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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Aidan O'Hara: Can Keane go from leader to follower?

Published 04/11/2013 | 01:00

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It’s hard to image Roy Keane taking the quiet role with Martin O’Neill, as Pat Rice did with Arsene Wenger

RULE number one when it comes to a football manager, or a manager in any walk of life, appointing an assistant: Don't bring in an idiot, and don't bring in a threat.

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Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren, Carlos Queiroz and Mike Phelan were all important parts of Manchester United's success under Alex Ferguson; Jose Mourinho had Steve Clarke in his first reign at Chelsea and, until last season, Pat Rice was Arsene Wenger's right-hand man.

All of them were respected in their jobs but it never once crossed the mind of any player, supporter or board member that maybe the real brains behind the operation might be the second in command.

Even his fiercest critics could never place Roy Keane in the "idiot" category but it's wholly dependent on his own ambition to whether he ever becomes a threat to Martin O'Neill if, and when, the dream team becomes a reality for Ireland this week.

In the meagre words of praise that Ferguson gives Keane in his book, he writes: "Roy took a lot of the onus off me in making sure the dressing-room was operating at a high level of motivation." Like many things in Ferguson's life, he appreciated this trait in Keane until he didn't appreciate it anymore.

ASSUMING

Later, Ferguson believed that he had to get rid of Keane because, in Ferguson's eyes, Keane "thought he was the manager" and was "assuming managerial responsibilities". Responsibilities, perhaps, like keeping a dressing-room operating at a high level of motivation.

Last week, David Beckham described how Keane set the example at United and was the greatest captain that he'd ever played under in a career that included time at three of the most iconic clubs in European football. Beckham's words often have to be unwrapped from their PR spin but as somebody who inhabited a celebrity lifestyle that Keane so loathed, there has never seemed to be anything but respect between the pair.

That's because when Beckham, or any of the other United players, looked at Keane, they saw somebody who would defend them with everything against any opponent while, behind closed doors, demanding they reach a standard that was expected at the club.

Keane once pinned Gary Neville against a dressing-room wall at half-time because he delayed a cross and also replied to a text message which contained Neville's new number with the words: "So what?" More importantly to his team-mates, however, Keane was the one leading the undermining of Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel when Vieira took on Neville in the warm-up.

He gave others the confidence to follow him into any war and, for the vast majority of his time at United, the reality was that Keane was Ferguson's number two.

From the story of Keane writing to English clubs as a teenager to ask for a trial to the one of him leaving Sunderland players behind after they were late for the team bus, traits of ambition, leadership and doing things his own way are the foundation of Keane's life in football.

It's difficult to imagine him suppressing those characteristics and especially now going from a leader to a follower.

Keane has spent his entire career being equal, at the very least, to those around him and while assistants don't have to be yes-men, they do need a certain type of subservience that allows gripes of their own, which aren't shared by the man in charge, to pass without exploding in frustration.

When the wind whips up at Gannon Park and the rain is driving into the face of the players, will questions pop into Keane's head about why the Irish international team trains at an impressive set-up in Malahide but which, nevertheless, is a Leinster Senior League pitch that is 150 yards from the sea?

Keane was happy to train there as a player under Brian Kerr and brought Sunderland there in the summer of 2007 but the problem for Keane now is that, if something like that is an issue for him, there are layers of authority above him which must agree before anything changes.

If Ireland lose a game and one of his ideas for a substitution is ignored, will he be able to let it pass rather than brood and wonder if it could have made a difference? Will he be able to keep quiet at half-time after a poor first-half performance because O'Neill is the one taking charge?

These are the scenarios that assistants face every week and while Keane deserves praise for being willing to take a step back and learn from a man of vast experience who is 19 years his senior, there are legitimate reasons for wondering if two heads really are better than one.

At 42, Keane is certainly young enough to build a successful managerial career with the ideal scenario, presumably, seeing him taking over from O'Neill in a few years' time. How he copes with going from decision-maker to suggestion-giver will decide if we ever make it that far.

Irish Independent

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