Saturday 19 October 2019

Kevin Palmer: This job should have been Keane's to inherit - but spat with players put paid to that

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Martin O'Neill may be frontman for the Ireland debacle of 2018, yet Roy Keane is the biggest loser in a story that should have ended long ago.

Confirmation that O'Neill and Keane had finally left their posts as the FAI's highest paid employees came with a mood of euphoria greeting the news - confirming that they have long since lost their mandate to continue.

This managerial double act should have exited stage left after last year's 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat against Denmark, or when they threw their hats in the ring over managerial vacancies at Stoke and Everton shortly after. If they had done so, the vitriol they have had to endure since then could have been avoided.

Instead, they stubbornly remained in place and refused to concede ground.

Putting the duo's star status to one side, the reality has long been that this dysfunctional set-up has had a major flaw in its make-up from day one in the shape of celebrity cheerleader Keane.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has stated time and again that his assistants were as important to his success as his star players and in Keane, O'Neill had an A-list sidekick who was unequipped to complete the tasks required of him.

I have asked every Ireland player I have interviewed over five years a very simple question; "What does Roy Keane do in the Ireland set-up?" The responses have been varied, with some stating he is a great guy to talk to and learn from, and others suggesting he is an inspirational icon to have around the camp, yet none has presented an image that suggests he has done the role he was hired to do.

An assistant manager should be a buffer between the top man and the players, the go-to man if a player has a grievance or wants to get a message to the boss via a discrete line of communication.

But Keane became O'Neill's enforcer as he put players in their place with some harsh words when needed, with the manager turning a blind eye as he followed the 'old school' management style that has served him well over the course of his own career.

Keane's personality means he has never been cut-out to be anyone's assistant, yet he was given a platform no assistant has ever been afforded to promote his own agenda under the watch of a manager who has relied so heavily on his assistants during his successful reigns as manager of Leicester and Celtic.

While we all got a laugh out of the 'Roy Keane show' as he attacked his own players, Premier League managers and anyone else who came under his gaze in high-profile press conferences, the bigger picture was there has always been a communications vacuum between the manager and his players so long as this assistant remained in place.

Then, when the Keano side-show turned sour as the details of his row with Harry Arter and Jonathan Walters became public in September, O'Neill was left in the unenviable position of defending an assistant who lost the PR war and most of his own credibility in the space of a few days.

Keane has not hosted a press conference since that spat.

Before that, Keane was firm favourite to take over from O'Neill as Ireland manager, but Arter's decision to withdraw from the squad and the media reaction to that story destroyed the reputation of arguably Ireland's greatest player. Now his dreams of landing one of the few remaining managerial jobs he could have inherited in football has gone for good.

His gravitas as a legend of the game ensured that every Ireland player wanted to be accepted by Keane, yet only a chosen few were given a pass from a towering figure who will now attempt to resume his own management career with his image a little more tainted than when he accepted the role as Ireland assistant manager back in 2013.

This may not be the end for Keane's career in the game, but would a chairman of any top club hire him as their next manager? On the evidence of what he contributed to the Ireland set-up over the past five years, he would be a risky appointment.

Irish Independent

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