|A new era for Irish football|
So it’s official, Ireland is under new management. Messrs O’Neill and Keane, appointed to pour petrol on the dying embers left in Giovanni Trappatoni’s wake.
Martin O’Neill was always going to be in the reckoning following the departure of Giovanni Trappatoni a few weeks back. He has a strong managerial record, is from these shores, and has an infectious passion for the game that could just be the spark needed to breathe life back into the international set-up.
Roy Keane as his assistant, on the other hand, was a bit of a curve ball. Sure, many talking heads mooted the idea of Keane taking up the position of manager if he could just get over his rift with the FAI. However not too many people expected the former midfield general to be content to take a secondary role.
It remains to be seen exactly what role Keane will play in the management team, and whether or not O’Neill will bring in Steve Walford, who was his right-hand man during his tenures at Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland. If the latter occurs, Walford will almost certainly assume the day-to-day coaching role, with O’Neill and Keane getting involved when it comes to the tactical nuances.
Noel King’s last act (thankfully) as caretaker-manager was to name the squad for the forthcoming Latvia and Poland friendlies. Meaningless up to last weekend, these games have taken on a certain weight as the public awaits the first press conferences of the new regime. There may even be a semi-full Aviva for the Latvia game. While both O’Neill and Keane are charismatic in their own right, it’s probable that the initial media clamour will surround Keane’s first utterances.
And that’s where problems may lie in this partnership. Brian Kerr wrote an interesting article in the Irish Times this week where he spoke about the role of an assistant manager. He noted that a lot of an assistant’s time is spent staring at the manager’s back. Will Keane be content to take a back seat while O’Neill dishes out the words of wisdom before games and at half-time. It’s unlikely, but then perhaps it’s just as improbable that O’Neill hired Keane to sit there quietly.
The old adage that two heads are better than one will hopefully ring true in this arrangement. Can you imagine the amount of Irish players Keane and O’Neill will run the rule over on an average weekend of football across the pond? More than Trappatoni managed in a full year of his tenure probably.
Footballers are human after all. Knowing that your managers have taken the time to come and assess one of your games will surely give any of the Irish players a morale boost. There will presumably be less communication difficulties between management and players given that they’ll all be speaking the same language.
People may question the recent managerial records of both men, with Keane out of football since he left Ipswich in January of 2011, and O’Neill restricted to tv appearances since his sacking from Sunderland in March of this year. Keane has also had some high-profile fallings out with players at the clubs he’s managed (some current Irish internationals included). However both men, and in particular O’Neill, have much to commend them on their CVs.
Keane took Sunderland from relegation danger to Championship winners in his first season, and kept them afloat in the Premier League in his second. O’Neill was mastermind of one of the best spells of success Celtic have had in recent memory, including an appearance in a UEFA Cup final in 2003. He also led Aston Villa to three consecutive top 6 finishes in the Premier League. While it was an above average Villa team he had at the time, it was still no mean feat.
It will be interesting to see the first starting XI named by the new management team, however of much more importance will be the teams named early next year. As mentioned above, Noel King picked this squad. O’Neill and Keane have yet to put their stamp on it. If Keane has his say, for example, could we possibly see a return to the Ireland fold for Stephen Ireland? Keane has spoken about his admiration for his fellow Corkman during Ireland’s international exile, and there have been constant murmurings from the Stoke City midfielder to the tune that he may welcome a return to the green jersey under new management. It shouldn’t be up to a player whether he plays for his international side or not, but if O’Neill and Keane deem his form good enough, Ireland could be a useful addition to the squad.
This managerial partnership has the potential to either end in tears or establish a solid platform for the Irish international side for years to come. Odds have been slashed already on Ireland’s qualification for the next European championships, with the draw for the qualifiers not set to take place until the 23rd of February next year. Whatever happens on the field, Ireland games won’t be dull again for quite a while.
Rep. of Ireland squad for forthcoming friendlies vs Latvia and Poland:
David Forde (Millwall), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland), Rob Elliot (Newcastle), Sean St Ledger (Leicester City), Marc Wilson (Stoke City), Seamus Coleman (Everton), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Alex Pearce (Reading), Stephen Kelly (Reading), Joey O’Brien (West Ham), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Brighton & Hove Albion), James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Paul Green (Leeds Utd), Andy Reid (Nottingham Forest), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City), James McClean (Wigan), Robbie Brady (Hull City), Stephen Quinn (Hull City), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Jon Walters (Stoke City), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Anthony Stokes (Celtic).