‘He should have had chance to manage one of top four clubs’ – John Robertson on Martin O’Neill as Nottingham Forest great aims for World Cup


Save and Prosper. That was where it all began for Martin O’Neill, where his man management skills seemingly started to come to the fore.

Save and Prosper – it is the name of the insurance firm where the Nottingham Forest European Cup winner and his former team-mate, John Robertson, earned their corn after hanging up their boots. But it is also not far off being a description of O’Neill’s managerial career.

He certainly knows how to make teams prosper.

Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City, Celtic, Aston Villa and now the Republic of Ireland, all have benefitted from the Reds legend’s magic touch.

Now he is two games away from taking Ireland to next year’s World Cup.

Such success comes as no surprise to Robertson, who, for a long time, had the role of O’Neill’s No.2.

“I’ve known him since 1971; we’re good mates. I’ve got a lot to thank him for,” said Robertson.

John Robertson (centre) and Martin O’Neill (right) during their time at Aston Villa in a game against David Moyes’ Everton

“When we were playing, I didn’t expect him to be a manager. But since he got into management, he’s taken to it like a duck to water.

“He’s been successful everywhere he’s gone.

“Everyone wants to play for him.

“We worked for an insurance company before we took the Wycombe job and someone gave him a manager’s role.

“They didn’t think he’d be a great salesman, but they obviously saw something in him.

“He got everyone to step up another notch or two, even though he knew nothing about the products.

“He had a way about him.”

Such people skills have served the 65-year-old just as well on the touchline as they did in an office.

O’Neill and Robertson had been working together at non-league Shepshed Charterhouse at the same time as for Save and Prosper.

Martin O’Neill (second from right) and John Robertson (standing next to him) were team-mates at Nottingham Forest

A difficult juggling act, eventually one or the other had to give way. And it was the insurance company who won.

Not for long, though.

The pair were soon in situ at Wycombe, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“The thing with Martin is he doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” said Robertson, who was assistant to O’Neill at Grantham Town, Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic and, finally, Villa. “He’ll always tell the truth and won’t back down from what he thinks you need to hear, whether that’s a rollicking or a pat on the back.

“I loved it, working with him.

“I’d just had enough in the end; it was getting on top of me, so I called it a day.”

O’Neill has a long list of honours from his time in the dugout, including league titles and League Cups.

Taking the Republic to Russia, though, would be right up there in his list of achievements.

They take on Denmark in Copenhagen for the first leg on Saturday, followed by the return in Dublin on Tuesday.

Whether they make it to the World Cup or not, Robertson says just reaching this point is a triumph in itself.

Martin O’Neill salutes the crowd after Republic of Ireland’s win over Wales

And he argues his old colleague deserves considerably more praise than he sometimes gets.

“Martin’s had a lot of experience and is a terrific manager with a great record,” said the Reds legend.

“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

“I’ve always thought he should have been given the chance to manage one of the top four clubs in the country. No doubt about it, he could have done it.

“He went up to Scotland to manage Celtic, which is no mean feat. They are a big club.

“And he’s done a fantastic job with Ireland. I can’t believe how well he’s done, just getting them into the play-offs.

“With all due respect to the players, that’s a fantastic achievement.

“The players work their socks off for him.”

The Republic – who have Forest striker Daryl Murphy in their squad – have not featured on the grandest international stage since 2002, though have reached back-to-back European Championships.

They take on a Denmark side who finished second behind Poland in their qualifying group and have lost just one of their last eight competitive home matches.

Assistant boss Roy Keane and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill

O’Neill’s current assistant, Roy Keane, this week said the manager was on a par with heavyweights Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson for getting the best out of players on big occasions.

And Robertson believes there is likely to have been a fairly relaxed atmosphere in the camp in the build-up to the play-off clashes.

“He won’t be too bothered about tactics now. He’ll keep the lads focused on the game,” he said of O’Neill’s preparation.

“He won’t go into too much detail about it, just a bit of quiet training. I doubt he’ll have them training too hard; sometimes rest is as important as hard work.

“He won’t be filling their heads with too much information.

“He might talk about the opposition for about 10 minutes, but other than that, not too much.

“He’s a calm person.

“It’s going to be very difficult, but I don’t know if Denmark are any better than Wales – and Ireland beat them.

“They’ve got every chance.

“Even getting to the play-offs is an incredible achievement, though.”

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