Saturday 14 December 2019

Matters of routine are never part of Roy's long-term plan

'Last week was going to be a week when nobody wrote about Roy Keane and there is always some consolation for all of us in that but, like the Spanish Inquisition, Roy Keane's chief weapon is surprise.' Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
'Last week was going to be a week when nobody wrote about Roy Keane and there is always some consolation for all of us in that but, like the Spanish Inquisition, Roy Keane's chief weapon is surprise.' Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Dion Fanning

'An actor," Brando said, "is a guy who if you ain't talking about him, he ain't listening."

Roy Keane has always been devoted to the dramatic. He is as obsessed by the media as those he accuses of courting it and he has never lost the ability to draw attention to himself.

At the end of his week-long book tour, Keane expressed relief that it was coming to an end but if the nightly address to thousands of adoring fans was a struggle, it was the struggle of a man who knows that the torture will always deliver some adrenaline and adrenaline, as a wise man used to say, is great stuff if you can get your hands on it.

Keane's supreme comic timing ensured that his performances were gripping and even if he felt like an actor at the end of a long run, there must have been a part of him that was drawn to this, this adrenaline on tap, this thrill of the live audience which was breathlessly anticipating the punchline of the stories he so magically tells or, at least, breathlessly anticipating when he was going to swear next.

Roy Keane (PA)
Roy Keane (PA)

He was in a hall full of people talking about him, interrupted only by the occasional question to Roddy Doyle about his working methods, before they returned to discussing Roy, a subject of endless fascination for everyone in the room.

His journey from the book tour to his Ireland duties was interrupted by a couple of Aston Villa games but with Ireland, he could again pursue a quiet life, spoiled only by the fact that there is rarely quiet when Keane is involved with Ireland.

He had his difficulties with a fan and with the Irish media. Both stories might have been less important than they became but they ensured that Keane was again seen as Keane rather than just Martin O'Neill's assistant.

To return to the life of an Aston Villa factotum after that could lead many to wonder what it's all about. It was not simply a quiet life at Villa, something Keane might crave, it was something else. Aston Villa was the rat race. A daily commute to a club that effortlessly accommodates crisis so that it doesn't look like a crisis at all.

Keane was a true assistant at Villa, doing whatever that entails and he was the company man, getting in his car to make the journey every day, like the office worker who catches the 7.37 each morning, nodding at his fellow commuters who swiftly become friends. There was routine and there was nothing but routine.

In his management career, Keane has never given much indication that his emphasis is on routine and coaching. For Keane, the emphasis is always on the great truths, the abstractions like desire and character which his career was about. His management - in fact his life in football - is about the search for good lads and the relentless scrutiny of them which will establish if, in fact, they are bad lads. Putting out cones is not usually the best way of determining that.

Roy Keane gives the thumbs-up at training
Roy Keane gives the thumbs-up at training

Last week was going to be a week when nobody wrote about Roy Keane and there is always some consolation for all of us in that but, like the Spanish Inquisition, Roy Keane's chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear. And ruthless efficiency. Surprise is amongst his weaponry.

So nobody should have been shocked when Keane announced on Friday that he had decided that now was the time to leave Aston Villa and, as a consequence, now was the time to speculate about what he would do next.

He had somehow managed to contrive a surprise out of the humdrum, even if the surprise was that he had discovered that the two jobs would be taxing in December when they were going to be taxing when he took on Villa in the summer.

Of course, the attention had been drawn elsewhere last week and many could appreciate the irony that Keane was deflecting attention away from John Delaney, a man he now works closely with, but with whom he had seemed to have many fundamental differences.

Keane might not have believed that his decision to leave Villa was much of a story and for once, he could have had a point if he marvelled at media fascination.

In the scale of Roy Keane stories, this was not a shock, the equivalent of when he left Celtic when his playing career had effectively ended when he left Manchester United.

Yet Keane has the ability to be surprising and unsurprising simultaneously, the shock resting with the timing which led many to wonder why Keane needed to concentrate on international football at the end of November when there isn't an international game until the end of March.

Keane might simply have found it too demanding to leave Manchester at dawn every day for a role that is by its definition not as satisfying as being a manager and can bring different levels of responsibility, depending on how the manager functions.

Even when it is in crisis, Aston Villa is not a club that is releasing pure adrenaline into the system. Last Monday night, they had their lowest league attendance in 15 years when 25,311 turned up to watch them draw with Southampton.

Keane is not a man for the long-term plan, it is hard to envisage him suggesting a three-month wind-down, a gradual diminishing of his duties or a scaled reduction of his commitments.

In many ways, it doesn't matter if the rumours - and they are said to be just rumours - about a dressing-room argument are true or not. Keane needs no excuse to act impulsively.

He moved swiftly and moved on but just because it wasn't much of a story, it doesn't mean that Keane's ability to make news has diminished.

He was at a club that had other things on its mind. If he is really to listen, Roy Keane needs the subject to be him or his great themes.

dfanning@independent.ie

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