O’Neill confirms he had talks with Lambert over Keane

Ireland boss open to idea that his assistant could combine a club role with his present job

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, who had talks with Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert concerning Roy Keane.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, who had talks with Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert concerning Roy Keane.


Martin O’Neill yesterday confirmed that he has engaged in talks with Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert about the possibility of his Republic of Ireland assistant, Roy Keane, joining the Birmingham club in a coaching role.

Reports of Keane being invited to join the Villa staff followed the Irish squad on their week-long visit to the United States. The squad broke up yesterday morning, marking an official season’s end and while O’Neill doesn’t feel that negotiations between Keane and the Villa club are at an advanced stage, he is open to the idea that Keane could combine a club role with his international commitments.

“I’ve spoken to Paul Lambert. Paul has spoken to Roy about it, the possibility [of it]. I think at this minute, Roy and I wanted to get this trip out of the way. I spoke to him the other day and I think his mind is still the same. One thing I wanted to establish is what sort of in-depth conversations have gone on but I don’t think that’s really been the case.”

Keane did not engage in any press activities over the course of the week and apart from Friday night’s 1-1 draw against Costa Rica and Tuesday evening’s 5-1 defeat by Portugal at Meadowlands, the Cork man was not seen.

From experience

His name was associated with Aston Villa almost as soon as he ruled himself out of contention for the vacant managerial position at Celtic. O’Neill knew from experience that the Celtic role is so all-consuming that it would have made Keane’s international role impossible.

But he was tentatively optimistic about this latest proposition work and stressed that the nature of Keane’s current role is, by definition, a part-time job. He stressed again that he has no idea of the precise nature of the contract between Keane and the FAI and is content to wait and see how and if the Aston Villa role develops.

“I was asked that there about the Celtic thing and really, genuinely, I was never sure that Roy would take it, even inwardly although I was never sure, because he had enjoyed the summer [games].

“Let me put it this way, if the Celtic affair had happened, then I don’t think there was a possibility of combining any roles there. I think that is a full time commitment. I don’t know how far that developed . . . it certainly never came back to me. But I couldn’t have seen that: you are a full-time manager, you are going into a job and you might get an international break but you are totally focused on the club.

“I would know that having been a club manager myself. Never having been as assistant, I don’t know what that would entail. So there is no point in me guessing something. If I thought there was a possibility of cominbing roles – whether Roy decides to go back and do TV work or anything, then I would have conversations with him and John Delaney. ”

Through little fault of his own, Keane’s profile and speculation about his future has been a constant issue since O’Neill chose him as an assistant. For O’Neill, the constant questioning about Keane must be wearying but he said that he wouldn’t have felt let down by Keane if he had found the prospect of going to Celtic irresistible.

‘Deep down’

“And you know what, and I say this for what it’s worth, if the Celtic thing had become such a lure that you couldn’t turn it down – and you would all have different views on it, whether you’d do it or not, I’d have to say deep down if he was a full-time member . . . listen, he treats his job in a full-time manner, that’s Roy.

“He goes to a lot of functions for the FAI, does a lot of those things and some of those there he might not be able to make if that’s the case. But he has treated a part-time job in a full-time manner and I have not and don’t feel let down by him. You made the point that what would the Irish nation make of it, that’s entirely their perogative to feel whatever they do. Roy has always polarised opinions so that’s not a problem. These things are . . . I can’t look into the future, I don’t know what sort of things are going to crop up. But if you have a chance of being a manager and then an assistant manager, I’m never sure what’s next, maybe a piano player in a pub or something . . . I don’t know myself.”

He expects the situation to be clarified before the English club begins its pre-season training in early July. O’Neill is remaining on in New York for a short break before flying to Salvador to do television work with ITV for the match between Portugal and Germany. Then he travels to Rio where he is scheduled as a studio guest for five games in seven days.

“I’ve never been to Rio – and don’t tell ITV that’s why I’m going, although Niall Stone did say to me to enjoy Rio.”

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