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Why Keane and O’Neill's coalition is the Metal Machine Music of Irish football

The FAI’s ostensible final decision is strange, surprising and thrilling in equal measure, writes Paul Fennessy.

The appointment of Martin O'Neill as Ireland manager and Roy Keane as his assistant is expected to be confirmed imminently.
The appointment of Martin O'Neill as Ireland manager and Roy Keane as his assistant is expected to be confirmed imminently.

THE TRAPATTONI ERA, as has been pointed out before on this site, was like a bad cover version of the Charlton years.

Sure, we reached the Euros, we watched the countless player fallings out and acquired a certain amount of success playing a very basic style of football, but unlike Charlton’s time in charge, there was almost always a sense of irrevocable joylessness characterising the Italian manager’s tenure.

Whereas under Charlton, the highpoint was qualifying for a major tournament in the form of Italia 90, with Trapattoni, making the Euros was arguably the most depressing experience of his entire time in charge.

So in musical terms, if Charlton was Lou Reed’s original 1972 version of ‘Perfect Day,’ Trapattoni was the star-studded but ultimately hollow remake that topped the charts in 1997 — orchestrated by an individual with a great track record, but whose best days were now patently behind him.

And if anything, the soon-to-be-appointed Roy Keane/Martin O’Neill coalition is Irish football’s equivalent of the late singer’s Metal Machine Music album — it’s a bold, experimental, somewhat baffling, last desperate bid at greatness, whose key figures have enjoyed highly successful careers that sadly appear to be winding down.

Granted, it’s hugely risky appointment, but be honest with yourself. Would you really rather see anyone else get the job? Fans complained that the Trapattoni era lacked entertainment value, so Keane and O’Neill look like the perfect antidote to the predominantly bland style imposed by the Italian, where the only thing more tedious than watching the team play was spending time listening to his half-baked jargon during press conferences and post-match interviews.

Of course, Keane and O’Neill could be complete failures, but so could Guus Hiddink or anyone else brave/crazy enough to accept a job that even one of Ireland’s own players has gone so far as to label a “poisoned chalice”. Hence, if Graham Taylor thought the England position was an “impossible job,” then surely the Irish role must, by comparison, seem suited solely to people willing to offer themselves up as a form of human piñata.

There have been several fans and commentators very quick to cast aspersions, in particular, on Keane’s lack of success as a coach, but can his time at Sunderland really be considered an outright failure? People are very eager to focus on the negative elements of his tenure there, but it’s often overlooked that he took a side short on confidence in the Championship relegation zone and promptly got them promoted to the Premier League. Granted, he was far from spectacularly successful thereafter, but Sunderland haven’t exactly thrived since he left. In fact, they have steadily gotten worse and this year, are strong candidates for relegation back to the very position from which Keane rescued them.

image(Roy Keane won 67 caps with Ireland as a player — David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images)

Admittedly, his subsequent time spent as Ipswich boss was an unequivocal disappointment, marred by a series of transfer flops, in which he took a side pushing for promotion and turned them into relegation candidates.

So Keane failed at Ipswich. Just as Brendan Rodgers failed at Reading. And Harry Redknapp failed at Southampton. And Mauricio Pochettino came a cropper at Espanyol. Yet the latter three managers are still considered highly astute, whereas somehow Keane’s name is mud in British football. He’s known as a coach who “needs money,” as Alex Ferguson recently stated, to have any hope of thriving in management.

Nevertheless, Keane’s prospective appointment is not the first time a big decision made by Martin O’Neill has been doubted. One of his first orders of business as Celtic boss was to sign Chris Sutton. The Englishman had previously been bought for £10million by Chelsea in 1999 (a lot of money in those days) and flopped so badly that he now makes the same club’s infamous £50 million purchase of Fernando Torres look unbelievably astute by comparison.

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O’Neill, however, was adamant that he was signing the striker. Celtic majority shareholder Dermot Desmond, on the other hand, was reluctant to part with the £6million required for Sutton’s services, just as the FAI are now presumably unsure whether the Keane appointment is a good idea. But O’Neill told Desmond in no uncertain terms whose judgement mattered the most in that instance, and he was ultimately proven right, with the English forward going on to enjoy a highly successful career at Celtic Park.

So if given a choice of whether to listen to the doom-and-gloom merchants or O’Neill, I know who I’d trust, and it’s likely many fans would also back the 61-year-old.

Yet perhaps most importantly of all, for the first time arguably in years, there is a sense of excitement and optimism surrounding the Irish team. Perhaps it will turn out to be misplaced, but even the most hard-hearted cynic would struggle not to be somewhat enticed by the inherent romance emanating from this latest improbable development.

And my advice for those people that are still unmoved by this prospect? Take a walk on the wild side.

‘I want to go to the press conferences’ – Dunphy on Keane’s Irish link>

Keane and O’Neill scheduled for ITV duty in San Sebastian this week>

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Paul Fennessy

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