Sunday 25 September 2016

Roy Keane's charm offensive defuses Eden Hazard situation

Assistant manager talks up Belgium playmaker following ‘spoilt child’ TV broadside – and questions Fellaini critics

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

Roy Keane in relaxed mood yesterday as he looked forward to Ireland’s match against Belgium Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Roy Keane in relaxed mood yesterday as he looked forward to Ireland’s match against Belgium Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Towards the end of his press conference, Roy Keane asserted that the pressure of being expected to deliver in a major tournament was preferable to the easier life sitting in a television studio.

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It was always inevitable, though, that a game against an opponent with a star-studded team would bring Keane the assistant into contact with players he had discussed as Keane the pundit.

And so, we come to Eden Hazard.

Keane's eyes narrowed when the man from Sky brought up his acerbic comments about the Chelsea star around the time of the Londoners' Champions League tie with PSG in February, a draw which prompted Hazard to admit he would find it hard say no if the French champions made a play for his services this summer.

Raged

"If I was a team-mate of his I would kick him up and down the training pitch," raged ITV Roy. "He's a talented boy, but his attitude is like a spoilt child. It was absolutely ridiculous.

"You don't mind some players sometimes being moody, or having their head turned if they think they might be moving, but once you go on that pitch you've still got your pride."

Strong words. He couldn't deny them.

"That's nothing personal," he explained yesterday, after testing his inquisitor to be sure they accurately remembered his specific comments.

"I would do that to anybody if they were talking about trying to leave all the time. He's a talented boy that I'd like to have in our group, a top player.

"If I was playing with anybody who was constantly talking about wanting to leave, I'd kick them in training. I did that with most players," he continued, smiling. "Even those who didn't want to leave."

Clearly, with the Irish tracksuit on, his intention was to defuse the situation instead of inflaming it.

Belgium have a talented array of players, and Kevin de Bruyne was their star performer in this term's Premier League, yet it's Hazard that discussion keeps coming back to.

That's partially media-driven, of course, but Martin O'Neill kept making unprompted references to the playmaker in the course of his general reflections earlier in the week.

Richard Keogh cited the 25-year-old when he was asked about Belgians that he admired.

"A fantastic player," he enthused, recalling a cup tie where he gave Derby the runaround. "He's very elusive, he likes to suck you into tight areas because his mobility is very good.

"It's not so much with the ball, it's his body movement that throws you off because he is so sharp with the ball and he sends you one way and then the other.

"That's why you want to be at a major championships, to play against the best players in the world and Hazard is in that category. If you don't want to play against those players then you shouldn't be in the game."

Keane wants the Irish squad to adopt that mindset, although he batted away the suggestion that the stopping job on Zlatan Ibrahimovic offers encouragement for this test.

Hazard is different, capable of hurting Ireland in other ways. With Jonathan Walters out, Ireland will have to examine whether it's worth changing a midfield shape that is susceptible to a team that is strong on the flanks.

"He's a different type of player," said the No 2. "I think Hazard is probably more capable of going by people, particularly in wide positions and coming in off the wing. He's a different animal.

"We've got to keep an eye on him. If he's getting it off their goalkeeper then we're probably not too worried. But if Hazard's getting it 30/40 yards from goal. . . the Italians defended pretty well the other day and we'll have to defend as well.

"You've got to be careful because I don't know what's going on at club level with the guy but he's a talented boy. But it does happen, players have dips in form. But he's still an absolutely dangerous player and he showed a bit of better form before the end of the season for Chelsea.

"I think ye all know that whatever the criticism the guy's had, he'd have a chance of getting in our team," Keane continued, grinning.

Marouane Fellaini would get in Keane's team, too. The oft-derided Manchester United midfielder is a good player as far as the club's former captain is concerned.

"I thought the criticism he got when he went to United was a bit over the top," he said. "I think it was just because he came in at the last minute when David Moyes was there and fans were maybe quick to jump on his back.

"I saw him a few times live when United weren't great and thought he did okay. But he seemed to be the scapegoat for the fans.

"I like him. I liked him at Everton and I think he's a good player for Man Utd. If anything, they should have been criticising the experienced players at United who weren't helping him out or who weren't helping out the new manager. But that's another story."

A story for the studio, perhaps.

Fellaini would be welcomed in O'Neill's dressing-room, given his ability to get on the end of set-pieces.

What heartened Keane at the Stade de France was the contributions from Irish players that are at odds with the one-dimensional stereotype.

He says he enjoyed the game because of their approach. The bravery of Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick helped, particularly with an eye to future tournaments.

"They played with that bit of freedom," he asserted. "These are the players for the next ten years and it's important they embrace it.

"You speak to them and they seem quite happy go lucky guys. Not just them but Seamus Coleman, the goalkeeper (Darren Randolph), John O'Shea did well for all his experience, Glenn Whelan. I thought they all did well."

He wasn't forgetting Wes Hoolahan either, despite the fact that the Norwich playmaker sometimes loses out to rivals who would get closer to Fellaini on a basketball court.

"Wes wasn't always in the starting XI at Norwich," Keane said "They might have some big strong boys but if you've a player like Wes and he's getting on the ball, that's what you want.

"I don't think there's an issue with a player like Wes over whether he's doing enough when he's on the ball. You can talk all day about what he does off the ball - you can do that with a lots players.

"If Wes is giving you that bit of trickery, a bit of composure then, trust me, you don't talk about the other stuff."

Belgium have Hazard, but Ireland have their own dangerman.

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