New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has stressed he will have the final say on all key decisions, while his assistant Roy Keane will be used as a “sounding board” in his new coaching set-up.
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O'Neill was confirmed as Giovanni Trapattoni’s successor last week, with both the Northern Irishman and Keane signing a two-year deal.
And while the new Ireland boss does not need to assert his own authority as he prepares to welcome the squad to his first training session on Tuesday, he has moved to clarify the role that the man he describes as “an Irish icon” will have during his tenure.
“I don’t really want to change Roy Keane. I don’t think that was the intention, otherwise it loses its impetus,” 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 was also drawn into the debate over Keane’s infamous walk-out from the 2002 World Cup finals, when he returned home on the eve of the tournament after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy.
“If you’re going back to Saipan and the 2002 World Cup, 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, 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 said this to Roy and his retort was that he disagreed with my Celtic team selection for the 2003 UEFA Cup final and that he would have won that match!”
Keane’s presence on the touchline at the Aviva Stadium for the friendly international against Latvia on Friday evening will cause just as much interest as that of O’Neill’s, with ticket sales for the Dublin clash reportedly doing very well since the high-profile appointments.