Friday 19 January 2018

New management team is pure box-office

IT'S quite possible you're feeling a little bit of Roy fatigue right about now.

Ever since the news broke last Thursday that Martin O'Neill was going to tap Roy Keane to be his assistant manager, it's been wall to wall Roy. Column inch after column inch. Minute after minute of airtime. Radio, television, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, websites, forums, chatrooms... you name it everybody is having their say on Roy.

And it is Roy they're having their say on. Martin O'Neill is almost incidental. The buck stops with the Derry man, but all eyes will be on Roy. The man is box-office. It's as simple as that. He's the single most compelling character in the history of Irish sport.

Ireland's last truly world class footballer, he brings with him that passion, that intensity, that spiky personality, that volatility which led him to his greatest successes and failures. It drove him – and the entire Irish team – to the World Cup.

Those very same impulses drove a wedge between him and his team-mates and manager in Saipan. That's the tragedy of Roy Keane. A tragedy worthy of comparison to the classical world in the play I Keano. What made him great, sometimes laid him low.

In a country that more often than not meekly accepts mediocrity – 'ah, shure, tis grand' – the Cork man demanded almost impossibly high standards. It made him a hero to some, a villain to others. When he railed against the FAI, there was plenty to rail against. When he walked out before the World Cup, people had every reason to criticise him for it.

It's possible to believe both things. That Roy was dead right and that Roy was dead wrong. Few do, of course. It's usually more of a binary proposition when it comes to Keane. A George Bush style you're either with us or you're against us situation.

Well life is more complicated than that. Shades of grey rather than clear cut choices between black and white. If there's one man who understands that it's Keane. Yes he can be strident and sometimes absolutist in his views – witness Saipan – but he's also clearly a very intelligent man, a man of wit and self-awareness.

"Nobody would play for me, but we'd have great facilities," he once remarked about the possibility of managing his country. That, you'll have to admit, is pretty funny stuff. Remarkably he said it on Saipan, the tension rising with the final showdown between him and Mick McCarthy not far off.

After Saipan people thought it unlikely Keane would ever don the green of Ireland again. He did. After Giovanni Trapattoni was relieved of his duties last month, people thought it inconceivable Keane would work with the FAI and John Delaney (whom he openly disdained). Well he's going to.

All of which proves Keane is much more of a pragmatist that the caricature suggests. He's not nearly as inflexible as some would have us believe. Not that he's an easy man to work with. Not that he doesn't have incredibly high standards.

The most common criticism of him as a manager is that he expects his players to be able to do what he was able to on the pitch. Seemingly lacking the perspective that not everybody has his ability. That led to a sometimes frustrating period in the dug-out.

The present Irish side certainly lacks his ability as a player, so... trouble ahead? Possibly. There will certainly be moments of real frustration, he's certain to lash out on occasion – Alex Ferguson wrote in his autobiography that the hardest part of Keane's body is his tongue – but you get the sense that he wants to adapt, that he wants to learn.

After all, he'd be the first person to criticise a player for making the same mistake over and over again

Above all else Keane wants to be successful. He wants to achieve. That's why he took this job, that's why he's opted to come on board as a number 2 – the last thing anybody would have expected him to do. That's a sign of growing maturity and humility.

That's why so many of us think his partnership with O'Neill could be a rip-roaring success. It could also be, in the words in Eamon Dunphy, a trainwreck. To believe either could be the case isn't to contradict oneself. It's just the way things are and that's why all eyes will be glued to Lansdowne Road and Poznan in a couple of weeks time.

It's box-office. After the last few years of Trapattoni, after hit and hope long balls and Glenn Whelan on the wing Irish football badly needs something to recapture the public's imagination. Whether it's a success or not – and it stands a very good chance of being a success – the partnership of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane is just that.


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