Sunday 26 February 2017

Vincent Hogan: Roy Keane's instinct is to napalm the next sucker who wanders across his path

Irish assistant has a short memory

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane

In the professional life of Mr Ronald Koeman, it seems doubtful he's had to duck much public rifle fire from assistant managers.

Mostly football number twos communicate with media as if someone's just read them their rights, tossing out some anodyne nothings before bolting from a press-conference chair as if it's attached to wires. But when the Almighty put the finishing touches to Roy Maurice Keane 45 years ago, he/she didn't have assistant anything in mind.

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

So they neglected to install the release valve of politesse or diplomacy and thus, when Keane speaks, there's the perpetual sense of a tank plunging over a culvert.

Roy is ungovernable and that's what keeps him interesting. He admits himself that he mistrusts serenity, that when life is calm his instinct is to pick a scab that, often as not, doesn't need picking.

But quite how his jibes at Koeman and Everton Football Club this week were meant to help James McCarthy is difficult to fathom. Quite how they might serve Seamus Coleman or, indeed, Martin O'Neill harder still. The manager had already dealt with Koeman's allegation of Ireland "massively overloading" McCarthy during the recent games against Georgia and Moldova.

Bleating

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

There was little need of a follow-up tackle, more pertinently one with studs showing.

The basic tenet of Keane's argument became an echo of Jose Mourinho's recent bleating at Old Trafford about modern professional footballers needing to embrace the concept of playing through pain. He suggested of Everton that "maybe their players need to toughen up a bit", a proposal McCarthy might find discomfiting as he watches this evening's game in Vienna from a Merseyside couch.

Keane is hard, we understand that. But even now, a decade and more on from his retirement as a footballer, the compulsion to remind us of it seems to perpetually frame his engagement with the outside world into some kind of Clint Eastwood movie script.

That's not to say that we should doubt the veracity of any suggestion that he himself routinely played through the kind of injuries that now, habitually, sideline the modern footballer.

Here, after all, is a man who once lined out for Ireland against Switzerland with broken ribs. Who played against the Faroes with a torn groin. Here is a man who stayed on the field for Manchester United against Liverpool despite a Steven Gerrard tackle breaking his foot.

Here is someone who was, forever, impatient to play despite the inconvenience of hernias (two), hamstring pulls, ruptured ankle ligaments, stitches to the head or, most grievously, a torn cruciate.

Towards the end of his career, Keane admits that his dependency on pain-killers was all-consuming. With his hip in a state of chronic disrepair, his final games with Celtic were only possible through an injection in the bum beforehand and another at half-time. He patently shouldn't have been playing.

After his first day training in Scotland, he recalls returning to his Edinburgh hotel thus: "I lay on the bed. And my hip - I've never known pain like it. My hip was f*****g screaming. Just from the warm-up, from the training."

There is, undeniably, something admirable about Keane's subsequent achievement in playing more than a dozen games for Celtic when his body was, clearly, spent. But was it wise? His own verdict is quite damning. In his book, 'The Second Half', he says: "I should have just packed it in. I should have been braver. Sometimes you have to be courageous enough to say no."

It might surprise people who have not read the book to hear that one of Keane's expressed regrets for how his playing career ended is that he did not finish up at Everton. Describing them as "a top club", they were one of four teams (Real Madrid, Celtic and Bolton the others) keen to recruit the Corkman after Alex Ferguson decided his time at Old Trafford was up.

"Why didn't I go to Everton?" he wonders. He "liked" David Moyes, their manager. Their chairman Bill Kenwright was "very good with Michael (Kennedy) in the negotiations". He "knew that there were good fitness people there." Everton were offering him more money than Celtic. Had he gone, he believes it's possible he could have played for "two or three years" longer.

Sometimes with Keane now you get a faint sense of stage-directed anger. Of feeding caricature when encountering a microphone rather than taking the time to think something through. The instinct always is to just napalm the next sucker who wanders across his path.

Koeman has been doing nothing with Everton that Ferguson didn't do with United during Roy's 13 years in Manchester. That is, he is being protective of his own patch. Maybe excessively, even aggressively so. But Martin O'Neill had already answered him. The rebuke had been delivered.

McCarthy certainly did not need Keane's follow-up, given his already uncomfortable relationship with Koeman nor, dare we say, did Ireland captain, Coleman. Everton pay their wages. Koeman is their day-to-day boss.

Yet, there is a deeper issue at play here too. That is the legitimacy of players choosing not to play through the pain barrier if they fear a danger of risking long-term damage.

Keane himself tells the story of Ruud van Nistelrooy missing an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal because of a sore knee. The Dutchman essentially ruled himself out of a game in which Roy would play despite a protesting hamstring. At the time, Keane was incredulous of Van Nistelrooy's stance.

His earliest education in the professional game had been overseen by Brian Clough, a man who he says "detested" injured players. The old-school view was that you played unless you categorically couldn't.

Yet Van Nistelrooy's career stretched into his 39th year.

Confessed

"I was thinking he was the fool, but I think now that I probably was," Keane confessed two years ago. "Not playing when you're injured - that was pretty sensible. But I was conditioned to think that not playing if you weren't 100 per cent fit was a sign of weakness and that you should be strong and play when you were injured.

"But the clever lads won't be limping around when they're 45 and they won't be having hip replacements. My tradition was different - 'Don't show you're hurt, just get on with it. Don't be weak. Play when you're injured.'

On Thursday, David McGoldrick seemed to espouse that old-school mentality - perhaps in service to the Irish management's stance this week - by recalling how he played on for Ipswich in an early-season game against Stevenage despite rupturing ankle ligaments. "When is anyone 100 per cent fit these days?" asked McGoldrick.

Roy, presumably, would have approved the insinuation of that question. But when his own career was over and he found himself wondering if he'd been premature to retire, it was his wife, Theresa, who had to deliver the reality check..

"Do you not remember?" she asked. "You couldn't even get out of your car."

Irish Independent

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