However, Staunton, Ireland’s most capped player with 102 appearances under his belt but a recent newcomer to the managerial level, will be mentored by Sir Bobby Robson, the former England boss, who is due to celebrate his 73rd birthday in February.
The former Liverpool and Aston Villa star from Drogheda, Co. Louth, who is known in the game as “Stan,” first lined out for Ireland in 1988. He will turn 37 on Jan. 19.
Staunton played in all three of the Republic’s World Cup tournament appearances: 1990, 1994 and 2002. Robson, who was dismissed in August 2004 as Newcastle United’s boss, took England as far as the World Cup semi-final in Italy in 1990.
When the FAI declined to renew Brian Kerr’s contract as Irish manager following the failure of the team to qualify for this summer’s World Cup finals in Germany, Robson was mentioned as a possible successor. It’s understood, though, that former Northern Ireland international and Celtic boss Martin O’Neill was the association’s first choice. But O’Neill said he wants to spend more time out of the game because his wife has been ill with cancer.
The Irish and British media have generally welcomed the reports of the Staunton and Robson appointments, but have also characterized the pairing as a considerable gamble. Staunton is player/assistant manager at Walsall, currently in the middle of the England’s old Third Division, now known as League One. Yet several reporters and editorialists have pointed to his known leadership qualities. His international career culminated in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, when he captained the Irish team, which was eliminated after a second-round penalty shoot-out with Spain. His 100th cap was earned in the tie with Germany a few days earlier.
“The players have a healthy respect for him,” said former Irish international Ray Houghton. “And if the fans see progress and a bit of belief and spirit, he’ll be fine.”
Another Irish star of the past, Tony Cascarino, added: “There’s huge respect for Steve in Ireland and he knows how to get the best out of players.”
Houghton welcomed the news that Robson would play a guiding role.
“Sir Bobby has been it, seen it and done it,” he told the BBC. “Steve can lean heavily on him, especially when it comes to the media. But once he gets to grips with it, Steve will be his own man and want to pick the team.”
Houghton added that similar arrangements are not unknown in international football. He also pointed to the examples of former stars Marco van Basten and Jurgen Klinnsman, who will manage Holland and Germany respectively in the upcoming World Cup, though neither had much managerial experience before their appointments.
“I think the partnership would be excellent,” former Ireland boss Jack Charlton told the Sun newspaper. “Steve Staunton is a good lad. I don’t know what qualifications he has got, apart from being a good player. But Bobby Robson is one of the best men in football.”
Staunton was snapped up as a 17-year-old by Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish who spotted him playing for Dundalk. He quickly established himself in the left-back position in a team of superstars, but also played central defensive and midfield roles at the club and has done throughout his career. He won an FA Cup medal in 1989 and a championship medal for Liverpool the following year. The County Louth man also won League Cup honors with Aston Villa in 1994 and 1996. He returned to Liverpool for a two-year stint in the late 1990s and later had another spell with Aston Villa. When his contract with Coventry City ran out last summer, he signed for Walsall.
The County Durham-born Robson, a prolific scorer during his playing career at Fulham and West Bromwich Albion in the 1950s and ’60s, made his mark as a manager at Ipswich Town. The club was twice championship runners-up and won the FA Cup in his 13-year stint there. He led England, with whom he’d earned 20 caps, to the World Cup finals in 1986 (the team was beaten by Argentina and Maradona in the “hand of God” quarterfinal) and 1990 (when it lost to West Germany in the semifinal shootout). Robson subsequently had considerable success coaching teams on Continental Europe, including Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon and PSV Eindhoven. But he himself regarded the Newcastle position as his dream job as he’d supported the club fanatically as a child.