‘I think he’s unfairly criticised... we had a lot of fun’ - Lambert looking forward to Keane and O’Neill reunion
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Paul Lambert is looking forward to a reunion with ‘gaffer’ Martin O’Neill and former Ipswich Town boss Roy Keane when the Blues host Nottingham Forest this weekend.
Lambert played in O’Neill’s all-conquering Celtic side from 2000-05 before following in his former boss’s footsteps and managing Wycombe, Norwich and then Aston Villa.
It was at Villa Park Lambert worked alongside Keane, with the former Ipswich boss assisting him for five months in 2014 before departing to concentrate on his job as O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland assistant, prior to the pair’s move to the City Ground earlier this season.
Lambert maintains a good relationship with both and believes Keane, who managed the Blues from April 2009 until January 2011, is often misunderstood by those who see only his sharp tongue and trademark glare.
“I knew about Roy and played against him for Dortmund when he was at Manchester United and there has always been that mutual respect of being really good footballers,” Lambert said.
“I always got on well with him and never found him the way some people probably do. I think he’s unfairly criticised with a lot of things but he’s a proper football guy.
“We had a lot of fun at Aston Villa behind the scenes and a lot of good moments. I’m looking forward to seeing him and we still keep in contact.
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“We get on really well and had some really big moments. He’s a big football guy and has a real sense of humour.”
When asked if he spoke with Keane about his time at Ipswich, both during their time together at Villa and prior to him taking the job at Portman Road, Lambert said: “I spoke to him of course but we spoke about loads of things, not just what happened earlier in his career or anything like that.
“You have moments where you look back and I think he enjoyed his time here.
“Yeah, I have no fears on that,” he added, when asked if he believes Keane could manage in his own right again. “With Roy’s personality he could do it no problem.
“He’s not a novice, he’s done it and was a top, top player. He did well and got Sunderland promoted so he’s not a novice and knows the game.”
Lambert won six trophies under O’Neill at Celtic and lost the 2003 UEFA Cup final to Porto, with the Ipswich boss still referring to the Northern Irishman as ‘gaffer’.
“He was brilliant, five years of brilliance up the road.
“When he first came in we needed a manager like him because Celtic is a monster of a club where you’re only as good as your last pass and you have to win.
“Sometimes the jersey is too big for players who can’t handle it.
“I had five brilliant years there with the gaffer. It was relentless, absolutely brilliant.
“We had a European final in which we just fell short and played in an era where Rangers were really strong as well. There were some really great battles.
“The hardest championship we won was the first because we had (Rangers’ potential) 10 (tiles) in a row hanging over us, but we went on and won a few.
“It was a great, great time and a really, really good side.
“I played in a charity match for Liam Miller who sadly passed away and the gaffer took the team that day against a Manchester United select team. I saw him in the summer
“When he tells you he is going to call you back within two minutes it’s more like four months later when he gives you a call.
“I look forward to seeing him.”
There is a great contrast in the personalities of O’Neill and Keane with the pair often referred to as football’s ‘odd couple’ but Lambert believes the two bring the best out of each other.
“Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me (they have had success together),” Lambert said. “I’ve played under one and the other has worked with me.
“Everybody on the outside maybe has major questions but, for me, it’s normal with normal guys doing a job for their team.
“The staff we have here at the minute, we’re not all the same. We have opinions and bounce things off each other with the manager ultimately having to make the choice of what’s happening.
“It’s a healthy thing.”