Keith Andrews is not convinced that Martin O’Neill is the right fit for Nottingham Forest, but believes his appointment as manager at the City Ground does represent a “great opportunity” for the former Ireland boss to get his career back on track.
It also looks as if the Championship side could see the return of two club legends at one go, with Roy Keane having held talks yesterday about reprising his international role as assistant to O’Neill.
Forest are set to announce the Derryman’s return to the club where he enjoyed storied success as a player under Brian Clough, after a slump in form and turbulence behind the scenes saw the departure of manager Aitkor Karank. Owner Evangelos Marinakis then sounded out O’Neill, with former Fulham and Watford boss Slavisa Jokanovic and ex-Sheffield Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal among other names in the frame.
“I find it strange, the appointment,” admitted former Ireland international Andrews. “The only explanation I could put would be the obvious historical link with Nottingham Forest, though I wouldn’t have thought the current owner would have bought into that drastically.
“When you look at the squad, it’s got quite a continental flavour. A lot of Portuguese came in during the summer for big sums of money — they were compared to Wolves of the previous year. I am actually surprised, I thought Jokanovic would have been more of a natural fit, coming from Fulham where in a similar sort of way they buy the players rather than the manager.
While reports in Nottingham suggest that the club’s hierarchy were bowled over by O’Neill’s enthusiasm, Andrews wonders if his managerial style will get the best out of the Forest players.
“The squad that is available to Martin is very talented, but it goes back to the point of what millennial players need in terms of detail in the build-up to games. Will they get that off Martin? I don’t know. He certainly didn’t give it to our players, so will he give it to those players on a daily basis? Will he flourish more in a club environment, being involved day-to-day, building up those relationships? Time will tell.
“From his point of view, he would have to have the bit between his teeth. He would be hurt by what was said and written about him, his reputation, so I would imagine he would be feeling he has a big, big point to prove. Will he tweak the way he has historically gone about things? I don’t know.”
As someone who regularly covers the game in England in his media role, Andrews is acutely aware of how O’Neill’s stock has remained high in the club game there despite the heavy criticism he received here in the final disappointing year of a five-year reign as Ireland manager which saw him take the team to the finals of Euro 2016 and then to the 2018 World Cup play-offs, before a 5-I loss to Denmark in Dublin brought the good times to a shuddering halt.
“You would see a drastic difference in the coverage of what went on with Martin and the Ireland team in the last 12 months in particular,” Andrews observes.
“There would have been a lot of sympathy for Martin in England and the line of ‘we simply haven’t got the players’.
“I’ve constantly fought that battle with people I work with in England and people in general because I don’t go along with it.
“I think we are better and we should have been better than what we showed. And I’d put the blame for that firmly at the feet of the management team rather than the players. But he is seen differently in England and overall his reign in Ireland from an English perspective would be seen as a big success.”
O’Neill will take over a Forest side who, despite having won only one league game in seven, are still just four points off the play-off places in the Championship before they play their next game, at home to Bristol City on Saturday.
O’Neill’s appointment would reunite him with striker Daryl Murphy who, only last week, was asked to consider reversing his decision to retire from international football by the Derryman’s successor as Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy.
Keith Andrews was speaking at the launch of the 2019 SPAR/FAI Primary School 5s programme, the popular nationwide five-a-side competition. Schools can sign up at fai.ie/primary5.