Ireland’s 6-1 home defeat by Germany last weekend has left manager Giovanni Trappatoni under enormous pressure and some commentators are hoping that he departs the job later this week. The Italian is perceived as having not delivered the results since qualification for Euro 2012 but do the numbers back this up?
Firstly let’s return to Euro 2012, a competition in which Trapattoni’s critics are not happy with the three defeats incurred by Ireland. Playing in a group with eventual finalists Spain and Italy as well as Croatia, the Irish were rank outsiders. My expected odds model unsurprisingly suggests that Ireland had a better than 50-50 chance of avoiding defeat in just one of their three fixtures, against Croatia. Is it really realistic to criticise Trapattoni for this performance, particularly as an extra point (or even two) would have almost certainly condemned his team to last place in the group anyway?
Moving onto qualification for the 2014 World Cup, we can again look at our expected odds model illustrated by the graph above. There are of course problems here with the size of the sample but it is hardly surprising that Ireland’s six points are approximately what would be expected at this stage. Indeed, the away fixture in Kazakhstan was a potential banana skin which fellow group C team Austria have already failed to negotiate.
The final difficulty for Ireland is that they have again been unlucky with the draw which has placed them in a group with two other teams currently ranked in Europe’s top 16 nations by the FIFA ranking. Ireland are currently rated the 15th best team on the continent and group C is the only one of the nine qualification groups to contain three of Europe’s best 16. In comparison, groups A, D and H each have just one of the current best 16 nations in Europe according to the latest FIFA ranking.
There are, of course, subjective reasons stated for Trapattoni’s removal but it seems that Ireland supporters can only be happy with a manager who makes them perform much better than would be expected. Ireland’s results since qualifying for Euro 2012 have been pretty much on expectations and the margin of defeat by Germany is actually irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, however abject the performance was perceived to be. The critical matches for the Irish are the two fixtures against Sweden in March and September 2013.
Ireland supporters might also remember that the 73 year old has actually done just what they wanted, improving Ireland’s FIFA ranking from 42 when he took over to as high as 18 last June and 28 now. If Trapattoni is replaced, can his critics be sure that his successor will be able keep the team overperforming and, more importantly, do better in the matches against the Swedes than the Italian would do? Ireland were seeded to finish third in group C and it will take a very special performance to do better than this. Trapattoni is the only one of Ireland’s last three managers to have delivered qualification. Will a potential successor do this against the odds from one of the toughest qualification groups?