10 things Martin O'Neill needs to do to plan for life without Roy Keane
Ireland boss must now be prepared for every possibility as lure of Paradise looks set to snatch No 2 from his clutches – and throw major spanner in works for Euros campaign
Roy Keane was not on the Irish team bus that brought the players to their Portmarnock base after training in Malahide yesterday.
Instead, the Corkman walked back from Gannon Park along with other members of the coaching staff.
The assistant was early for training as usual yesterday and engaged in the session ahead of this evening's friendly with Italy but, away from those duties, the 42-year-old has plenty to ponder.
Martin O'Neill was at pains to stress yesterday that his assistant has not formally been offered the job as manager of Celtic, and comments from Hoops chief executive Peter Lawwell fell in line with that.
However, the Ireland boss also indicated that he expects developments over the weekend, in keeping with the general theme from Thursday night that Keane has a decision to make. He will be weighing up the pros and cons of leaving this job after just eight months and no competitive matches and going out on his own again.
The hierarchy at Celtic may be contemplating some of the same questions from a different standpoint, while the FAI and O'Neill will have to mull over the implications for their ambitions. In the circumstances, the Italian game has become a sideshow to the real talking point of the London trip.
1 WHAT IS THE ATTRACTION OF THE CELTIC JOB?
There are split views on the status of the role. Celtic are a huge operation, and those who have attended a big European night know what a special place Parkhead can be for that kind of occasion.
Considering Keane's last management job was scrapping around in the middle of the Championship with Ipswich, the opportunity to sample the Champions League is massive.
Neil Lennon is now a man in demand after his exploits in the gig and it's anticipated that his next role will be in the Premier League. It's a big job in its own right but can also be a stepping stone with a view to the longer term.
2 WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PITFALLS?
The obvious problem is that European progression is not guaranteed. Celtic are back in Champions League action on either July 16 or 17 and have to get through three rounds to book their ticket in the group stages.
It was an ordeal last year, as many of their prospective opponents from similarly sized countries are in the middle of summer campaigns and have the edge on sharpness.
If Celtic miss out, Keane would have that hanging over him in a SPL season that is bound to end in title glory, with Rangers in the second tier. Hibs and Hearts were relegated this year to further dent the profile of the top flight.
3 HOW WOULD THE RESOURCES COMPARE TO HIS PREVIOUS CLUBS?
At Ipswich, he was working off a tight budget, but at Sunderland he was able to splash the kind of cash that simply won't be available at Celtic.
Only a handful of players earn in the £30,000-£40,000-a-week bracket, with most on considerably more modest deals, and European success makes a huge difference to the coffers. Champions League TV money is worth in excess of £25m.
The Scottish deal is in the £1m bracket. Salary wise, Lennon's final contract was understood to be worth in the region of £750,000 a year. It's not Premier League money.
4 HOW WOULD HE BE RECEIVED?
Social media can be a dangerous barometer sometimes but the reaction from Celtic fans has been quite mixed.
Keane's brief stint there as a player didn't go especially well, and his managerial struggles in his latter days at Sunderland and at Ipswich are still fresh enough in the memory of the sceptics.
Keane is such an iconic figure that he would be guaranteed a rousing reception, but results-wise the scrutiny will be intense from the outset.
There is a feeling that Celtic require a box office boss that can help to fill the stadium again.
5 IS HE READY FOR THE OPPORTUNITY?
O'Neill said on Thursday that the Irish opening allowed Keane a chance to rehabilitate himself, but leaving before a competitive match makes it difficult to judge the success or otherwise of that mission.
Nevertheless, the Derry man asserted that his No2 could cope with the demands of the Celtic position. "Absolutely," he said. "Roy has lived with pressure all his life in terms of leading a very, very strong Manchester United side year in, year out. He managed at Sunderland very, very successfully so he's capable of handling those things, without a problem.
"I would have expected him to step (back) into management because I think that was something that was still burning within him. I did not think it would happen so quickly, that he would have offers – a number of offers – on the table."
6 HOW WOULD HIS DEPARTURE AFFECT THE FAI?
The Keane addition added serious X-factor to the appointment of O'Neill last November and it's no great secret that the association required a high-profile package to try and bring lapsed fans back to Lansdowne Road.
Commerically, Keane is a huge weapon and he has embraced the job, coming with O'Neill on a number of trips to Ireland to press the flesh with various strands of the football family, including Q&As with prospective ticket buyers. He has also appeared at women's matches, underage internationals and maintained an active interest in the League of Ireland.
To have Irish football's biggest name on the payroll is a serious selling point, even if it didn't quite translate to numbers through the door at the stadium in the prolonged build-up to September.
7 HOW WOULD HIS DEPARTURE AFFECT O'NEILL?
It's hard to draw a firm conclusion as it's not like he is losing a long-term assistant who has always been central to his management structure; the retired John Robertson was that man.
This was a step into the unknown, but the duo appear to have struck up a good working relationship. Still, O'Neill has brought in Steve Walford and Steve Guppy to strengthen the coaching side and has three months between now and the big kick-off in Georgia to firm up a Plan B.
8 WHAT DO THE PLAYERS MAKE OF HIS POSSIBLE DEPARTURE?
Keane has made a good impression on the squad, proving to be very different from the caricature that newcomers expected and more relaxed than when he previously managed certain members of the squad.
He is an idol to quite a few of the youngsters, so there would be a natural sense of deflation if this is the end of their working relationship.
9 HOW QUICKLY IS THE SITUATION LIKELY TO DEVELOP FROM HERE?
The timeframe is straightforward enough from an Irish point of view, despite Lawwell speaking in terms of "a week or two".
After the Italian match, there is a four-day period before the flight to America on Wednesday and O'Neill could only say "we'll see" when asked whether Keane would be on the plane.
Considering he has Brazilian commitments with ITV and Celtic are back in pre-season training before the end of the month, this has to be sorted within a week.
10 CAN KEANE BE FORGIVEN FOR CONTROVERSIALLY LEAVING THE IRISH CAMP AGAIN?
Of course he can. It was made clear from the outset that he would be open to an offer he couldn't refuse because his current position has limitations.
This would hardly be an act of treachery, especially as it was the behind-the-scenes work of Dermot Desmond that helped to bring O'Neill into the FAI's hands and Keane came with that.
It's natural that a deputy would be tempted by the chance to be the sheriff. Yes, it would be a shame for this experiment to end so quickly, but it wouldn't be a surprise if there was another chapter in his Irish tale somewhere down the road.