Richard Dunne reckons that, for his old team-mate Robbie Keane, the benefits of double-jobbing with Ireland and Middlesbrough outweigh the risks.
”They run smoothly side by side,” says Dunne. “There are a lot of players in the Championship who qualify for us who he can keep any eye on at the same time. So I don’t see that being a problem. He obviously knows there are risks because if it doesn’t go so well, people will be asking why is he still with Ireland. But he has enough confidence to back himself and you have to admire that.
“Robbie is the first to admit he wants to manage in the future and the opportunity will come for him, no doubt. And, for him, the best way to learn is behind someone else. And he’s got both sides of it: a lot of experience and information from Mick and Terry Connor on one side and, since Steve Gibson has always been a loyal chairman at Middlesbrough, you would imagine (Jonathan) Woodgate will get a period of time to improve the team and get them up the league. And Robbie will be there, learning and having more of an impact, I would think.”
Dunne saw first hand the emergence of Keane the leader as the striker grew into the role of Irish captain after being handed the armband in 2006.
”Yeah, he did change,” he says. “Certainly when he became captain of Ireland it really developed him and he started to see the broader picture. As a player, it was always about the goals, he always wanted to score, but the more he went on the more he wanted to make sure the team were successful, more than himself.
He knew what he was doing in his own game, he was always going to score regardless of everything, but he wanted to be a leader and he wanted to be a captain.
"A lot of it you see on the pitch but most of it is off it: the organisation, the team meetings, the team bus, everything like that — you could see the leadership qualities within him. And without that responsibility of being captain maybe they stay hidden.
"But he had to bring them out, he had to be the leader and he took to it brilliantly.”
He matured a lot?
“Massively. He went on the play a million games for Ireland (laughs) and do all the rest of it but he was always open to discussion with managers and he would keep the players in mind about what the manager wanted. He made sure there wasn’t any slacking off in training, there was no, ‘we’ll take it easy today’. He wanted everything right.”
With Keane’s contract with the FAI extending beyond Mick McCarthy’s and Stephen Kenny waiting in the wings to move into the hot seat after Euro 2020, Dunne admits there is no little uncertainty about when and how his former team mate might ultimately realise his ambition to manage Ireland.
“There’s not a clear pathway, even the next bit isn’t clear,” Dunne observes.
But if it goes as organised and Stephen Kenny take over and he does really well, you would think it would be foolish to sack two managers just to give an opportunity to someone who hasn’t managed yet.
“I can only imagine Robbie signed the contract based on the knowledge that Stephen was going to take over in two years’ time and that’s what he would have agreed to.
“But when he signed it, he wasn’t aware that he was going to be the Middlesbrough assistant manager within a year so certainly situations change.
“Robbie asked Mick for his permission to do it and it was, ‘absolutely, go for it’. Stephen might have different ideas. Or Robbie, in a year’s time, he might think it’s too time-consuming.
“But I don’t think Robbie would give up the opportunity to be part of the Irish coaching staff very easily. If it works for the manager and for Robbie, they’ll continue. If not, I’m sure he’d leave the Irish set-up with a heavy heart. But he’ll always be one who’ll want to come back.
“He’s very patriotic. Whatever he’s done in club football, his biggest moments have probably been with Ireland. That’s what he lives for and that’s why the goal for him is to manage Ireland, I’m sure of it.”