Didi Hamann: O'Neill should make big call and drop Robbie Keane
Former Liverpool and Germany midfielder Didi Hamann has urged Martin O'Neill to drop his captain, Robbie Keane, for tonight's Euro 2016 qualifier in Gelsenkirchen.
While the logic of his call seems questionable, given how Keane spent the weekend entering the record-books as the record goalscorer in European Championship qualification matches, Hamann looked beyond this statistical evidence and focused instead on a different number, Keane's age.
"At 34, he no longer has the legs for a game like this," says Hamann. "What he has achieved in the game is magnificent but this is a match for a younger man, a game suited to Shane Long's energy rather than Keane's qualities.
"If I were Martin, I wouldn't play Robbie, because what he offers you these days may be fine for opponents like Gibraltar, but is not quite what is needed for a game like this.
"Long, on the other hand, is perfect for the lone striker's role. He hustles. He harries. He chases lost causes, which is what Ireland require tonight.
"Realistically speaking, they are not going to get a lot of the ball. They will not create a huge amount of chances so in this context, Long, a very good player, is better suited to the job spec.
"After 60 minutes, then you can send for Keane. But not from the start. His strengths revolve around his work inside the penalty box. However, how much of the ball is going to be in the German box? It's a big call but one Martin should make."
O'Neill isn't the only man facing big decisions. Across the dug-out tonight in Gelsenkirchen will stand a man who had the world in his hands a few months ago but who is experiencing a mini-crisis right now.
Prior to Saturday, Joachim Loew had overseen 28 wins and three draws from Germany's previous 31 qualifiers, a remarkable run highlighting the growing gap between Europe's elite and middle-ranking nations like Ireland, who were twice heavily defeated by Loew's side in the last campaign.
Yet time moves on and so do managers. Within the last 18 months Scotland, Poland and Ireland have changed their coaching personnel and the impact has been immediate, to the point where Hamann no longer regards Germany's passage to the finals in France as straightforward.
"You can't ignore the fact that since the World Cup we have lost Lahm, Klose and Mertesacker. Plus Schweinsteiger and Ozil are injured. That's 500 caps taken away from your side as well as a loss of quality," he says.
"And it explains why the results since Brazil have not been so good. When you lose that number of key players, you can lose a game or two.
"But if there is one thing about the German Federation, it is their capacity to withstand pressure. They don't panic. Nor for that matter does Joachim. He's a calm man and he knows that in football, surprise defeats occasionally happen.
"So he won't be alarmed by what happened in Poland. He'll take the defeat seriously, yes. He'll analyse it, learn from it and try to correct it. But he won't be worried because deep down he knows his side have quality."
And yet Hamann has concerns about Germany's immediate future.
"Tonight's game is important for everyone," he says. "For Ireland, they'll know that if they come away from here with a point, or even a win, that they would be in pole position to top the group.
"Clearly they've improved since Martin and Roy took over. They'd lost their way under (Giovanni) Trapattoni but they have progressed since.
"With smaller nations, like Ireland and Scotland, the coach has to focus heavily on generating a good team-spirit because the resources aren't there to chop and change personnel on a major basis.
"The spirit in the last months of the Trapattoni era wasn't as good as it is now under Martin. He has quietly restored that siege mentality. Ireland are lucky to have both him and Roy."
Equally fortunate to have once had Keane's presence was Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, Hamann argues.
"I haven't read Roy's book but I'm aware of what he had to say about Ferguson. And I can understand where he is coming from. He was the main man in that era of the club's history and I don't think Manchester United would have been as successful if he had not have been there.
"Roy was the heartbeat of that team. How he left the club has hurt him and I can understand that."
Plus he understands why the FAI made peace with their controversial former captain and sanctioned his arrival on the O'Neill managerial ticket.
"The bottom line is that any player in the Irish dressing-room now knows that if they don't put their best foot forward then they will be told," Hamann adds.
"You can see the impact they have already had, albeit we are talking about a good start rather than a good campaign.
"Win tonight, though, and they have a magnificent campaign."
- Sky Sports is showing Euro 2016 qualifiers as part of an autumn of sport that includes Premier League, Champions League, Guinness Pro12, European Rugby Champions Cup, Autumn Internationals, Formula One and NFL at Wembley.