DUBLIN (Reuters) - When Giovanni Trapattoni was appointed Ireland soccer manager in 2008, he brought one vital ingredient - experience.
The former Italy coach, who has won 10 league titles in four countries, took over a side reeling from their worst qualification campaign in more than two decades, an unsuccessful attempt to reach Euro 2008 that included a humiliating 5-2 loss to Cyprus.
Ireland had made the costly error of appointing ex-player Steve Staunton as boss two years earlier when the only coaching the former Aston Villa defender had done was a short stint as assistant manager at English lower league side Walsall.
They did not make the same mistake twice and, although they had to rely on an unspecified donation from Irish telecoms billionaire Denis O‘Brien to afford the Italian’s wages, Trapattoni has turned their fortunes around.
After coming tantalisingly close to reaching the 2010 World Cup Ireland will play in their first major finals in a decade and their first European Championship in 24 years when they take to the field in Poland.
Trapattoni’s dogged side mirrors the man himself; a workaholic who has already signed up to oversee Ireland’s World Cup 2014 campaign.
The sprightly 73-year-old refuses to give up, let alone take a break, and is especially relishing facing his home country in their final group game in Poznan on June 18 after winning one and drawing two games against them since becoming Ireland’s boss.
A tough defender who played 17 times for Italy and won two league titles and two European Cups with AC Milan, Trapattoni began his managerial career 37 years ago and was immediately successful, winning the first of six Serie A titles at Juventus in his first season in charge in 1977.
Although the national team were disappointing under his stewardship two decades later, he is regarded as the most successful Italian manager of all time.
He is the only manager to have won all three of UEFA’s senior club competitions, having guided Juve to the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, as well as picking up another league title and UEFA Cup with Inter Milan.
Other titles followed with Bayern Munich, Benfica and Salzburg before he took on perhaps his greatest challenge in the shape of an Irish team who had fallen far from the one that reached the World Cup knockout stages in 1990, 1994 and 2002.
Ireland have lost just one qualification match in two campaigns under ‘Trap’, something not even Jack Charlton could manage when he guided Ireland to the Euros in 1988 and World Cup in 1990.
The Italian is not blessed with the same calibre of players as Charlton and has made the most of a squad who mostly ply their trade in the lower reaches of England’s Premier League.
He has been criticised by some for being too conservative with his tactics and in a squad selection that could leave no place for Wigan’s James McCarthy and Sunderland’s James McClean, two of the country’s most exciting players.
However, his policies have been effective and if Trapattoni can mastermind a victory or two against Spain, Italy or Croatia, Irish fans will not care how it is achieved.
Editing by Mike Collett/Mitch Phillips