Criticism of interim manager Noel King’s tactics and team selection in the 3-0 defeat to Germany may have grabbed many of the headlines last week, but the underlying story surrounding the end to Ireland’s World Cup campaign has been the search for a new team boss.
And captain Robbie Keane, set to play on through the next European Championship campaign, pulled no punches when he addressed the issue on the eve of Tuesday night’s final qualifier at home against Kazakhstan.
The LA Galaxy striker, who sat out Friday night’s 3-0 defeat in Cologne with an Achilles injury, made it abundantly clear that whoever succeeds Giovanni Trapattoni needs to “have balls” and “take no s***.”
Keane’s words at the pre-match press conference at the Aviva Stadium leaned towards a vote for his former boss Mick McCarthy, the man who handed him his debut all those years ago en route to becoming Ireland’s most capped player and the nation’s greatest goal scorer.
But he also said he would have no problem with Martin O’Neill or Roy Keane getting the job, both of whom have the sort of character Keane feels is needed to fill Giovanni Trapattoni’s shoes.
“I want someone who is an honest manager, who doesn’t mess around, understands how important it is to be involved in international level, someone who is very, very proud to be a manager and be proud of what we are trying to achieve in Ireland,” Ireland captain Keane said.
“We need someone who is honest and someone who has balls and doesn’t take any s*** from anyone.
“The names I have heard being mentioned, if any of them took over, I think everybody would be fairly happy. It could be any of those — I don’t know the answer to that.
“I think it’s important whoever takes over it’s a fresh start for everybody, the whole country gets behind them and we wish them well, whoever that may be.
“As long as it’s the right man, it doesn’t matter where he is from. But of course, I think everybody at this stage now probably would want an Irish manager.
“I think it’s probably clear and obvious to see that. It’s looking likely that it probably will be, it seems that way, anyway — that’s not me with inside information.
Keen for the senior Irish players to play some role in the recruitment process, Keane did weigh towards McCarthy in his assessment of the favorites for the role.
“Mick is a great guy, a fantastic guy. Everything we have referenced, he comes into that mould,” Keane said.
“Why not Mick? It happens a lot. Holland have done that a few times. If it was Mick, if it was Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them, to be honest with you.
“I would like to be part of the process. Listen, you are not going to get anywhere in life if you don’t ask people their opinion and ask whatever you want to call them, experts or people who played.
“There’s no harm in asking people and asking their opinion on things because you are only going to learn things and open your eyes to certain different things.
“If anybody wants to ask any of the lads questions, I am sure they will be very open to listening to what people have to say and certainly give their opinion on what they feel.
“But ultimately, the decision is down to the FAI. It’s their heads on the chopping block, if you like, if they don’t feel like they are making the right decision.”
The LA Galaxy star will also add to his massive cap collection next season with no plans to retire in the near future. Keane stressed, “I will continue to play as long as I feel healthy.”
And he would like the chance to take charge of his country himself down the road but added, “Certainly not at the moment.
“I still have, hopefully, a long way to go playing, but certainly in the future, if I take my coaching badges, which I will be doing. But I’m sure that wouldn’t be for a long, long time — if I got the opportunity.
“It’s a big job. We need more players coming through at a higher level, at the moment that’s not the case though there are certainly a few.
“The expectation levels in Ireland have always been high, that’s just the country we are, that’s how we have always been. There’s no harm in having expectations but you have to look at the reality as well, and the reality is that we are not right there at the moment.”
Like Keane, former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady is keen for fans to take a realistic approach to the Ireland team – and he too had a warning for the next man in.
The Spartak Moscow star said, “You can never really win. It is probably a bit of a poisoned chalice, the manager’s job, same as in England as well.
“If you do well, you are always still going to have people saying, ‘That’s wrong, that’s not right.’ You can’t please everyone.
“The pressure is intense and the FAI have to pick the right man for the job and I think they are doing the right thing by not rushing into anything.
“It’s always the same two or three names mentioned, but whatever they decide to do, I don’t think anyone will have any problems with it.
“But whoever takes over is going to have a lot of pressure, a lot of expectation to try to turn things around — well, not turn things around, but have a slight change in fortunes.”