independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Shane Ross: Keane coup is a golden goal for FAI and Aviva

BRINGING THE CROWDS BACK: Roy Keane at Friday’s match against Latvia
BRINGING THE CROWDS BACK: Roy Keane at Friday’s match against Latvia

TWO months ago Irish soccer was on its knees. Trapattoni had departed, defeated and dejected, leaving morale at rock bottom. We had a team of second raters, no tournament in prospect, a vacancy for the manager's job and thousands of disillusioned fans.

Worse still, John Delaney and his crew at the FAI must have been haunted by the prospect of an empty Aviva stadium for years to come.

If FAI shares had been traded on the Dublin stock exchange they would have tanked. Its balance sheet was weighed down by €63m in debt owing on the Aviva stadium, about to become Ireland's biggest white elephant since the DAA built Dublin's Terminal 2. The Celtic Tiger had claimed another casualty. Trapattoni might have been dead meat, but Delaney was toast.

Last Friday, just eight weeks later, thousands packed the Aviva to cheer Ireland on against lowly Latvia. Normally the Latvians would not have energised the most ardent soccer fans, but on Friday we paid out good money, arriving in our droves, to greet them. Or rather, to greet Roy Keane, the troublesome charmer who has electrified Irish soccer.

The signing of Keane by Delaney was the most inspired business coup since Tony Ryan signed up Michael O'Leary to take on the sinking Ryanair. Singlehandedly, Keane has probably saved the balance sheet of the FAI. Whatever about the merits of his selection as an assistant manager to Martin O'Neill, Keane will attract buckets of cash into Irish soccer.

Eamon Dunphy identified the thinking on the day of Roy's appointment: "That's showbiz, baby."

And so it has turned out to be. The new arrival is playing his centre-stage role for all its worth. So has Delaney. Following bitter exchanges between the two men in the past, Delaney bit his tongue and swallowed his pride to welcome Keane to the Aviva.

Hollywood Irish-style went into overdrive. The FAI boss appeared on the Late Late Show with a bit of 'mea culpa', a bit of soap opera and tickets for everyone in the audience. Ten thousand extra tickets must have been sold that night.

Next Mick McCarthy, Keane's bete noir, the Irish manager who sent him home from Saipan, gave the sales an unexpected bonus when he sulked at a press conference after questions about Keane's appointment. If it was a bitter moment for McCarthy, who had been in the frame for the Ireland job, it was high drama for soccer. Thousands more tickets must have flown off the shelves at the Aviva. Edgy creditors will have relaxed a bit. The Keane magic was boosting sales.

On Wednesday, Keane, a mere assistant manager, gave a press conference solo without his boss, Martin O'Neill. The world watched in wonder as thousands more tickets were gobbled up by followers of a story that would seduce even the most hardened readers of Hello Magazine.

The soap opera element does not mean that the O'Neill/Keane team will be anything less than a soccer success. O'Neill must see the merits of having an understudy who will always outshine him in the publicity stakes, bringing spark, charisma and endless media coverage. Keane's record as a manager is mixed, but if there is one grounded human being running the show, accompanied by a lightning rod for his assistant, it could attract both loot and results. It was precisely this mix that worked so well in the Seventies and Eighties when the most formidable soccer partnership of all time, the loud-mouthed manager Brian Clough and his quiet assistant Peter Taylor, took Derby County and Nottingham Forest to glory.

Delaney has brilliantly contrived a package that can bring the loot back to Lansdowne Road. The sniff of sulphur that comes with Keane is certain to seduce advertisers, to make television rights more marketable, boost gates and enrich the FAI. The prospect of the Aviva debt being paid off by 2020, once seen as a forlorn dream, is now a possibility. There's no business. . .

Sunday Independent

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