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Keith Andrews: Irish reign leaves Martin O'Neill with a 'lot to prove' at Nottingham Forest

The former Irish midfielder is surprised at the appointment.

Martin O'Neill is on the verge of taking charge of his former club.
Martin O'Neill is on the verge of taking charge of his former club.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FORMER REPUBLIC OF IRELAND international Keith Andrews believes ex-Irish manager Martin O’Neill has much to prove if, as is widely expected, he is confirmed as the next Nottingham Forest manager.

O’Neill is on the cusp of being formally announced as Aitor Karanka’s successor and thus sealing a long-awaited return to the club at which he twice won the European Cup as a player. 

It is, however, O’Neill’s first job in the football league since 1996, and that he didn’t immediately return to the Premier League is perhaps a result of a miserable final year with Ireland in which his team failed to win a competitive game and scored just four goals in nine games. 

“I think he has a lot to prove” Andrews told The42 at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme. 

“It’s a massive opportunity for him. I’m slightly surprised [O'Neill has been picked] given the way that the football club is run. I thought they’d have gone down a continental route and I thought he would be more suited to a club with a traditional hierarchy like Stoke, but they went a different route with Nathan Jones.

So I am slightly surprised, but everyone knows the links Martin O’Neill has with Nottingham Forest. He is a legend there. Nottingham Forest’s squad is one of the best in the division, and it’s a massive opportunity. They should be in the playoffs with what they’ve spent and the calibre of player they have, along with [having] an ambitious owner”. 

Forest spent £23 million during the summer, and currently lie four points outside of the playoff positions in the Championship. As to whether O’Neill has been damaged by his ugly endgame with Ireland, Andrews says wait and see. 

Time will tell as to how much he has been damaged. But I imagine it has whetted his appetite and made him more determined than ever. The criticism he has received over the last 12 months: I don’t think he has received it in his whole managerial career, but I don’t think his reputation in England has been tarnished as much as it has in Ireland.

In spite of the intense criticism, Forest reportedly believe O’Neill did a fine job with a very limited squad of Irish players. It’s not an outlook shared by Andrews. 

“That would be the train of thought in England: ‘What else could he do, the players are crap?’ As he [O'Neill] eluded to on occasion.

But I certainly don’t agree with that. I never did. I actually felt sorry for players with the lack of instruction and detail they were given. I could see the struggles they were going through on the pitch because I needed detail, options on the ball and a plan because I was never a world-class player. I feel I can really relate to the current crop of Irish players, who predominantly play at the level I played at”. 

O’Neill’s Irish reign was repeatedly subject to criticism regarding the lack of preparation and tactical instruction given to the team, and Andrews believes that he will have to offer both at Forest. 

“I think the way Martin O’Neill managed, it was, ‘Let them go and play, they’ll figure it out, they’ll find a way’. In this day and age, I don’t think that quite cuts it.

Whether he will change going in to Forest… because those players need detail. They have some very talented players, but the age of this crop of players is similar to the one he had with Ireland and they need a detailed plan going into every game. They had that under Karanka, and even at Championship level, so that’s something he might look at”. 

SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme Launch Keith Andrews and Megan Campbell launch the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s programme for 2019. Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Andrews was highly critical of the final months of O’Neill’s reign during the dreary Uefa Nations League campaign, for which he earned a rebuke from Irish captain Seamus Coleman who wondered aloud whether Andrews “might have been trying to make a name for himself by being a little bit harsh”. 

Andrews isn’t bothered by Coleman’s retort, and said that he took no joy in criticising the Irish set-up. 

“I didn’t enjoy it, I really didn’t enjoy it. Ireland is the only team I care about and I’m obviously passionate about it and I felt let down by the last 12 months. I think people forget that, for the first three-and-a-half or four years of Martin’s reign, I was very supportive and while people were saying we should be playing better football, I was realistic”.

I thought overall his reign up until that point had been a success. The manner of the 5-1 to Denmark and subsequently what happened with Stoke didn’t sit well with me, during a time when we should have been pulling together and not looking at pushing the eject button when a contract had, to my knowledge, been verbally agreed but not signed.

“Then obviously the year that we had was terrible: there were off-pitch issues with players not wanting to show up. That’s never happened really. Players had always relished coming into the Irish setup. I’m just honest. I sleep very well at night because I speak what I think is the truth. If some people don’t like it, that’s their prerogative.

I’d imagine Keane and O’Neill certainly didn’t like it”. 

Keith Andrews was speaking at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme. Register by February 15th at www.fai.ie/primary5

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