Monday 20 August 2018

Damien Duff view of Roy Keane's bad-cop influence carries warning for Irish side struggling to find their feet

Roy Keane and (inset) Damien Duff
Roy Keane and (inset) Damien Duff
Damien Duff. Photo: Sportsfile
James Lawton

James Lawton

Any tendency to believe that Damien Duff's attack on the style and domineering personality of Roy Keane carries a touch of envy - or at least the regrets of a former star now operating in the shadows - should be resisted, at least for the moment.

The most compelling reason is that Duff, whatever his motives, is expressing what some meeker spirits might consider the unsayable.

It is that Keane may indeed be the wrong man in the wrong place at this delicate stage of the making of a new Irish team.

There is a theory that in any highly competitive business, and not least professional team sport, the combination of good cop/bad cop makes for effective leadership.

But does the partnership of Martin O'Neill, who can be as sharply acerbic as any man in football when his blood is up, and Roy Keane really make sense at a time when young players are battling to find their nerve at the highest level.

What Duff is saying, with a mass of rather more than circumstantial evidence, is that Keane is misplaced around young men who will probably never exude the levels of self-belief - some might say arrogance - which seems to have filled his veins since his days as an unproven stripling in Cork.

This, as Duff readily concedes, helped to make Keane one of the world's best players - he rated him the number one midfielder at the time of his explosive departure from the Irish squad in Saipan.

But then he is candid about the bullying force Keane exerted on the younger players in that 2002 World Cup.

Most intriguing was Duff's response to the possibility that Keane's presence in the Far East might have powered Ireland to the final rather than the defeat in round of 16 by Spain. Maybe, maybe not.

It was certainly true that Keane, while carrying an injury, was a magnificent force on the field when Ireland upset Holland in the World Cup qualifier.

But then with the authority came the imbalance, and it is idle not to consider the evidence of a distinguished player who believed in himself quite enough to challenge some of the pet theories of Jose Mourinho when the Special One was at the peak of his powers at Chelsea.

Duff says, persuasively, that while Keane gave of himself enormously on the field - Bobby Charlton, no less, claims to have in been awe of his commitment - but that he also took from others.

He had one view of events on the field, undeflected, unchallenged in his own mind.

There are such stories told around Manchester United, where Alex Ferguson sadly decided that his most consistently effective player, the man who almost single-handedly carried the great manager to his first Champions League final with a performance against Juventus that was utterly uncompromised by his suspension from the final, had outrun, and out-yelled his effectiveness.

Keane derided a new generation of pros. He sneered at their liking for expensive cars and jewellery. He sounded like a man who had found himself on the wrong planet after many years of absolute certainty about who he was and who he chose to play with.

Maybe football has reached the stage where such attitudes can no longer be sustained, when even men like Mourinho and the brilliant Antonio Conte have found that the integrity of a coach must soften in the face of dressing-room dissension.

What Duff is questioning most deeply, it seems, is the Keane belief that today's players must be placed on the anvil of his belief in what is precisely right and wrong. His most arresting testament is on the relief that spread through the Irish dressing room when Keane finally headed home after his battles with the manager Mick McCarthy.

Yes, Keane might have added force on the road towards the final, but then maybe some of the younger players who so frequently "got in the neck" for 90 non-stop minutes might not have breathed easily enough to believe they could make any kind of meaningful contribution.

What plainly needs saying is that Damien Duff has raised pertinent points about the management of the Irish team of 2018.

He has had the nerve to challenge the value of a number two who seems utterly miscast in such a role, not because of any failure to understand the most vital aspects of football but how the young, rich player of today is best handled.

Keane will never lose his iconic status, of course. He slaved for it in a superb career. But then it is also true that there comes a time in even the most successful lives when a little self-analysis becomes overdue.

If Duff, by some long chance, has nudged Keane towards the mirror he will have performed a valuable service, not just to Irish football but also the man who is in danger of being a parody of all that he has come to mean.

Irish Independent

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