Mark Ogden: Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill appointments a coup for Republic of Ireland, but don't expect peace and harmony
Assistant role for former Manchester United midifielder Roy Keane will overshadow more considered choice of Martin O'Neill as Ireland manager.
If nothing else, the training should be good on Republic of Ireland get-togethers from now on, although do not expect much of a sing-song.
As managerial appointments go, the Football Association of Ireland have pulled off a genuine coup by securing the services of Martin O’Neill as manager and Roy Keane as his combustible assistant.
O’Neill’s return to the game, six months after his dismissal by Sunderland, is a statement in itself, with the FAI tempting the Northern Irishman to resist a potential Premier League return in order to succeed Giovanni Trapattoni as Republic manager.
But when O’Neill is unveiled in Dublin later this week, it could be the first time that the manager is upstaged by his assistant when the cameras begin to flash.
If history is anything to go by where Keane is concerned, O’Neill may have to get used to second billing for the duration of their working relationship.
It is a bold move by O’Neill and the FAI to hand Keane the opportunity to revive his coaching career on the international stage.
Eleven years after walking out on Mick McCarthy’s World Cup squad following a row in Saipan over the state of training pitches and quality of practice balls at Ireland’s pre-tournament base camp, Keane remains a hugely divisive figure in the country.
He is loved and loathed, in equal measure, with the man himself harbouring long-standing grievances over perceived FAI favouritism towards Dubliners over players from the provincial towns and cities – such as Cork, Keane’s home town.
But when the former Manchester United captain railed against the carnival atmosphere and singing of more than 25,000 Irishmen during the Euro 2012 defeat against Spain in Gdansk, he appeared to have lost the backing of even his most ardent supporters.
The singing of Fields of Athenry during the game was one of the most iconic moments of the tournament, it prompted Uefa to hand the Irish supporters a special award for their backing, yet Keane regarded it as defeatist and a sign of the ‘wrong mentality.’
“I think the players and even the supporters, they all have to change their mentality,” Keane said at the time. “It’s just nonsense from players speaking after the games about how great the supporters are.
“I’m not too happy with all that nonsense. To praise the supporters for sake of it … Let’s change that attitude towards Irish supporters.
“They want to see the team winning – let’s not kid ourselves, we’re a small country, we’re up against it, but let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”
Team-mates of Keane during his international career talk of his intensity, his ultra-demanding attitude in training and matches and how, at times, he was ignored and dismissed for simply being too hard to please.
Jason McAteer, who played alongside Keane for Ireland, once recalled the unusual nature of his international team-mate.
"How's it going, Roy mate?” McAteer remembers asking Keane.
"Don't call me your mate,” Keane replied. “I'm not your friend. I work with you, but I'm not your friend.”
Sir Alex Ferguson revealed Keane’s dark side in his recently-published autobiography, claiming that ‘the hardest part of his body is his tongue’ in relation to blazing rows with the player and his belief that his condemnation of team-mates, and his uneasy relationship with assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, forced the end of his United career in November 2005.
O’Neill may provide the counter-balance to Keane’s intensity, though.
If their relationship is to be one of good cop and bad cop, there will be no prizes for guessing which role Keane will play, but O’Neill is a smart reader of minds and he and his new assistant have a long-held mutual respect which will be crucial if their double-act is to work.
Keane’s decision to work alongside O’Neill highlights his fall from grace on the managerial circuit, however.
Dismissed by Sunderland and Ipswich, it is often overlooked that Keane won promotion with Sunderland in his first season, despite taking over the team as they lay at the foot of the Championship following Niall Quinn’s brief spell as caretaker manager.
Keane has success on his CV, but chairmen and owners appear to have been frightened off by his reputation as a tyrannical taskmaster.
Keane has taken a step back to take a step forward, one which may rehabilitate his career and perhaps lead to the top job after O’Neill.
The fact that his return has been sanctioned by FAI chief executive John Delaney – a long-time foe of Keane’s who refers to Delaney as ‘that man’ – is another remarkable development in this story.
Delaney and Keane appeared to be sworn enemies, two men standing poles apart on their views of the game and the Republic of Ireland.
But both men have swallowed their pride and O’Neill has been big enough to offer Keane the chance to work alongside him.
Let the fireworks commence.
By Mark Ogden, Telegraph.co.uk