It’s over three-and-a-half decades since Martin O’Neill and Age Hareide became friends and team-mates. Their paths crossed first at Manchester City, then Norwich City, with O’Neill the veteran European Cup winner and Hareide the Norway international eager to make a name in England.
Now, as the coaches of Republic of Ireland and Denmark respectively, these old friends have been reunited in the FIFA World Cup™ play-offs. Ahead of a match from which only one of them can emerge with a place at Russia 2018, FIFA.com spoke to O’Neill and Hareide about their memories of each other, their choice of national legends as assistants and their teams’ key attributes.
On each other... Age Hareide: “Martin is a fantastic guy; a good fellow in every way. I have total respect for him both as a person and as a manager, and I have very happy memories of our time together in England. When I met him, he had spent many years at Nottingham Forest with Brian Clough, so he was very well educated in football. I loved the experience I had in England and I was lucky to have good friends like Martin who helped me settle. I even rented a house from him when we played together for Norwich.”
Martin O’Neill: “Yes, but he didn't pay for it! [Laughs] No, really, I have a lot of time for Age - he’s a great character. At that time, it was pretty unusual for foreign players to come over to British football, far less to make a success of it. But the Scandinavians seem to adjust better than most and Age did very well. He’s a good lad and really knows his football.”
O’Neill: “My view is that when you start preparing big speeches, you lose a bit of something. I always feel it’s better to let your words come naturally, and from within. It’s vital to hit the right note with the players at that specific moment and focus on what is relevant.”
Hareide: “I can imagine Martin is very good in that respect because he was my captain at Norwich and he was always very good one-to-one, talking you through games. I spoke to some players who knew him at Celtic and they said he was a great motivator. That side of management is very important and, like Martin, I prefer to keep things simple. Instilling belief is the key thing, I feel, because believing in yourself, and not being frightened of losing, is so important to players producing their best.”
On their legendary assistants... Hareide: “Jon [Dahl Tomasson] is an icon in Denmark, as the team’s record scorer, and he knows the game really well and has played under some of the best managers in football. He also gives me a link to the players because he’s close to them – he played with many of them – and is someone they look up to. I imagine it’s the same for Martin with [Roy] Keane, who’s obviously a lot younger too and, like Jon, has huge experience of playing for the national team.”
O’Neill: “Well, as everyone knows, Roy [Keane] was a phenomenal player – a magnificent footballer who drove Manchester United on for the best part of a decade. While some people might have thought it was a gamble to bring him on board, he really has been invaluable to me. He’s excellent for the players too because he’s a lot closer to their generation and they all remember and admire him for what a wonderful player he was.”
On their team’s key strength... O’Neill: “We have a great never-say-die spirit. We’d like to be going into games with big weapons at our disposal, superstar players, but not having that, we need to be able to find other ways of winning when our backs are to the wall. That spirit's taken us a long way in the last couple of years and, while I great take pride in seeing it, all credit for it must go to the players themselves.”
Hareide: “For us, I think it’s the ability we have to play in different ways. We have a physical presence up front but we also have players with good technical ability. The extraordinary skills of Christian Eriksen give us something extra in that respect. As an assist maker and a goalscorer, he has been fantastic for us, and you always feel he will create chances and produce something special. So often a player like that, capable of extraordinary things, can be the difference when a match is very tight - especially against a team as well organised as Ireland.”
On their play-off opponents... O’Neill: “Having watched Denmark’s group matches, and thinking especially of more recent games like the 4-0 win over Poland, it’s clear we face a really tough task. They’ll be favourites to go through, and rightly so. Age’s right that they have a very strong physical presence, particularly up front, and they also have a fantastic playmaker in Eriksen. He’s a player who makes Tottenham tick these days and, in that position, he has developed into one of the best in the world.”
Hareide: “I think the togetherness Martin mentioned is very clear with Ireland, and very important to them. They got to the EURO together, did well there, and an experience like that can create really strong bonds. You see that with them on the field now. They stick together, they battle together, and they have a team spirit which must be among the best in Europe. We know it will be a real dog-fight against them.”