Friday 24 October 2014

FAI breaks bank for 'dream team'

Roy Keane will this week be confirmed as assistant to new Ireland football manager Martin O'Neill.

Published 03/11/2013 | 02:00

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 02: ITV guests Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane (R) give their views before the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Villareal CF and Manchester City at El Madrigal on November 2, 2011 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane
DIVIDED OPINION: Roy Keane, who has loudly criticised the FAI in the past, is set to become an employee in a move that will be debated nationwide

Roy Keane will this week be confirmed as assistant to new Ireland football manager Martin O'Neill.

The cash-strapped FAI is prepared to break the bank to put in place one of the most expensive management teams in Europe. It is hoped that the €2m-a-year deal will lift the lacklustre fortunes of Irish football.

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Last night, football pundit Eamon Dunphy described the appointment of Keane as "risky" – but added: "That's showbiz, baby."

The Sunday Independent can reveal that businessman, and close friend of O'Neill's, Dermot Desmond, was a significant force in helping seal the deal.

Businessman Denis O'Brien, who part-funded Giovanni Trapattoni's five-and-a-half-year reign, has agreed to continue the same level of financial support for a further two years.

The Sunday Independent understands the agreed deal involves an all-in package of just over €2m a year – around €1.2m for O'Neill and €700,000 for Keane, putting them among the best-paid coaches in Europe.

The two Irishmen – both proteges of legendary football manager, the late Brian Clough – are widely respected in football circles. But, like Clough before them, neither is thought to be a hands-on coach.

The agreement between both sides ends a lengthy search for a new Ireland boss, which was finally helped over the line by Dermot Desmond, O'Neill's boss when he was in charge of Celtic.

"The advice and assistance of Dermot Desmond were very important in the whole process," said an FAI source last night.

There was speculation that O'Neill may also want to bring in Steve Walford, head coach during his short-lived stint as manager of Sunderland.

O'Neill has had successful terms as manager at Celtic and Aston Villa.

A former player for O'Neill at Wycombe Wanderers, Walford was chosen by O'Neill to replace his longstanding coach, the former Scottish international John Robertson, who is currently recuperating from serious illness.

FAI chief executive John Delaney, along with Mr Desmond, who is a friend of Mr O'Brien, are understood to have had a recent meeting with O'Neill, during which agreement was reached.

The appointment of Keane may see an end to a difficult relationship with the FAI chief, John Delaney.

For individual reasons, both men will want to put those difficulties behind them, at least in the short term, and the two now have what sources described as "a cordial relationship".

Last night pundit and journalist Eamon Dunphy said: "Martin O'Neill is a great appointment for Ireland. He has a stellar CV, is well-known to the players, and he will work hard – he has a huge work ethic.

"Someone of Martin O'Neill's stature is entitled to appoint his own staff. I'm not sure why he has chosen Roy Keane. We will have to see. I can see the logic. They are two big beasts in football. Keane will bring something to it.

"But I think it's a risk – it's risky," Dunphy said of Keane's appointment as assistant manager.

"I have enough respect for Martin to suspect that he knows what he is doing. I just don't know what it is... it's showbiz, baby!"

O'Neill and Keane, who are said to admire each other's passion for the game, are due in the same studio for ITV covering Manchester United's Champions League match away at Real Sociedad this week.

Martin O'Neill's analytical mind and motivational skills combined with the charisma and winning mentality of Keane, one of Ireland's greatest players, will certainly catch the imagination of the football public.

However, the involvement of Keane may also spark some controversy among fans, who can anticipate the Corkman expressing his forthright opinions on occasions.

The former Manchester United skipper was memorably sent home from Mick McCarthy's squad before the 2002 World Cup in a row over training facilities.

Ireland have two friendlies coming up, against Latvia in Dublin on November 15, now expected to be a sell-out, and Poland in Poznan four days later.

The latest set of accounts, for the year ended December 31, 2012, lays bare the full extent of the task facing the FAI in its quest to be debt-free within eight years.

The accounts show that its income fell from €16.97m in 2011 to €15.96m and that turnover fell by 12 per cent, from €45.1m to €39.67m.

Over the two years, the FAI made a total of €8.4m in repayments on its Aviva Stadium bank loans, but because these were interest-only payments, it still owes €59m plus interest.

An overdraft facility of just over €4m, which has been extended to the association, means that at the end of last year its net debt stood at just over €63m.

The appointment will see some much-needed revenues pouring in over the next few weeks for the Dublin friendly.

 

- Jody Corcoran

Sunday Independent

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