Martin O’Neill will not be taking Roy Keane aside for a quiet word – much less a loud one – before the Corkman makes his eagerly anticipated media debut as Ireland’s assistant manager this afternoon.
Speaking after overseeing his first training session with the squad yesterday, O’Neill reacted with something approaching astonishment to the suggestion that he might be tempted to prep, advise or otherwise interfere with Keane’s well-practised freedom of expression.
“I am going to try and clear something up here,” O’Neill said. “I am not Roy’s father, absolutely not. He can look after himself, he can say what he wants.
“Seriously, he is under absolutely no gagging at all and I am quite sure I would not even have to have that conversation with him.
“I am not going to sit there saying ‘don’t say this, don’t say that’.
“Absolutely not. I have no concerns at all. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think this relationship, for want of a better word, will be running absolutely smoothly. Don’t worry, I will pull him a few times.”
In a wide-ranging discussion, O’Neill also suggested he will adopt a policy of light touch regulation when it comes to matters of off pitch discipline.
Where Giovanni Trapattoni repeatedly declared himself bemused by the sometimes relaxed Irish attitude to such things as curfews and alcoholic intake, O’Neill is prepared to offer a little more leeway while trusting in his players’ own sense of responsibility. However, if that trust isn’t reciprocated, he made clear, they will discover the manager’s patience has its limits.
“You must remember, I grew up and I played under one of the most mercurial managers there ever was in Brian Clough,” he recalled. “And Brian Clough would have come down on an evening, the night before a game — when we were staying, let’s say, in London — and say, ‘lads do you want a glass of wine with your meal?
“That would have been unheard of. He was so unorthodox, he was off the wall. But he had a philosophy that he was dealing with men and that if they couldn’t look after themselves...
“He did not expect if he left the room that these boys would have five glasses of wine. He gave you some leeway but you go across that leeway and he would have cut you in two.
“I don’t know but, just hearing the stories, I think Jack (Charlton) was kind of like that, treating the boys like men. In other words, ‘if you win the game, I will give you some free time’.
“I’m kind of like that and I think John O’Shea would tell you. Winning the games is very, very important, and if you’ve won and you’ve worked for it, you should be allowed a little bit of time to let your hair down.
“If I can draw some sort of analogy about how things have changed in the game. This idea about healthy eating — even though I jokingly said something on Saturday about the ketchup and the chips, that was just really a go at Di Canio (laughter). I wouldn’t be piling the boys up with chips here. Remember the fact that I’m from an era when, for a three o’clock kick-off, we were eating fillet steak at 12, so no wonder we were absolutely knackered about 20 minutes into the second-half, you hadn’t even half digested it. So things have changed and changed for the better, as the game has changed. I am not a dinosaur but I do believe in giving the players a little bit of time, particularly if they have earned it. If they haven’t earned it I’ll tell you I can be as severe as anybody.”
O’ Neill said he doesn’t believe the issue to be a uniquely Irish one.
“I wouldn’t just say that it belongs to us, absolutely not. I mean some of the boys at Forest, these boys were English like. Larry Lloyd. Lloydy was a partygoer. Or Scottish, like Kenny Burns. And then, don’t tell him I said this, but I listen to Roy Keane’s (talk of his) early days and I think ‘oooooh, I might have to write something different about Saipan after all of this’.
“But I honestly think there is a happy medium. Finding it can be difficult because if you lose the game you’ve given them too much or you’ve been too severe on them and if you win the game then you’ve got it just right. So try to win some of the games to give you some respite.” As for Twitter – in the recent past a forum for unhelpful internal criticism on the part of players like James McClean and Shane Long – O’Neill is clearly not a fan.
“I used to think it was a bit of fun,” he said, “but it’s become quite serious now. I know from James’s tweets away back at Sunderland, (I said to him) ‘hold on, just stay out of it, not everybody in the north-east knows who the Wolfe Tones are, not everybody’s been to their concerts’ And I think Shane Long’s tweeted something. It was the first thing I said to him: ‘I hope you’re not going to be tweeting near me’.”
O’ Neill revealed that guidelines covering Twitter use are something he has already discussed with the FAI. Asked what those guidelines were, he joked, “Just ban them! Simple.”
In fact, it does seem that a partial ban, at least on match day, is under consideration.
“Lads on Twitter, speaking on Twitter,” O’ Neill sighed, “and then sat down at a table they wouldn’t say a word. They spend more time on Twitter than they speak.”
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