New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill believes Roy Keane’s appetite for football will make him an outstanding assistant second-in-command.
O’Neill joked that he could ask Sir Alex Ferguson for advice on how to handle Keane if he causes any trouble, but O’Neill is expecting nothing of the sort.
The 61-year-old incoming Republic boss, who was formally unveiled at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, sprang a major surprise when he approached the former Manchester United skipper to become his number two.
Keane, 42, famously returned from the Republic camp just days before the 2002 World Cup finals in the Far East after condemning the nation’s preparations for the tournament and, in the process, falling out with then boss Mick McCarthy.
He recently found himself on the wrong end of a Ferguson broadside when the Scot’s autobiography was published, but O’Neill insists he has no qualms about employing an assistant who could hardly enjoy a higher profile.
O’Neill said: “I am absolutely delighted he is on board. He is an iconic figure, a great, great player, one of the best players to have played in the Premier League since its inception, a great, great player, so I haven’t a problem with that there.
“He went into management – I see Sir Alex Ferguson’s points there that he said that perhaps Roy might have gone into management too soon. I don’t really know that.
“All I do know is that from working with him over the last couple of years doing some television work on the Champions League games, I have found him very, very engaging.
“I have found his thirst for knowledge amazing. I see him at football matches when there’s no need for him to be at games. He loves football.
“I think like all of us in the game, he has points to prove. I know how brilliant he was and I know how sometimes how polarised opinions can be with Roy, but I don’t have a problem with that.”
O’Neill added with a smile: “If you are asking about overshadowing, one of the greatest managers in the game finally decided that Roy was no longer wanted because he (Ferguson) felt he was going to be overshadowed.
“If he decides on the same thing, I might call Alex Ferguson up and see how he dealt with it.
“But all told, I think he will be great. I think he will be great for me for a start – I would like that – but more importantly, I think he will be brilliant for the Republic of Ireland.”
Keane’s place in the set-up was the major topic as a relaxed O’Neill was quizzed at length, and the revealed the former Ireland skipper, who was watching Aston Villa’s home clash with Cardiff on Saturday, took little time to make up his mind when the possibility of working alongside him was raised.
The Ulsterman said, again with a twinkle in his eye: “I did mention to him about the possibility of working with me here, and it took him about four and a half seconds. He was absolutely delighted with it.
“I said to him the roles that we would have, and he told me that he would reverse those in about 10 minutes.”
Both men, of course, played at different stages under the late Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, and O’Neill had little doubt as to what he would have thought of their partnership.
He said: “He would have had some palpitations, I am quite sure, the same man. I think he would have worried for both of us.”
O’Neill admitted he had thought long and hard about making the move from club management on to the international stage and the differences between the two before committing himself to a two-year deal.
In announcing the former Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager’s appointment on Tuesday, Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney revealed that he had turned down offers from Barclays Premier League clubs to take over the Ireland team.
O’Neill had been out of work since being shown the door by the Black Cats at the end of March, heralding the disastrous, if brief, Paolo Di Canio era at the Stadium of Light.
He remains hugely disappointed by the nature of his exit from the Wearside club, and was less than complimentary about the roles played by both owner Ellis Short and his successor.
Asked if he was re-energised by the challenge ahead of him, he said: “I never lost the energy or the enthusiasm.
“That was someone else’s prerogative to do so. I was very disappointed, obviously.
“I felt that my record in the game might suggest that we would have accrued the last five points from seven matches to keep us in the league.
“But the owner chose otherwise and then appointed a manager for about 11 games, who just about criticised everything that went on beforehand. He is not actually in work at the moment.
“It’s gone. I never lost the energy, I never lost the enthusiasm. It was always there. That’s what keeps me going.”
O’Neill’s players are due to meet in Portmarnock on Monday evening to begin training the following day ahead of the friendlies against Latvia and Poland, although his longer-term focus is qualification for Euro 2016.
He said: “John [Delaney] has told me that it’s my remit to get the team to France. My contract lasts for the duration of the time that the Republic are in the Euros, and that is my driving ambition.”