Roy Keane – The inevitable has arrived

by Neil Sherwin

Roy Keane IrelandIt had to happen eventually – Roy Keane is about to get his teeth into international management with the Republic of Ireland, albeit as an assistant to Martin O’Neill.

One of the most divisive figures in Irish history, the mere mention of Keane and World Cup 2002 can see you bogged down for hours in an argument over whether he walked out on his country or was told to leave.

The fact that Roy Keane is becoming an employee of the FAI is hard to fathom, even a decade down the road from Saipan, with John Delaney still at the helm of the organisation.

With that said though, Keane’s name has been thrown into the melting pot both seriously and sarcastically whenever debate has raged over who should be in charge of the national side.

More than a few eyebrows were raised last week when news began to emerge that Martin O’Neill, a favourite for the manager’s job since Giovanni Trapattoni departed in September, wanted to make Keane part of his team.

O’Neill has never been a man to take a hands on approach to training, preferring to leave that to his long time assistant John Robertson. However, Robertson suffered a heart attack earlier this year and wasn’t part of the coaching set up under O’Neill at Sunderland.

While Keane is being painted by some as the “new Robertson”, a Guardian article at the time of his departure from the Stadium of Light suggests that he wasn’t one to spend a lot of time on the training field either.

Keane failed to attend any of Sunderland’s training sessions this week – a not uncommon occurrence…

Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, released in recent weeks, gives some more insight into Keane’s managerial capabilities, with the ex-Manchester United manager of the opinion that his former captain does not have the patience for such roles.

The press used to see him [Keane] as a quasi-manager, because of his winning appetite, and the way he drove the team on. They would ask me all the time: ‘Do you think Roy Keane will be a manager?’ As his career in coaching developed, it became apparent that he needed to spend money to achieve results. He was always looking to buy players. I didn’t feel Roy had the patience to build a team.

Unfortunately, the Irish set up right now needs patience with our ‘Golden Generation’ of Shay Given, Damian Duff, Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and John O’Shea all going or gone. The current crop is far from perfect so time and effort is required to build for not just the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but for every tournament after that.

When things started to go wrong at United in the summer of 2005, Ferguson states that Keane became reclusive, a trait repeated in his final few weeks at Sunderland when the chairman, Niall Quinn, could only contact him via text message. Who’s to say that won’t happen for a third time?

Then of course there is the famous MUTV interview where Keane tore strips of his team mates, including Rio Ferdinand, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher.

There are two ways to look at that one. Alex Ferguson’s assertion is that it was completely unacceptable to call out your colleagues in public like that, effectively airing some of the club’s dirty laundry.

On the flipside, and it has been suggested by those who are supportive of Keane taking a role with Ireland, he will have no problem clamping down on any egos that may come as part of the package.

There is no doubting that both O’Neill and Keane will instil some much needed pride back into the Ireland jersey, and a lot can be achieved with a team whose attitude has been dictated by two winners.

And Keane is a winner, make no mistake about it.

Will he be happy to play second fiddle though, and fall into line if O’Neill makes a decision that he doesn’t agree with? Keith Andrews, the Irish Player of the Year in 2012, made this exact point on Newstalk over the past few days and questioned whether Keane has the DNA to be a number two.

Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who knows both men well, summed up the situation nicely in terms of its initial unlikeliness and what could be in store.

I am surprised, yes. I didn’t realise that there was a connection between the two of them before now. They are two interesting characters, two great personalities. They have a vast knowledge of the game. They are two proud guys. God help the players!

Roy Keane was always going to be involved in the Irish set up at some point so we might as well get it out of the way and jump on for the ride when the stock of the national side can’t get too much lower.

Having him as an assistant and not in the top job is a compromise for those who would struggle to sleep at the thought of him having free reign, and it’ll be entertaining if nothing else.

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