It was confirmed today that Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are set to become the Irish soccer team’s new manager and assistant manager respectively.
The announcement was strongly signalled over the weekend, but still comes as a shock to those who recall Keane’s blazing rows with the team management and national organisation as Irish team captain over a decade ago.
The FAI (Football Association of Ireland) said details of the deal had still to be finalised, but that the appointment process with Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane was “at an advanced stage”.
It is understood that the unveiling of the pair was delayed until Saturday because both O’Neill and Keane are working this week as television commentators.
Keane’s soccer playing abilities are not questioned after his years as a game-changing midfielder for Manchester United and Ireland. However, his volatile temperament is very well known, and his performance in management has had mixed results in recent years.
The Corkman’s infamous decision in 2002 to abandon Ireland’s World Cup effort in Korea and Japan over a perceived lack of commitment by the FAI, management and other players created international headlines and polarised the Irish public.
From Kilrea in County Derry, former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill is friends with Keane and also has a reputation as a combustible and outspoken manager. After managing Celtic and a string of topflight English teams including Aston Villa and Sunderland, his managerial experience is not questioned.
Nevertheless, the hiring of the ‘dream team’ duo to replace the departing Italian veteran, Giovanni Trapattoni, has amazed the soccer world and again placed the FAI on front pages.
The combined package is set to cost the FAI over €2m a year, partly funded by scandal-plagued Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien. The rest of the management team has yet to be confirmed.
Ireland have been without a permanent manager since the September departure of Giovanni Trapattoni, after which the experienced O’Neill quickly became a leading candidate.
FAI chief John Delaney, who has clashed sharply with Keane in the past and remains a controversial figure in his own right, said today that the pair have set aside their differences and can work together.
Speaking on radio, he said he met Keane twice last week when their history was discussed for just “30 seconds”.
“It was about the future,” he remarked before adding: “the Roy Keane I met last week impressed me.” Delaney subsequently denied making disparaging comments about Keane at a recent supporters’ meeting.
He is optimistic, he says, about the prospect of Ireland qualifying for the European Championships in 2016 under the new management team and observed “with this appointment, please God, we’ll make Irish football great again.”