Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane – A Dream Team?

With Trapattoni finally saying arrivederci to the FAI, David Coen takes a look at what his successors Martin O’Neill and Roy  Keane will mean for the Irish team

On September 11th of this year, Giovanni Trapattoni and his assistant Marco Tardelli parted ways with the Irish national team by mutual consent. The veteran Italian manager’s five and a half year reign over Irish football will ultimately be considered as a frustrating tenure, his inability or indeed lack of interest in identifying and picking Ireland’s in-form players and the countries dismal showing at the 2012 European Championships being indicative of this. Candidates emerged rapidly after the Italian’s departure; with names thrown around such as former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy, proven premiership manager Martin O’Neil and an Irish footballing icon in the form of Roy Keane. Being the clear favourite from the beginning, it was no real surprise that bets were suspended on the 31st October for O’Neill’s appointment as Ireland manager, paving the way for his announcement seven days later. What did catch the public’s attention however was that of O Neill’s choice of assistant; one Roy Keane. Following previous clashes with the FAI which included that infamous incident in Saipan in 2002 and public criticisms of FAI Chief Executive John Delaney, it seemed surprising that Keane was willing to a work in a framework that he so constantly labelled as inadequate. What can we expect from this partnership in contrast to the Trapattoni era?

A guaranteed interest and desire in identifying Ireland’s in-form players and utilising them properly in the Irish Set-Up are both aspects that Irish fans can look forward to under Martin O’Neill. One of the many flaws of Trapattoni’s reign was his tendency to overlook Ireland’s best performing players at club level. This occurred for the most part because of his apparent lack of interest in watching Premier League and League of Ireland games. Although John Delaney eventually held talks with Trapattoni over the manager’s active role in overseeing the progress of Irish players at home and abroad, his agreement seemed more like an attempt to appease the frustrated fans in place of a genuine desire to monitor Irish players. In my opinion, Trapattoni had an established system; one that he was never going to adapt to accommodate an Irish desire for attractive football or for the progression of young talented Irish players. Under O’Neill we as Irish football fans can expect huge changes in this regard. John Delaney has already mentioned that the cornerstone of this appointment was O’Neill’s wish to frequently attend Premier League and League of Ireland fixtures; to oversee the performances of Irish players and to develop Irish football from youth upwards. O’Neill has vast club experience; managing at Wycombe, Norwich, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland. He is more than capable of identifying the in-form Irish players playing in both the Premier League and the Championship. The likes of Seamus Coleman, Wes Hoolahan and James McClean are examples of players that could have been introduced much earlier into the Irish fold as a result of their strong club displays. O’Neill, along with Keane, will identify the progression of Irish players and are much more likely to introduce them to the team. They will select players for the progression of Irish Football and not for the accommodation of an established system.

Public interest in the Irish National team is bound to increase rapidly as a result of this appointment. This is demonstrated by the swift sale of tickets for the Ireland and Latvia friendly fixture at the Aviva. While O’Neill is proven as an intelligent and astute club manager and has created a sense of hope for the future of Irish football, the arrival of Keane has captured the media’s attention and has got the country debating over his suitability for the role. This can only be good for Irish football. The last few years have witnessed a decline of interest in football in Ireland , the ‘caveman’ football Trapattoni was connoisseur of and poor performances, notably that thrashing at the hands of Germany in Dublin, being demonstrative of this.This appointment has raised interest in the sport at the very least which can only be a good thing in terms of match attendance at the Aviva Stadium. Anything that turns the Aviva into a formidable environment for opposing nations can only be celebrated. Hopefully attendance rates also increase as a result of watchable, attractive football. While O’Neill’s teams of past could hardly be described as ‘attractive’, concentrating more on organisation and pragmatism, there is at least a desire from the Ulsterman to play attractively where possible, as mentioned when taking the Sunderland position. ‘It’s a long way in the future, but you’d love to keep that in the back of your mind and think you could eventually have a team that could come out and play like that’ was O’Neill’s response to the much celebrated ‘Barcelona’ style of football.  This is a welcome change from the Italian-imported mundane brand of football we have experienced in years past.