
Look at Athletic Bilbao as a example. They are like a mini-international side who will only sign Basque players and, therefore, have a small pool of players to pick from. Look at how technical they all are and how well they play.
Why is this? It's simply down to their youth setup and their philosophy on the game.
Ireland need to change their philosophy on the game as a nation, and it has to start from the bottom up. They are miles behind most teams in terms of their style of play, and its time to catch up.
The FAI need to send people to Spain and Holland and look at the setup there. Learn from the masters, apply it and stick with it as a long-term plan.
Trapattoni's tactics have taken Ireland to the Euros and it is a great achievement, but I fear for Ireland against Italy and especially Spain.
Ireland looked utterly clueless against Croatia. Imagine what the Spaniards could do to them.
Hopefully, the FAI learn from this tournament and Ireland can finally move on from this long-ball football for good.