Martin O’Neill still sorting out finer details with FAI
New boss conscious of Roy Keane’s short fuse and will steer him clear of association suits
Martin O’Neill was continuing his talks with the FAI from Spain last night with the 61-year-old sorting out the finer points of the deal that will lead to him being unveiled as Republic of Ireland manager before the end of the week. There were suggestions that it might actually be sealed last night but back in Dublin the association said that they were not anticipating any sort of announcement yet and official confirmation may not come until the pair are publicly unveiled.
The talks were being conducted by phone with no FAI officials having travelled. The outstanding issues were said to be of some significance but there seems to be no suggestion from either side that there is any possibility of anything going seriously wrong at this stage.
Focus of attention
The sense is that some of the talk centred on the respective roles of the new management team, and that was certainly still the focus of attention for those outside the process yesterday, with most still trying to figure out precisely how much responsibility Roy Keane will be given within the new regime.
Most seem to subscribe to the theory that, like O’Neill, the former Manchester United star will stay on the training ground sidelines, but help in terms of dealing with players and provide a mixture of advice and insight to his boss. Eamon Dunphy predicted that the combination will work well but acknowledged it might be, or at least end in, a “train wreck”.
The BBC’s Pat Murphy, a friend of O’Neill’s, suggested that the northerner was inspired to ask the Corkman to work with him after realising during their time together while working for ITV that they shared the shame footballing philosophy.
He said that when O’Neill phoned the younger man Keane was “humbled but very, very supportive and extremely encouraging”. O’Neill appears to feel the pair can both work on the man-management side of things, traditionally a strength of his rather than Keane’s, but Murphy also appeared to suggest that the new boss would be conscious of his assistant’s short fuse when it comes to dealing with their employers.
“O’Neill is sufficiently emollient, sensible and strategic,” he said, “to keep Keane away from the suits,” he said.
Ray Houghton, one half of the two-man travelling interview panel whose work seems to have been largely circumvented by the decision of John Delaney and the board to directly pursue O’Neill over the past few weeks, believes Keane can settle successfully into the role of a number two and benefit greatly from the experience.
“I think Roy has got some things to learn when it comes to football management,” said Houghton who, it has been reported though not confirmed, did actually speak with Keane as part of the recruitment process. “He’s only been in the game a short time. If he was to go in alongside Martin then I think he’d learn a great deal.”
‘Pressure on manager’
He expects, however, that the pair are going to be under immediate pressure to get the team to the European Championships in France in 2016. “The expectation of everyone is qualification to the Euros the next time around. There are an extra eight spots, which in essence should make it a little bit easier but it will put more pressure on the manager.”
Kevin Kilbane, who played for Ireland with Keane many times, believes the combination will work and that they will live up, even exceed, expectations with the former Everton and Sunderland midfielder even predicting that his former team-mate could take over as manager in the years ahead so that the current recruitment does not need to be repeated for “10 or 15 years”.
“They are two great footballing minds,” he said, “and you are going to get a really motivated team off that.”
If he is right then it will be a huge relief to a debt-ridden association that will see Friday week’s friendly against Latvia as an early opportunity to gauge the financial return on what many have described as a coup.
Fewer than 10,000 paying customers might have been expected on top of existing season ticket holders and the like so the association will view every additional seat sold as another welcome endorsement of their actions.
Whether O’Neill can really inspire a dramatic improvement in a squad he cannot alter by buying in talent remains to be seen, however, as does Keane’s ability to form more positive relationships with players less gifted than himself.
“Keano has to remember that he was a one-off,” said Liam Lawrence after the disintegration of their relationship at Sunderland. “He was a fantastic player, but not everybody is as good as him. He demands that of you, but if you can’t do what he’s asking then you can’t do it and I needed to get away from him.”
There are plenty in this Ireland squad, he will know, who can’t do what he did but still few who can be allowed to get away.