Martin O’Neill still expects Roy Keane to return to management in his own right one day as the pair look to lead the Republic of Ireland to next summer’s World Cup and beyond.
The Football Association of Ireland announced on Thursday that the 65-year-old and his assistant had agreed new contracts that will see them remain in charge for the 2020 European Championships qualification campaign.
However, O’Neill, who guided the nation to the finals of Euro 2016, knows ambition still burns brightly within the former Republic and Manchester United captain.
Speaking on the eve of Ireland’s penultimate World Cup qualifier against Moldova in Dublin, the manager said: “Roy is obviously his own man and I’ve never shied away from this, that at some stage or other he will manage again. He wants to manage on his own.
“I think that’s right, and I think that the time with myself and the Ireland squad has been really good for him.
“I was nearly going to say that he’s mellowed, but he’s certainly not done that at all. In fact, he might have got worse!
“But he’s been excellent for me, I must admit, he’s been excellent in the dressing room and I actually think he’s enjoying it here, too.
“Whatever decision we come to, I think he would be happy to go along with it. But I think at some stage or other, he will step into management himself.”
O’Neill’s comments came hours after golfer Rory McIlroy claimed he had been snubbed by Keane as a young autograph hunter.
The former Leicester, Celtic and Sunderland boss said with a smile: “I think he’ll be fine. I feel if Rory wants an autograph, he’ll probably get it.”
In the meantime, the pair will continue the process of trying to book Ireland’s place at next summer’s finals in Russia before turning their attention to a third qualifying campaign.
O’Neill told FAI TV: “I spoke to [FAI chief executive] John [Delaney] very recently and he said on behalf of the board he would like to extend my contract for another couple of years, obviously with the Euros coming up, and I’ve agreed to do so.
“I’m delighted. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. International football was something I didn’t know whether you’d get used to or not, but obviously qualification for the Euros made it all worthwhile – and we’re still in this competition also.
“We’ve some younger players coming through who will take over from the older players who will retire naturally from old age as much as anything else, so it’s exciting times.”