In the most ambitious appointment since they gave England World Cup winning defender Jack Charlton the job, the Football Association of Ireland have appointed Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane as the new management team for the national side.
This will put bums on seats and that was the driving force behind this bold move.
Martin O’Neill is a top man and a top manager. Footballers who have taken on board his methodology all say their careers have benefited from working under the former Northern Ireland international. Those who reject the Martin O’Neill way of doing things are soon sent packing.
Likewise those players who do not accept Roy Keane and his strident manner. It’s not so much that Keane does not suffer fools gladly. He doesn’t suffer them at all. And you don’t have to be a fool to feel the wrath of Keane.
As his former biographer Eamon Dunphy says succinctly: “Roy doesn’t like people.”
In my limited dealings with Roy Keane (writes Vernon Grant) I have found him to be charming. The first time I filmed with him that threw me. But I’m not sure I would want to be a player working under him.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon reacted to the appointment of O’Neill and Keane by saying: “God help the players.”
He was jesting, of course. But there is more than an element of truth in his warning. The players had better not think playing for their country is a part time job, or a hobby that takes them around the world.
Keane being appointed in any role for the Republic of Ireland is something I never thought I would see. After all, when he walked out on the Irish squad preparing for the 2002 World Cup, he called the FAI all the names under the sun. He was then particularly abusive about FAI Chief Executive John Delaney.
But the past is the past says Delaney who found himself having to call Keane once Martin O’Neill had said that having Keane as his assistant was a deal breaker. Delaney said: “Roy and I discussed the past for about 30 seconds.”
Former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr has written his thoughts on what Keane must do in the role of assistant manager.
Kerr says: “First of all, you have to check your ego at the changing room door. You do a lot of staring at the manager’s back too. I know that sounds stupid but it can be hard for someone who craves that role for themselves.
“You have to bite your lip at times. I would imagine that will be the most difficult part for Roy. You have to time your moment to speak. Granted, he’s well known for making his mark with some choice words.”The former footballer Eamonn Dunphy has made a living out of speaking his mind about Irish football, usually on television. He was also ghostwriter on Keane’s autobiography. The two men have since fallen out.
On first hearing the news of this appointment Dunphy had concerns. He says: “O’Neill and Keane are really strong personalities, but there is the potential for a train wreck. It’ll be fascinating.
“Keane is a great leader. He became a pain in the arse for a while but his two and a half years out of soccer will have helped him.
“Getting Martin O’Neill is an outstanding coup. He’s a difficult guy for his own part, but there will be no more messing like we’ve had since the Steve Staunton era and Trapattoni never really worked out in the job despite his stellar CV.
“Martin O’Neill will get rid of all that nonsense. We can be confident now that the best team will be picked. Decisions will be made on a reasonable basis.
“The Keane element when I first heard it, I thought it was a gimmick but reflecting on it and speaking to other people like John Giles, I think the Keane factor will create an impact and a buzz around the team.
“He has a lot of positive energy when things are right. Roy had a habit at Sunderland and at Ipswich of slagging off his own players in public and God knows what he was doing to them in private. That has to stop.
“I think he’ll be a sounding board for Martin. You do need another person with experience of international, high octane game to talk to.
“I think at the heart of Keane there is a frustration at things not being right. But I think he and O’Neill can make things right.”The Republic of Ireland play Latvia in Dublin soon. A game that would have been the subject of little interest previously, is now likely to be played in front of a full stadium. Already the demand for match tickets is huge.
The majority of Ireland fans sided with Keane when he walked out on the 2002 squad. They supported Keane, not manager Mick McCarthy. Despite Keane causing such chaos in Saipan he remains a legend among those fans.
The man who so constantly criticised his playing colleagues and employers, citing a lack of commitment from the first and terrible hotel accommodation from the latter, went home to walk the dog. Most of his playying colleagues were pleased to see the back of him.
As assistant manager of the 2013 squad he will be demanding loyalty and 100% commitment to the cause.
Keane is older now. Time will tell if he is a wiser man.
But in Martin O’Neill he has a softly spoken, intelligent man who can be diplomatic when diplomacy is called for. When Keane loses it, O’Neill will take him to one side and try to calm him down.
If all goes well, but O’Neill is offered a high profile Premier League job in the meantime, the path will be clear for Keane to become the manager.
If the pair fall out with the suits who run football in the Republic, they will leave together.
Jack Charlton has the freedom of Ireland. He can still go into any pub in the country and not pay for a pint. Indeed ‘Big Jack’ doesn’t have to be for anything in Ireland. Which, for a man who is famed for his parsimony, is most welcome.
If the new Batman and Robin of Irish football can motivate average players to entertain and, from time to time, win games they are not expected to win; then O’Neill and Keane could end up not simply having the freedom of Dublin, they may end up running the entire country!