Ireland's odd couple begin with Staunton unsure of Robson's role

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The Independent Online

Steve Staunton was yesterday presented as the new manager of the Republic of Ireland and was quickly asked what kind of football the country would play under him. "The brand that will bamboozle the opposition," came the dry reply from the former defender, who turns just 37 this week, and who, despite his wealth of experience, with a record 102 caps, is as green as the shirt he used to wear when it comes to management.

However, the only confusion yesterday was where Sir Bobby Robson - who described himself as "an old head, a mentor" - and has been named "consultant" fits into it all. Staunton stressed Robson, who started his managerial career in 1969, the year the new incumbent was born, was his choice and that "the buck stops with me". When asked exactly what the former England manager's role would be Staunton was less emphatic. Will Robson be in the dug-out? "We will have to wait and see, won't we" Staunton said. Will he take a hands-on role in training? "Who knows."

Maybe criticism is unfair although the appointments have not been widely welcomed in Ireland where the public had been led to expect, following Brian Kerr's departure, a more seasoned manager. Ireland's new team - with the Aston Villa coach and former Liverpool midfielder Kevin MacDonald as Staunton's No 2 and Alan Kelly looking after the goalkeepers - will however stand and fall by results. The Irish hope the "Staunton/ Robson axis" will work in the way that Kenny Dalglish used Bob Paisley for advice when he took over at Anfield. That was something Staunton witnessed as a player. "I liked what I saw," he said. "I see Bobby in the same role. This man here is going to be sick to death of my voice on the end of the phone because it's when games are over and what's going on between - maybe how players are feeling, he might get a sense. I'm going to pick this man's brains."

If Robson is confined to distant adviser, it would be a shame. His enthusiasm, despite being 73 next month, is boundless and, privately, he's dismayed it has not been harnessed in England by the Football Association. "I always knew there was another job in me," Robson, who has been appointed on a two-year contract, with an option to extend, on €250,000 (£171,000) a year, said.

First of all Robson, who revealed he had been urged by Jack Charlton to take a post with Ireland, but had not applied to be manager, said he had to sort out what to call Staunton. "I have decided to call him Stan and not Steve," he said in reference to the nickname of the man who led Ireland during the 2002 World Cup after Roy Keane's walk-out. "I'm sure I should call him boss and I will. I know my role. We have got some doubting Thomases, I know that. I'm not jealous of him, I don't want his job. I will suggest things. I'm not going to come in and be a dummy."

Staunton, despite having played with many of the current Irish squad such as Shay Given, expected to be named captain, said he had no problem putting distance between himself and his new charges.

"It's very easy for me to tell someone what to do, where to go," Staunton said, although he also conceded, "I might be a bit naïve in what I might say." It was Niall Quinn, he said, who had furnished the introduction of Robson after Staunton realised his greenness needed to be addressed. New players will be added - not least Manchester City's Stephen Ireland, who previously absented himself because of a feud with Kerr, and Bolton Wanderers' Joey O'Brien. Staunton refused to criticise the old regime but the mantra of the day - passion, team spirit, belief, cohesion and desire, "something we want to bring back" - was an indictment enough of the sterile mess left by Kerr.

Staunton will reverse another of his predecessor's decisions. He will trawl Britain for players of Irish descent, taking advantage of the so-called "granny rule", which was exploited widely by Charlton. "It's served us very well in the past," Staunton said. "As a small nation we have all had uncles and aunts who have moved away and why shouldn't their kids be proud to play for this country?" Staunton, released by Walsall where he was a player-coach to take up a four-year contract, will earn €400,000 a year.

The length of the deal is not just a sign of the faith the Football Association of Ireland has in him but also an admission that now they have dropped to fourth seeds for the new European Championship campaign, the 2010 World Cup may be a more realistic target. Staunton admitted so: "We are looking to the future," he said. Ireland have certainly put their faith in youth - and a septuagenarian.

* Finland have signed an agreement with Roy Hodgson, the former Blackburn Rovers manager, to begin his job as the national team coach immediately instead of in August as previously announced.

Master and servant: The life and times of Ireland's unique dream team

MANAGER - STEVE STAUNTON

Staunton established himself at Aston Villa and Liverpool, playing left-back in a career spanning 15 years and collecting the full set of domestic medals along the way. The 36-year-old is the Republic of Ireland's most capped player with 102 appearances, playing in every game of the 1994 and 2002 World Cups and captaining his country in Japan and Korea.

CONSULTANT - SIR BOBBY ROBSON

The 72-year-old hit the public consciousness at Ipswich, helping the club to win the FA Cup, Uefa Cup and to finish as runners-up in the top flight. Robson managed England for eight years, including the 1986 and 1990 World Cups before leading PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona to numerous honours. He went on to manage Newcastle from 1999 to 2003.

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