Sunday 19 November 2017

'Are you sure they weren't talking about themselves?' - Roy Keane responds to Swedish criticism

Roy Keane during a press conference in Versailles
Roy Keane during a press conference in Versailles
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.

Miguel Delaney

Roy Keane has warned Sweden not to get too far ahead of themselves in thinking Ireland's "slow" defence can be got at, saying the criticism is just as relevant to their own backline.

Panathinaikos striker Markus Berg stated yesterday that Martin O'Neill's centre-halves are "big, strong and a little bit slow", before adding that "it's mainly there we are hoping we can have a lot of space" in their Euro 2016 face-off at the Stade de France tomorrow.

When this was put to Keane by a Swedish journalist, he responded with a speed beyond perhaps both defences.

"We'll see. I think they've got some good players. Are you sure they weren't talking about the Swedish centre-halves? They're not exactly really lightning either," he said.

It is expected that Krasnodar's Andreas Granqvist and Mikael Antonsson of Copenhagen will start for Sweden tomorrow, while some around the Irish squad feel Shane Duffy may partner John O'Shea at the back because of his physical presence.

Keane was much more complimentary to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, saying the game needs "characters" like him and - in a clear moment of self-reference - that the star's temper is a good thing.

Sweden's forward and captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Asked whether Ibrahimovic reminded him of Eric Cantona, the Irish assistant manager said: "They're big characters, clearly. Whatever you say about Cantona, he was a popular lad - and I get the impression Zlatan is the same. Whatever about his playing career, you hear from his team-mates and he seems to be a bit of a character, and you can see that in the way he plays.

"It's good to see that, because there's a lack of characters out there, and he certainly is that. On top of all that, he's a very, very good player. To compare him to Eric, he's a little different."

Responding to a comment that Ibrahimovic has a temper, Keane said: "That's good".

"I don't have one," he joked. "It depends how you use it. I'm still learning."

Reflecting the mood around the Irish squad, Keane was in sparkling form yesterday, making quips about everything from the stilted Uefa language of "match-day minus-one" to Seamus Coleman's insistence you could trust everyone in the squad. "On the pitch?" the assistant responded.

Keane also said his willingness to agree a new deal with O'Neill was down to how much he enjoys the job and the people he works with, and that he has no plans to immediately succeed the manager - because that would mean the staff, of which he is a part, are no longer succeeding.

"The longer it's put off, the better - because we're being successful. Obviously, if we're not successful, and the manager does move on, I'd like to think I'd be part of the problem. I'm not looking to be jumping into people's shoes.

"Do I think I'm capable of being a manager of Ireland? Of course I do. We've just signed a new deal, as an assistant manager, which I enjoy at the moment.

"I made it clear a few months ago we were waiting to see what the manager was going to do. Was the manager going to stay on? Would he want me to stay on with him? Would the deal be the right deal? All these things fell into place in the last few days. Once he decided to stay on he said he'd like me to continue making his tea, and the deal was right.

"I might go back into [club management] if it's the right job. I'm sure I'll sit down like I have previously with the manager, and discussed a job offer with him recently.

"These things do fall into place, because you sign contracts . . . Players sign contracts, they move; managers under contract, they move - but I'm happy. I'm content with the job I'm in, and you can't really put a price on that, that contentment with the people I'm working with."

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