The sight of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane standing shoulder to shoulder in the Irish dugout is no longer the preserve of fantasy football.
O’Neill is all set to be named as the next manager of the Republic of Ireland — and, in sensational news that will capture the imagination of the Irish sporting public, he will have Keane at his side as his assistant.
O’Neill met with a senior official of the FAI in London this week, and it was this meeting which caused the surge in bets which prompted a number of bookmakers to suspend betting on the Derry man as the next manager of the Republic of Ireland.
Speculation that there would be what sources were yesterday initially describing as “a surprise” in O’Neill’s management team then hardened into the startling revelation that Keane was the other big name O’Neill wanted on his management ticket.
For weeks, O’Neill had stopped short of committing to the Irish job, the conventional wisdom being that he was torn between the lure of international football and a return to the club game in England. But, having turned down an opportunity to manage Crystal Palace in the Premier League, it seems his focus has since been firmly on the Irish post, and a formal appointment is imminent.
The undoubted ‘wow’ factor in the latest development is the emergence of Roy Keane as O’Neill’s preferred Number two. There is considerable mutual respect between the two men with, in the early stages of the race to succeed Giovanni Trapattoni, the Corkman being quoted as saying: “I know a little bit about Martin O’ Neill and I think Martin would be a very, very good choice.”
On the face of it, Keane’s often stormy relations with the FAI could at least in theory have represented an obstacle to his becoming involved again with the Irish team but chief executive John Delaney made clear in the early stages of the succession race — at a time when the Manchester United legend was being talked of as a possible candidate in his own right for the manager’s job — that issues from the past would not be allowed get in the way of appointing the right man.
However, while this week’s talks between O’Neill and the FAI in London were constructive, it’s understood that there is still some work to be done to get a deal across the line. If further significant progress is made over the weekend, O’Neill could be appointed next week — although the FAI are also willing to extend that deadline in order to get the man who was originally their first-choice target after the departure of Trapattoni in September.
The FAI’s Board of Management is expected to meet next week to receive the report of the association’s headhunters Ray Houghton and Ruud Dokter but, barring any last- minute complication, it appears their role will now essentially be to endorse the appointment of Martin O’Neill as the next manager of the senior team.
From the off, the FAI had made it clear that while, ideally, they would like to have had a new manager in place for this month’s brace of friendlies, they were also prepared to wait longer — either for O’Neill or another blue-chip candidate — given Ireland’s next competitive games are not until the autumn.
But in light of the latest developments — and while the usual caveat applies that that there is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip — the new Ireland management team should be in place for the game against Latvia at the Aviva Stadium on November 15, the prospect of O’Neill and Keane taking their first bows in the post certain to guarantee a big crowd, if not indeed a full house, for what would otherwise have been the most low-key of friendly fixtures. After that, the squad will revisit the site of some painful memories from Euro 2012 when they fly to Poznan for a game against Poland on November 19.
Noel King, who took over as interim manager for the final two World Cup qualifiers last month after the departure of Giovanni Trapattoni, has already selected an extended 40-strong provisional panel for the upcoming games, but it looks like it will now fall to Martin O’Neill to whittle it down before selecting his first starting 11 as the new manager of the Republic of Ireland — with a little help, of course, from his equally high profile number two.
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