Keane must now prepare to change or prepare to fail
Adjusting to life as a No 2 will require whole new philosophy, writes Richard Sadlier
Draw up the job description of an assistant manager. Outline what the role requires and what qualities are needed to make it work. Now make a case for Roy Keane to perform it. Specify it to international football if you like, but the result will be the same. It's hard to think of a candidate less suited to the job he is about to be given.
He is surely not being brought onto the back-room staff for his coaching ability. Keane did very little coaching at Sunderland, preferring instead to hand that responsibility to his assistant Tony Loughlin.
The role of assistant manager is often described as a link between the playing squad and the manager, a buffer between factions which can at times seem worlds apart. Keane has not yet shown the flexibility to resolve conflict when it arises or negotiate peace when it is required. How he would perform that aspect of the job given his own personality is beyond me.
Is he there to lighten the mood, or help players to relax between training sessions and prior to games? That hardly requires an answer. If, as it would appear from the outside, this Ireland squad needs its collective morale boosted after the last 12 months of the Trapattoni era, what role could Keane play in that? Particularly after his comments about the players from the ITV studios during the Euros. His assessments made for good television but the reaction within the dressing-room would differ greatly from the response he got from some of the public. And if bridge-building is required on the back of it, is he really the man to begin the process?
Sound bites work great on television, but players require more. Not all of Keane's motivational methods are available to him now either. It's fine to put Gary Neville up against the wall during half-time for delaying a cross but more subtlety will be required in his new role. The moody stare won't work now. Criticising players in public will only alienate him from the squad. Leading by example was something he could do better than most on the pitch, but new tactics are required when you're wearing a tracksuit. Keane had a playing career that probably no other Irish player will achieve again. He has an aura that few in the game will ever match.
But he is no longer known within football just for his extraordinary performances for Manchester United and Ireland. His playing career should guarantee him the respect of every dressing-room in the world, but it will be his performance in the job that matters now. His recent performances at Ipswich and Sunderland are what the players will be concerned about rather than the many heroic displays of the past.
Supporters will be amused to hear he physically challenged players at both clubs during his time as manager, but inside the dressing-room that would have been dismissed as weakness.
And that's the point in all of this. Keane's greatest strength was his ability to lead from the field but that's not available to him as someone's assistant. His reputation as a manager is what goes before him now, not the fact that he was one of the greatest midfielders in the history of the game. And that's without questioning how such a controlling personality would enjoy assisting somebody else.
His appointment as assistant to Martin O'Neill is difficult to make sense of from any number of angles. Fail to prepare or prepare to fail? Unless Keane is prepared to change, then he is a certainty to fail.