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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Hand of history pushes sworn enemies towards reunification

Dion Fanning

For a few hours last week, it looked like Giovanni Trapattoni's time as Irelands manager could be coming to an end. A new process would begin and we would engage in one of those ritualistic searches for a new manager, a sacrament with as much tradition as anything that ever came out of the Vatican.

There is the sudden re-appearance of David O'Leary on many of our favourite radio and tv shows; the emergence in the market of an unknown foreigner who immediately moves to the top of the betting; the moment when the search is officially declared 'farcical' which, by chance, often coincides with the moment Frank Stapleton puts himself forward as a unity candidate.

Some names were suggested last week but there was only one who caught the eye.

When Roy Keane's name was mentioned, many rational commentators pointed out that this would be an impossibility for several reasons. The rational commentators were right: there are many factors which, on their own, would exclude Roy Keane from becoming an early front runner, let alone the manager of the Republic of Ireland. They are all valid, they all are reasonable and rational and they all make sense.

There is no point in denying Keane's difficult relationship with John Delaney, the FAI, the Irish players, the Irish media and, indeed, the Irish people.

All these problems should be ignored. Roy Keane should be the next manager of Ireland.

Of course, there are obstacles but we live in a time when the unthinkable is not only possible but essential.

Ultimately, it is an outcome that both parties crave. Keane needs a job; the FAI will, at some stage, need a successor to Trapattoni who can capture the public's imagination.

For those who like their sport stories redemptive, what more could there be? What greater act of healing could there be than the sight of all these factions reconciled or at least enjoying an uneasy peace.

The main obstacles would be Keane's relationship with John Delaney. The FAI's chief executive has not allowed his extravagant salary to prevent him becoming a Man of the People.

He has the populist instinct of Pádraig Flynn married to the younger, rock 'n' roll sensibility of, say, Pádraig Flynn.

His communion with the Irish supporters in Moscow on Tuesday night was extraordinary. If he had been a player he would have been booked several times as he moved closer to the fans, finally abandoning all convention and getting into their section by crossing a running track and sprinting down a tunnel before blinking into the light.

They say that when U2 played the Hope and Anchor, Bono performed like he was at Wembley Stadium. There were only a few hundred Irish fans watching Delaney on Tuesday but it didn't matter. He felt the world was watching and we need that kind of ambition,

As with Bono at Live Aid, in Moscow, we watched and wondered where Delaney was going. Delaney might have been mocked for throwing his tie into the crowd but, like Bono, he gave himself. The silk tie was not the point.

His commitment to the Irish fans is such that he recently expressed outrage over UEFA's decision to play Ireland's game with Andorra in Andorra when it was expected to take place in Barcelona.

Many fans will now be stuck in Barcelona and unable to attend the game. Delaney's devotion to his people is such that he announced he would spend the day with them in one of Europe's finest cities rather than watch Ireland struggle to beat Andorra on the side of a mountain.

So far, Delaney's massive popularity has failed to translate into anybody actually wanting to pay to watch Ireland play but if Keane was there, the Aviva would sell out.

Roy Keane would make it so. He needs this gig too. He was linked with the Iceland job last week but, more distressingly, he turned up playing Masters football.

For those of us who admire Keane for his incisive mind and commitment to solitude this was unnerving news. I like to think that Keane only enjoys himself by marching stridently with Triggs, not playing five-a-side with Clayton Blackmore. The Masters is an exercise in banter dressed up as a game. Keane, who said that banter was the thing he would miss least about football, doesn't fit in. He needs stimulation.

It has been forgotten that Keane did an exceptional job at Sunderland for two seasons before he remembered that he didn't trust anyone. Ipswich was a different story and while he certainly brought Fear to the Fens, he didn't bring much else.

Keane would be under no illusions about his working relationship with John Delaney and this would be a good thing. Without the illusions, Keane would never become disillusioned and that is where all the problems start.

For Delaney, Keane's appointment would mean he would never have to answer questions about premium tickets or debt again. There would be a full Aviva every month for one thing., For another, Delaney would always be addressing some complaint the manager had about him or the FAI -- nobody would have time to bring up the black hole in the finances.

We would benefit too. International management would allow Keane to touch on an even wider range of subjects than when he was in charge of Ipswich Town. The country needs this diversion.

Keane's style of management would be suited to international football. There is just enough time between international games for players to forget how terrified they are of him. Unfortunately, there may never be enough time for Keane to forget what he thinks about everybody else.

Maybe he would come to accept that it is this, not Masters football, which drives him. He needs to compete and to wage war.

Once again Ireland would be playing to its strengths: in this case our endless capacity for division and discord but it could be harnessed to make the team stronger.

Would there have been a finer moment in our island story than the reunification of John Delaney and Roy Keane? Imagine the scene in front of a packed Aviva as they walk out before a friendly against, say England, or an opening World Cup qualifier against Germany.

Their hands would be clasped together like David Trimble and John Hume but there would be no need of Bono. The FAI have their own Bono. Keane and Delaney would have brought peace.

And it would be Delaney, not Sepp Blatter, who would become football's first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

dfanning@independent.ie

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