Saturday 25 October 2014

Roy Keane heading for exit door as job share idea is turned down

Notion of Irish No 2 plotting against Celtic's Scottish contingent too bizarre to entertain with Tartan Army qualifying clash on horizon

Published 02/06/2014 | 02:30

Martin O'Neill, would be disappointed to lose assistant Roy Keane, right
Martin O'Neill, would be disappointed to lose assistant Roy Keane, right
Roy Keane has a moment of quiet reflection before the kick-off between Italy and Ireland at Craven Cottage. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roy Keane has a moment of quiet reflection before the kick-off between Italy and Ireland at Craven Cottage. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane talk tactics during a training session this week. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane talk tactics during a training session this week. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

The endgame of Roy Keane's proposed switch to Celtic should play itself out over the course of the next 24 hours.

Ireland's players will meet up again in Malahide tomorrow evening ahead of Wednesday's flight to America, and they left London following Saturday night's scoreless draw with Italy believing that Keane wouldn't be with them for the US tour.

ITV, who planned to have the Corkman at the centre of their World Cup coverage, are exploring contingency plans in the expectation that the 42-year-old will be otherwise occupied.

Keane, who flew to Dublin yesterday morning, has already cast his mind ahead, with Aiden McGeady revealing he had spoken to his one-time Celtic team-mate about where he might live in Scotland.

However, there are still matters to be thrashed out before he can put pen to paper, with Martin O'Neill consistently indicating that his assistant could have more than one option. The Celtic hierarchy are understood to be confident of landing their man, however.

The FAI have officially kept their silence on developments amid reports that talks have taken place about Keane somehow staying part of the Irish set-up in tandem with his Celtic commitments.

Dermot Desmond, who convinced O'Neill to become the next Irish boss and rang the Derry man to confirm his interest in Keane from a Hoops perspective, is central to the whole process.

O'Neill didn't entirely rule out a job share when asked about it last Thursday, but his scepticism was apparent when he agreed that it would be troublesome for Keane if he were struggling at Parkhead. The 62-year-old is well versed on the expectation levels in Glasgow and the demands of the gig.

There would be anomalous elements to such an arrangement, not least the presence of Scotland in Ireland's Euro 2016 group as a serious qualification rival.

Celtic have a diversified squad, but they have local internationals such as Scott Brown, Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest in their ranks and it would place Keane in the bizarre situation of plotting against players he oversees on a daily basis.

O'Neill has accommodated Roberto Martinez's wishes this summer by understanding the rest requirements of Everton pair Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy after a long season, sensible practice in terms of striking a rapport with a club boss who it is important to have on side.

Twelve months from now, Ireland welcome the Tartan Army on June 13, so Keane would be in an awkward position if he was concerned that his Scottish contingent were in danger of being overworked – especially as they'll almost certainly still have the same issue as now, with the preliminary Champions League ties around the corner.

A competitive qualifier is a different story to this summer's exhibitions and Gordon Strachan and Keane appear to have a good relationship, but the whole scenario would be the subject of much innuendo in the goldfish bowl that is Scottish football.

Still, as unfeasible as it may sound, one must also consider that Keane's on-off relationship with the FAI has already stretched the boundaries of what is considered normal behaviour.

He was cheered off the pitch by Ireland fans chanting his name in Fulham on Saturday night and responded with a brief wave.

Celtic's supporters aren't wholly enthused by his impending arrival and, while Keane was firmly in pole position from Wednesday, it has emerged that the SPL champions have trained their sights on more than one man over the past week.

Steve Clarke, out of work since leaving West Brom before Christmas, is understood to have held talks with club officials, while Malky Mackay's name remains in the frame.

Intriguingly, media reports in Sweden claimed that Celtic representatives had also flown to Sweden last week to speak to Henrik Larsson, despite earlier assertions that the original favourite was not interested.

O'Neill was lured into a false sense of security by the initial reports, believing the speculation that Larsson was the man, which meant he was unperturbed when Keane's name was first thrown into the mix.

By this stage, he is weary of the questions – he has spent more time in this job talking about his assistant than any of his players – and after fielding a couple of game-based queries, he announced that he would pre-empt what was coming by saying there was no update on Keane's status because they hadn't spoken about it during the day.

Speaking later, O'Neill stressed that he expected to speak to his No 2 further over the weekend. "There may be discussions and he will obviously keep me informed," he said.

Last week, he said that he would fight to keep Keane but confessed that, ultimately, it came down to the man in demand.

"It's a situation that I think would be in Roy's hands and what will be, will be," he mused.

"What you can do is emphasise the fact that we all want him to stay and sometimes that is pretty important to a person but we will see. I am the eternal optimist and I understand the things he may be feeling at this minute."

Would Keane consider it a wrench to leave the Irish post?

DOUBT

"I've no doubt about that," replied O'Neill. "I've absolutely no doubt. I'm not an apologist for him, but I have no doubt about that he has thoroughly enjoyed it here, and I think it's been reciprocated, and he has been excellent around the players.

"Having been a manager, to sit back and take this role doesn't prevent him from having a say on the training ground, in the dressing-room or whatever he wants, even in a private discussion one-on-one with players."

However, it was notable during Saturday's match that it was the suited and booted coach Steve Walford who spent the most time in conversation with O'Neill and could easily have been confused with a No 2.

It was during the unfortunate stoppage caused by Riccardo Montolivo's setback that the tracksuited Keane first arose from his back-seat position to call over midfielders Jeff Hendrick and David Meyler for an advice session.

The influence that the former Manchester United star could have on the central midfielders in the squad was going to be a fascinating element of the road ahead.

The unavailable McCarthy, a Celtic fan, would probably prefer if his hometown club were looking elsewhere, for selfish reasons.

He would understand the lure of the job, though, and in an industry where the protagonists are conditioned to people coming and going, there is a pragmatic acceptance that these things happen, even if it has come about far sooner than they ever would have imagined.

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