“Behave yourself. Keep your head down. Stay out of his way.”
Delivered with a knowing chuckle, this was Liam Lawrence’s response when asked what advice he would give to Nottingham Forest players, now that Roy Keane has finally been confirmed as Martin O’Neill’s assistant at the City Ground.
“I think he’ll bring a bit of steel and stuff,” Lawrence added. “Sort a few players out if they need it. It’s going to be interesting to watch, isn’t it?”
The former Ireland international knows from first-hand experience just how interesting life can get around Keane, after a row with the then Sunderland manager saw the player part company with the club back in 2006.
“We did a drill in training and I wasn’t part of it,” Lawrence recalled in Dublin yesterday. “I was stood there watching in the cold. Looking back now, I think he was testing me. I sort of threw my toys out of the pram, said I was leaving and going inside. I wasn’t going to stand there and watch training. We had a big argument and I was gone that night from Sunderland and never went back.
“I spoke to (then chairman) Niall Quinn after and he said ‘Roy’s made his mind up. he doesn’t want you back.’ So that was it, I was at Stoke the next day.”
Despite that experience, Lawrence still has good things to say about having Roy Keane calling the shots on the training pitch.
“To be fair, as a coach his sessions were really good. Lots of touches on the ball, lots of football involved, so I can’t fault his coaching. Sometimes, the people skills need a little bit of working on.
“In football, there’s always fallings out with managers and coaches and staff and players. It goes on at all clubs at some point. And, to be fair, lots of managers I played under, you walk around them on eggshells, especially if you’ve performed badly, or lost.
“With Roy you’ve got to be extra careful at times.
“That’s the thing with Roy. One minute you can be having a laugh and joke with him and everything is fine. Then the next minute, something has happened and you are treading on eggshells and you don’t know what is coming next.”
Lawrence points out that this clash was years ago and that he hasn’t come across Keane since their terminal exchange of views at Sunderland. But he does believe that, with the way the game has evolved, the old school hair-trigger/hair-dryer approach to management has probably had its day.
“In the modern day, you’ve got to manage players,” he said. “They go on about mental health and all that, and you’ve got to keep players onside. If you’re falling out with players, it’s no good, not in today’s game. The modern-day footballer likes an arm around them, not to be shouted at. Over the last 10 years, players got a lot of power, so you can’t go ranting and raving at individuals anymore. Look at what Solksjaer has done at United by putting an arm around players and getting them back onside. He’s turned the club around. You can’t go bawling and yelling at people. You’ve got to know how to manage your players, and if he (Keane) doesn’t, it’s not going to work for him.”
Lawrence, who gained 15 senior Ireland caps under Giovanni Trapattoni, was at the Aviva Stadium to launch the Volunteer Programme for the Euro 2020 Finals games which will be staged in Dublin. Although he is retired as a player, Lawrence retains active links with the game as a media analyst with TalkSport, Sky Sports and the local radio station at Stoke.
And, naturally, as a former international, he is fervently hoping that the Irish will be guests at their own party the summer after next.
“It would be such a shame if we didn’t qualify,” he said. “The atmosphere will be unbelievable. We love our football and the Euros coming to town will be a huge thing. If we’re in it, I think it will be some carnival.”
So no pressure on Mick McCarthy then?
“He’s got one shot to do it. Everybody hopes he does because without being part of it over here, it will just have that missing feeling. It’s going to be difficult (to qualify), it always is. People say there are easy games in there but you’ve got to go win them so-called easy games. But if Mick can get the best of the younger lads, then we’ve got a chance. I think he’ll put his arm around a few players that need it. And if Declan Rice jumps on board, it will add a lot to the squad.”