It was only a matter of time before Martin O’Neill went into international management and it was always going to be a tug of war between the Republic and Northern Ireland, in terms of which job he took on.
Roy Keane, however, is more of a surprise appointment. With the departed Trapattoni accused of being a footballing dinosaur, it will be interesting to see how fans react to O’Neill, who seems to have been tarred with the same boring brush since his time at Sunderland.
In an ideal world O’Neill and Keane could compensate for one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Keane was renowned for his hands-on approach on the training ground at Sunderland, leading many sessions by example from the heart of midfield while O’Neill was reportedly happier to leave his backroom staff to run training drills.
Keane lacked tactical knowledge and a brand of football, something which O’Neill has in abundance.
O’Neill sports a solid and defensive, counter-attacking philosophy. While not the most glamorous of systems, this could serve Ireland well against the more expressive teams, who could be held at arm’s length more successfully. And deployed against the less gifted countries it will effectively sap their energy at the 60-70 minute mark. It was no coincidence that Sunderland scored a lot of goals under O’Neill in the final third of matches.
The duo’s approach to man-management is also quite different. O’Neill is a manager who’ll walk you down the tunnel with his arm around your shoulder, whispering how he appreciates the effort, whilst building up your confidence; whereas Keane will let you know just how bad you actually are, scaring you into action with his deadly stare.
I spoke to former Sunderland and Manchester United player, Danny Higginbotham, about Keane recently and he claimed that Roy was nowhere near as strict as he was made out to be, but also claimed that he still put the fear of God into players. I’m not sure how the two men will balance out. It might be a case of good cop-bad cop in the dressing room which actually sounds quite hilarious considering the two characters in question.
The nature of the Ireland job could prove to be beneficial for both in the long run though. They’ll have to work with what they have at their disposal, or unearth some Irish parental links amongst some UK based players.
O’Neill is approaching the end of his career and may enjoy the easier workload of international management. Keane, on the other hand, needs a mentor. Judging by Alex Ferguson’s comments about him in his book, the two didn’t have as close of a working relationship as many believed and Keane has proven, both at Sunderland and Ipswich, that he is still very raw tactically. Working under O’Neill could be the perfect opportunity to address this. For Keane, it’s the chance to revitalise his managerial career. For O’Neill, it’s his chance to go out in style and as long as the argumentative duo don’t bicker too much, I think they can be a success.
* Martyn McFadden is Editor of Sunderland fanzine, A Love Supreme
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