It's not about you any more so stay out of the limelight, Bonner warns Keane
Legendary 'keeper urges new assistant boss to accept that O'Neill calls shots, writes Liam Kelly
Published 08/11/2013 | 02:00
ROY KEANE, assistant manager. Does that mean: Roy Keane 'Yes Man' as in the role Phil Neal unconsciously adopted as second-in-command to Graham Taylor in the England set-up, which was cruelly exposed in a 1993 TV documentary?
Does Keane's title imply: 'Irish manager-in-waiting' in the style of Germany's Joachim Loew, who was Jurgen Klinsmann's sidekick before taking the top job?
Does it require Keane to be father-confessor and confidante when players' feelings are hurt by the manager?
Does it mean that Keane will be directing strategy and tactics?
We await with interest the thoughts of newly-appointed Ireland boss Martin O'Neill on the precise job description he has given Keane.
The one certainty is that O'Neill has broken the mould to an extent by hiring a personality who has an enduring fascination for football folk and given him a job that traditionally means a place in the shadows.
Assistant managers are there to watch the manager's back, to see his wishes are carried out and to have an opinion when asked for it, but know their place – very much a rung or two below the boss in the pecking order.
They are never men who are arguably more newsworthy than a manager, who have forceful views that will be lapped up eagerly by media and the public, and who have a history of dividing their country in a huge controversy.
Look at the Irish assistant managers over the last 27 years.
Maurice Setters was Jack Charlton's wing man; Ian Evans had the assistant role with Mick McCarthy; Chris Hughton backed up Brian Kerr; Bobby Robson was more a father-figure/advisor to Steve Staunton than a workaday assistant; and Marco Tardelli was more a mate to Giovanni Trapattoni than a traditional assistant manager.
Setters could be abrasive but
wasn't viewed as very relevant by players, media or public; Evans was a quiet, dignified guy who diligently went about his business as directed by McCarthy; Hughton is and was a thorough pro who was never going to upstage Kerr; Robson, despite his own stellar reputation, left Stan to be the 'Gaffer', and Tardelli had little visible impact with the public.
So, credit to O'Neill. He is not afraid to make bold and decisive gestures before a ball is kicked in his tenure as Irish boss.
As for Keane? He will adapt to the role. He has to – because 'assistant' means just that.
Irish goalkeeping legend Packie Bonner has experience of being the No 2, albeit for a short time, and he is as intrigued as everyone else about how Keane will perform his duties under O'Neill's leadership.
Bonner recalled his time with another Celtic hero, Tommy Burns, when Burns brought the Donegal man with him to Reading back in 1997, for a year and a half.
"It was very new to me because I was very inexperienced. The job description wasn't written down in a clear fashion, but you ended up doing almost everything," he said.
"You were working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, you were covering all aspects and of course you were working closely with the manager, helping him, being his eyes and ears and being able to talk to him on a private basis about the team, and about players."
Bonner believes there's one aspect that is crucial to the success of an assistant's role – and that is clarity about what is required by the manager.
"Martin's a very clever man. I'm sure he's been very clear with Roy what he wants from him, and that would be important for any manager and for his assistant manager to have real clarity on what his functions are and what would be expected of him," said Bonner.
On that basis, does it mean the assistant should remain out of the limelight, unless invited to take centre stage by the boss?
Bonner replied: "I've no doubt that's going to be the case. It can't be any other way. Martin is the boss. He's the main guy and Roy has to play the role of being an assistant and really supporting him in front of the players.
"He can be critical – I don't mean that in a negative way – but he can critique and speak to the manager about players, and I've no doubt Roy will be very open in what he says to the manager; he'll give his opinion.
"But ultimately it's the manager who has to make the final decision, and the manager's word goes.
"That's the role you play, that's why you're an assistant. You're not the main guy. Roy will realise that and no doubt Martin will have talked to him and seen how Roy reacts before he made his final decision. It cannot be any other way."
Bonner put another part of Keane's job into context – his dealings with the players.
"They won't need to be walking on eggshells around Roy. In fact, it's the opposite," he said.
"They've got to be able to sit down and have a talk with him, and have the opportunity to pick his brain and for him to facilitate them.
"It's not about Roy Keane in this role; he has to give, to everybody. That's the difference.
"When you go into coaching and management, it's not about you, it's about the players and I'm sure Roy can realise that."