A Life in Football
by Egon Theiner & Elisabeth Schlammerl

Liberties Press, £10.99
Reviewed by Jonathan O'Brien
From WSC 259 September 2008 

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Giovanni Trapattoni couldn’t have enjoyed a smoother entrance to the Republic of Ireland job. An initial whirlwind of adulatory obeisance was followed by two inept friendly performances that helpfully dampened down expectations, though Trap was wily enough not to lose either game.

Is he the new Jack Charlton (stone-age but successful)? Or a more exotic Brian Kerr (unimaginative and outflanked)? This book won’t give you much of a clue either way: it’s an already thin and perfunctory Austrian publication rushed out for the Irish market with a foreword by Paddy Agnew (the high point of the entire book) and a cover shot of Il Trap handling a tricolour in the same way that you’d hold up newly washed bedsheets before putting them on to the mattress.

Even taking into account that the book was designed to cash in on Trap’s Salzburg success last year, it’s still a disappointing rush-job. The Heysel disaster, a defining and epochal event in the man’s life, is skimmed over in three pages, two of them taken up with a brief essay written in 2005 by a third party. Even the few insights into Trap’s personality are unsurprising, such as his perennial bad temper – everyone’s seen the crazed YouTube clip from his second stint at Bayern, but in  his first there a spasm of fury during a match led him to headbutt a huge soft-drink advertising display next to the dug-out.

That first sojourn in Munich was a nightmare (“We’re playing scaredy-cat football,” Franz Beckenbauer sneered), but in the second he won the title. He treated all players identically regardless of rank, which went down badly with such stars as Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann (the latter had previously been a thorn in Trap’s side at Inter). Still, when they won the league, he got to belt out Italian songs on the balcony of Munich’s city hall while clad in Bavarian dress.

The Irish angle is one chapter about the tortuous process of his appointment, hastily tacked on at the end and written in the present tense. Reading between the lines elsewhere, it seems that Trap’s Ireland will be either boringly effective or Kerr on a bigger budget. He sees his style as “attack-minded defence” rather than defensive football, though this may be mere word games.

The authors throw in titbits of mild interest, such as Trap’s failed attempt to sign the brilliant Algerian Rabah Madjer for Inter, or his ownership of 3,000 classical CDs. More often, though, it’s anecdotus interruptus. Juventus’s 1983 European Cup final defeat by Hamburg “stuck in Trapattoni’s gut for a long time, and probably still bothers him today”. Doubtless it does, but for which specific reasons? We aren’t told. Earlier, the authors imply that Trap came back from a spying mission on the Germans knowing Juve would lose – but, again, they don’t elaborate.

There are some bizarre errors, possibly down to mistranslation, including Club Brugge being renamed “Piemont” (the German for Juventus’s home province) when their famous 1978 win over Juve is mentioned. Elsewhere, after a summary of a Milan derby, it is claimed that “Maradona was the talisman for Napoli that day”.

A Life In Football won’t tell you anything about Trap’s plans for Ireland, apart from the already well established facts that he’s a serial disciplinarian and likes to defend 1-0 leads rather than pushing for a second goal. There are tiny chunks of fresh information buried here, but it’s hardly worth shovelling through the other 180-odd pages to find them.

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Comments (1)
Comment by placedetine 2010-02-03 08:43:49

re: "the crazed YouTube clip from his second stint at Bayern"
I'm not sure if this author is a speaker of German. I watched the clip again several times today (some versions have German subtitles/a phonetic transcript). One remark on YouTube was that Trap must have graduated from the 'Adolf-Hitler-School of Speech'. Again, that's probably based on just the visuals and the sound. In fact, (as someone else on YouTube remarked) this was a very gutsy performance, delivered in pidgin German, complaining about the professional attitude of (some) Bayern players, and making his point rather well.

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