With Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane at the helm, French legend Marcel Desailly reckons Ireland can make an impact on Euro 2016.
Desailly, a World Cup and Euro winner for France, was impressed with O’Neill when sharing punditry duties at BBC. O’Neill had launched an unsuccessful bid to recruit the defender during his spell as Celtic boss.
Keane is also familiar to the 47-year-old from his Premier League days at Chelsea, a time when Roman Abramovich’s millions were beginning to sow the seeds of their title-winning seasons which followed soon after Desailly departed in 2004.
Naturally, Desailly was unsure how the new pairing would fuse in the brittle world of international football management but notes their presence may be a defining factor is shaping how Ireland fare in a difficult Group E featuring Belgium, Italy and Sweden.
“Ireland did well in their qualification by beating Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina and I think they can get through the first round at the Euros,” said the 47-year-old, in Dublin yesterday as the Carlsberg ambassador for the tournament kicking off tomorrow week.
“I know Martin from working with him before. It was clear that he is obsessed about football, which is good because you need obsession to be a football coach. That I can understand from my recent experiences of undertaking my Uefa Pro License coaching course.
“When Martin and Roy came into the Ireland job, everybody was wondering if it would work because of their major personalities.
“They are two strong characters but it is a successful partnership because Ireland hadn’t qualified for the last tournament, the World Cup, before they took charge.
“I think Roy found his first job at Sunderland tough after they got promoted into the Premier League. This opportunity with Ireland is one where he can express himself.
“Switching from top player into a coaching role is not an easy job. You cannot tell players what to do by joining in their training and scoring into the top corner.
“You need the ability to kill all the knowledge and the habits that you have when you were playing. Management is a transition and I think Roy is doing well at it.” For all the excitement generated by the Euros countdown, questions have been asked whether the French squad, and even the nation’s government, are adequately prepared for what the tournament holds.
Eric Cantona last week inflamed what was already a sensitive topic in France by suggesting Karim Benzema was overlooked for the squad by manager Didier Deschamps due to his “origins”, throwing Hatem Ben Arfa’s exclusion into the same category.
Ghana-born Desailly, a close friend of Deschamps, is having none of it, pointing out the directive to omit Benzema came from the French FA following his part of an alleged blackmail scandal involving Les Blues colleague Mathieu Valbuena.
“I was with Didier on Sunday and he shared with me his worries about that case,” he explained.
“Legally, the French FA had access to all of the files of what happened; they know a lot of things that we don’t know.
“Didier was scared about any problem with Benzema — media issues and the friends of Valbuena in the team who would probably create something.
“As a coach and a president of the federation, you have to make a decision and a statement. They waited quite long before that.
“Racism is not involved. As a coach, you want your best players. Maybe when you are nine or 10, the coach can be influenced by the social level of the parent because competition is not there but once you reach a decent level from 15, the best play no matter their colour or origin.”
Desailly also insisted Irish fans shouldn’t be deterred from travelling due to fears stemming from the terrorist threat continuing to grip France.
“Actually, we are more worried about the strike,” he said of the industrial unrest sweeping across the country.
“Terrorists will not be given any room for any opportunity at the Euros.”
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