Monday 19 March 2018

Dream team of O'Neill and Keane fly in

As the new management team take their first training session with the players in Dublin this morning, these are the men O'Neill and Keane can turn from English Lions to Boys in Green

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney during a tour of the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney during a tour of the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney during a tour of the Aviva Stadium
Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill shake hands during a tour of the Aviva Stadium ahead of their opening game in charge on Friday
The former England under 21 players who may be persuaded to make the switch to the green jersey: Connor Wickham
Kyle Naughton
Will Keane (left)
Curtis Davies
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IN the sphere of international football, there can be no such thing as a chequebook manager.

When family trees are studied and potential targets are identified, the success or failure of the recruitment drive is often determined by the powers of persuasion and personality.

There are inducements attached. The prestige and profile of international football can be good for a player's career, albeit not to the same extent as it was before the Premier League era.

But, ultimately, it comes down to desire and, for youngsters torn between nations, an encouraging word in the ear from a recognisable figure can help to sway the decision.

It is natural, therefore, to draw the conclusion that the appointment of Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane will considerably strengthen the FAI's hand.

That is certainly the view of Noel King anyway, with the U-21 manager restored to his day job – after picking the first senior squad of the new era while the formalities of appointing the new pair were completed.

He said hello to Keane at Wigan last week, and then formally sat down with O'Neill yesterday for a meet-and-greet to discuss a range of issues.

"I'll give him a very honest view of my feelings on the players," says the Dubliner. "You can't do that in the public domain. As a manager, he'll want to know who has done well and who hasn't done well (during King's brief caretaker stint).

"It's up to him to then take that information and use it or not use it as he sees fit. That's just normal football talk and how much value it is to him, you never know."


Another matter on the agenda that will certainly have been of interest to Giovanni Trapattoni's successor is King's progress with players that he is attempting to draft into the fold.

After a brief spell in the spotlight last month, a circus which has dramatically increased the number of people stopping him for a chat on the street, King has returned to the comparative tranquillity of his U-21 brief – he was speaking at the announcement of the squad for the forthcoming Euro qualifying double-header with Faroe Islands and Montenegro.

The majority of his work goes unrecognised, scouting missions that warrant little or no attention. Every weekend, he will scan team selections across the water looking for a new name that could possibly have an Irish connection.

"I saw one lad on Saturday who was fantastic," he says, teasing his audience. "And he's eligible for the next campaign. I'll tell you next week (who he is) as I have to contact him."

King is modest enough, however, to admit that in the event of procrastination, a call from a figure like O'Neill or Keane should have a serious impact.

"If one of those two men pick up the phone to you and say that they want you to be part of their plans as a young man, I think that would be huge for us," he says.

"They are big characters in the game. If that helps and they can bring that authority and bring that presence, that would be great."

Furthermore, if a club is posing problems, which is sometimes the case if an Irish call-up doesn't slot in with their agenda, then the profile of the new 'dream team' may help get to the heart of the difficulty.

"If they pick up the phone, I think most managers in England would take the call from them," continues King. "And if they could use that influence for us to get a player, even if it's one player, because if you put a value on a modern-day player, it is millions, so if we can get one of them to play for us it has to be a plus."

On Saturday, O'Neill acknowledged that exploring players who qualify through the grandparent rule was on his radar, referencing the success that Jack Charlton had in that department.

"It didn't do Jack any harm at all," he said. "I will have a look at it to see. You wouldn't really want to be picking someone who was tenuous, but I think the rules now are more clear than perhaps they were in Jack's time. It's something I would certainly look at."

Undoubtedly, it is easier to switch across now, given that players can switch from one nation to another provided they haven't played competitively at senior level for their original choice. In the past, competitive underage appearances were enough to rule a player out – Steve Bruce could have switched to Ireland under the current rules.

The FAI could still make a move for the likes of Curtis Davies (Hull), Kyle Naughton (Spurs) and Connor Wickham (Sunderland), although there are nuances in each case.

King also mentioned viable U-21 options such as Chelsea's Patrick Bamford and Manchester United's Will Keane.

The latter's twin brother Michael represented Ireland from U-17 to U-19 before reverting to England, whereas Will has lined out in English colours all the way up.

Bamford, an attacker who has impressed on loan at MK Dons, has represented both countries at youth level, meaning his next decision is binding.

"At the moment, he may be looking to England," admits King, who is in touch with the player's father. "If England don't want him or he changes his mind, it's not the greatest scenario, but that's sometimes what you have to live with."

Recruiting players from the North is a slightly more delicate issue for O'Neill and he chose his words carefully at his unveiling, while asserting that it was ultimately the player's choice.

The FAI are happy to pursue anyone who meets the criteria, with King still awaiting clearance for Wolves' Liam McAlinden – who is English-born but lined out under the IFA umbrella at youth level.

Liverpool's highly-rated Belfast youngster Ryan McLaughlin is concentrating on the club game for the moment, with a tug-of-war anticipated.

For the players who know what they are getting themselves into, there is another layer of complexity and the personality of the senior boss can only do so much.

It's the prospect of finding hidden gems that keeps King and the rest of the underage managers busy. "There are a load of lads out there, even unbeknownst to themselves, who would qualify for us," stresses King.

A call from household names that everybody in football knows would accelerate the process.

By Daniel McDonnell

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport