Martin O’Neill made it very clear just who is the boss in his dealings with Roy Keane, even before he sat down with his new Ireland players for the first time on Monday.
As the squad settled into their Dublin base with their management team four days ahead of Friday’s friendly against Latvia, all media eyes were focused on the relationship between Keane and O’Neill and the potential for disaster.
Many pundits fear Keane won’t take well to life as an understudy. Others wonder if some of O’Neill’s undoubted genius will rub off on the volatile Corkman.
But all weekend O’Neill made it very clear on his public outings that he will be the “gaffer” in this relationship, and his opinion will hold more sway than anyone else’s inside the Irish dressing room.
Lest Keane be in any doubt, O’Neill’s response when asked about his views on the infamous Saipan 2002 World Cup dispute between then boss Mick McCarthy and his captain Keane put it all into perspective.
“If you’re going back to Saipan, way back in that time, I would have to say that my own view at that time is that I would have disagreed with Roy,” O’Neill said.
“I would have felt that, having qualified for the World Cup, it doesn’t come around too often -- for some great players it has never come at all -- and here was this opportunity.
“I thought that would have been, regardless of what Roy would have felt about it before, this was a chance to participate in a World Cup and for a great player, even more so, from that viewpoint. So I would have had a disagreement with that.
“I am aware of all that had happened in Saipan, but I had no hesitation about approaching Roy to work as my assistant.”
The good news for Keane is that O’Neill wants him for the man he is and has no intentions of trying to mould him into something different.
“I’m not going to change Roy Keane, don’t want to change him. He will make the occasional adjustments, as we all have,” O’Neill said.
“Of course there are things we want to adjust and look at, but I have had an assistant manager in John Robertson for years and years at all the clubs I have been involved in, or most of them, and John was very, very good.
“John was more than a sounding board, more than that. I listened to his opinion. He had a very good opinion about football, he was a good judge of a player as well.
“But ultimately, he always left the decisions to me and that was the main thing. That’s something that I have been used to now for 20 years and I wouldn’t be expecting anybody to be over-ruling me.
“That’s not the big ‘I am,’ far from it. I have got great respect for Roy Keane, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked him to do the job.”
O’Neill continued, “I think like all of us in the game, he has points to prove. I know how brilliant he was and I know sometimes how polarized opinions can be with Roy, but I don’t have a problem with that.
“But all told, I think it he will be great. I think he will be great for me for a start -- I would like that — but more importantly, I think he will be brilliant for the Republic of Ireland.
“I am absolutely delighted he is on board. He is an iconic figure, a great, great player, one of the best players to have played in the Premier League since its inception, a great, great player, so I haven’t a problem with that there.”
The O’Neill-Keane dream team began work in earnest on the training ground in Malahide on Tuesday ahead of Friday’s home friendly against Latvia and Tuesday’s visit to Poland.
The Euro qualification games don’t begin until September and O’Neill is itching for competitive football again.
“I wish there were some competitive games coming up more quickly than they are, but that’s the nature of the business,” O’Neill said.
“But I think John Delaney has told me that it is my remit to get the team to France. My contract lasts for the duration of the time that the Republic are in the Euros and that is my driving ambition.
“I think there is pressure there of course, but it is something that I have been used to all my life. This is an opportunity here. A fantastic opportunity and it is one I would like to grab. I’m excited by it.”
Eager to embrace any player qualified to play for Ireland, O’Neill looks certain to make overtures to get Stephen Ireland back into the fold.
“I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever. I would like to get these two games out of the way and start to assess it and have a look at it,” O’Neill said.
“Anybody who is going to be of value to the Republic of Ireland set-up here and is worthy of it, I would certainly have a very open mind. I think there are some very talented young players coming through.”
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