Tuesday 25 June 2019

Comment: Roy Keane should be using legendary status to nurture players - not drive them away

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, right, and manager Martin O'Neill
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, right, and manager Martin O'Neill
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

"I don't want to sound like I'm brown nosing him here, but Roy Keane is a footballer everyone should look up to for a variety of reasons. We can all aspire to be as good a player as he was."

The words of Harry Arter in an interview given a couple years ago highlight the reverence Ireland's assistant manager should command among the squad of players he has been working with since Martin O'Neill appointed him as his A-list sidekick in late 2013.

While O'Neill's appointment as Ireland boss was widely applauded, his intriguing decision to recruit Keane as his assistant ensured that this double act would dominate the front and back pages for as long as they remained in post and over the last six years, this captivating and divisive duo have lived up to their billing.

Yet despite O'Neill's notable successes with an Ireland team hampered by increasingly limited talent, negativity has mounted around the manager and his celebrity apprentice in recent years, with the debate over Keane's role coming to the fore this week as one of Ireland's last remaining Premier League players pulled out of the squad due to his presence in the set-up.

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We understand that Keane was not impressed by Arter's absence from a training session ahead of the match last June and let the player know with an outburst of verbal venom that has become his trademark, leaving O'Neill in the uncomfortable position of cleaning up the mess left behind as he faced the media on Monday.

Keane walked away from the Ireland squad after he felt he had been humiliated in front of his team-mates by manager Mick McCarthy ahead of the 2002 World Cup finals in Saipan and while Arter took a little longer to consider his options after his clash with the former Manchester United skipper last June, he concluded that he could not continue to work with a man who had such a low opinion of him.

Apologies may not be in Keane's make-up and for that reason, Arter will not go looking for one, but dialogue and respect from one of the great players of his generation is the least all of the current Ireland squad can expect from a legend now employed to build careers rather than destroy them.

Suggestions that Arter had a variety of reasons to step away from the Ireland squad just 13 caps into his international career can be dismissed as the Cardiff midfielder would have been available to play at his home stadium in a green shirt on Thursday night were it not for Keane's verbal dismantling of him in full view of his team-mates.

With Eamon Dunphy among the high-profile names calling for Keane to be removed from the Ireland set-up for the second time in his colourful career, the sad reality must be that a great opportunity is being missed here by a figure whose legendary status could be so inspirational to the increasingly depleted squad of players O'Neill is working with.

Jeff Hendrick now stands alone as the last remaining Premier League performer O'Neill can select from in his midfield for the game in Wales, with the talent crisis gripping our national team emphasising the need for Keane to use his influence as a force for good in the squad rather than allowing his frustrations to drive players away.

Keane's man-management skills have been questioned time and again in his faltering coaching career, yet the comments from Arter at the top of this article confirm that he is not using his position as one of the greats of the game in the right manner.

The end result means that one of the great winners of Irish sport joins Arter as a loser in a soap opera that could so easily have been avoided.

What a mess.

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