Wednesday 25 April 2018

Supporting role fails to remove Roy from centre stage

Enigmatic icon holds audience in thrall as he outlines what lies ahead at Villa

Roy Keane, the new assistant manager of Aston Villa, poses for a picture at the club's training ground at Bodymoor Heath in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)
Roy Keane, the new assistant manager of Aston Villa, poses for a picture at the club's training ground at Bodymoor Heath in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)
David Kelly

David Kelly

"I may not look that excited but I am...". Not like Roy Keane to grab the headlines during a hiatus in the World Cup, eh?

An assistant manager of a middling international team was deciding to also become an assistant manager at a middling (to even worse) club side and Birmingham's sleepy summer is rudely and abruptly interrupted.

Those on the soccer beat are roused from their golfing and cricketing slumber to witness the unveiling of an assistant who seems set to engage as much interest as his now boss, Paul Lambert, inspires ennui.

Even if he turns up more than 15 minutes late for his first press conference – tut, tut – the famously clipped tones have not dimmed in their ardour despite the briefest of summer interludes.

So, Roy, I ask him, have you taken a pay cut? For many, including those who once worked for the FAI, would be eager to wonder whether his even more diluted role with Ireland would be matched with a slice from his reputed €750,000 salary.

"None of your business," he says glaringly. Well, some folks reckon it might be?

"Well, they can ask me when they see me and I'll tell them the same thing."

With that particular piece of housekeeping brushed under the carpet, both his and the new gaffer report that negotiations to secure the Cork man were about as rudimentary as ordering a pizza.

"Let's go for it," reports Keane enthusiastically. And yet just a few weeks ago, another FAI employee, John Delaney, roundly refuted the prospect of any double-jobbing on his CEO watch.

And, although Keane confirmed that the primary reason for rejecting Celtic's head coach advances were precisely because of Delaney's doubts, the same theory apparently doesn't apply to this gig, even though it will consume as much, if not more of his time.

The creeping suspicion remains that, following O'Neill's insistence on Keane as his deputy, before inviting his old pals, Steve Guppy and Steve Walford, on board, there is less and less for the Cork man to do in an Ireland tracksuit.

Certainly, he will have less and less to do now.

"Martin is there and there's other staff, there's scouting people there," he says, as if explaining himself away, before adding more conviction.

"It's about sharing the load and it will help Ireland and me to be working with a Premier League club full-time.

"Celtic was a different situation. I was always reluctant to give up the Irish job, that was the main reason for that not happening, along with one or two other things. Once this opportunity arose, it suited me because I didn't want to give up the Ireland job, because I love it."

Lambert confirmed that talks were already in train with Keane before Celtic's approach – which renders Delaney's comments even more remarkable now that events have trampled them underfoot.

"I knew he was a winner and we're pretty similar personalities," said Lambert, whose club owner, Randy Lerner, when not scratching around his couch for loose change, is trying to offload this desperately listing club, once proud European champions in sepia-tinted days.

"He was the first one that came into my head when I started thinking of it. I was delighted when he accepted and I respected the fact that he was with the Republic of Ireland.

"They're both his priority now – he's a winner and he's never been anything less.

"He'll do everything that he wants to win with both teams."

Keane accepts he'll be busier than ever; he refuses to be cowed by being relegated to the managerial slipstream as, predominantly, offering advice and beseeching to the whims of others will be the name of the game.

He believes he will absorb the lessons of previous experiences – some good, some bad – which may allow him to sketch boundaries that were invisible to him before, particularly during the latter dog days at Sunderland and Ipswich.

"I'm aware this club has had difficult times but I try to look at the positives and see what I can bring to the party," he expands.

"And whatever people might think about my confrontational approach – I don't think that's true by the way – I hope the players will look forward to working with me.

"Whatever reputation I've been given doesn't keep me awake at night. It's part of the image that's been brought up by the media.

"Obviously I've had one or two incidents (no sniggers down the back!). I've worked with players and rarely had issues. You have to be prepared for disagreements sometimes if you all want the same thing. That's part of the game but it's getting the balance right with how far you go with that, and having boundaries with that."

As Lambert avers: "If you're weak you might worry about a circus effect with having Roy here. But this is what is best for Aston Villa.

"Just as Martin wants what is best for Ireland. Martin's not weak. I'm not weak. Roy is not weak either. This is about bringing something to the table.

"He's not going out to have a poker face and not have a laugh with the players. He'll be different to them than he will with you. You don't have that type of football success if you smell of roses, sometimes you get hot on the training pitch but that's what you need to be a winner."

The danger with Villa, unlike Ireland, is that the assistant may become more popular than a manager who is currently struggling to win over the Holte End.

Trust – a word mentioned on more than one occasion – will be paramount.

"I wouldn't have known Martin that well either but there'd be that mutual respect," says Keane of a relationship that began on the field, when Lambert's Dortmund beat Keane's Man Utd in a Champions League semi-final, before they traded ideas and players in the management game.

"You don't have to know people that well to know if you can trust them and try to help them.

"I don't want to confuse you but I'm here to help the manager in whatever way I can, be it scouting or training, or being a sounding board.

"The main thing is that he sees someone he can trust, which is what Martin saw in me.

"I've learned with Ireland there are boundaries. The manager will make the final decision. I've known that from being a manager myself. It's very straightforward."

Villa's efforts to reverse a steady decline will dictate. And then Lambert may find out if these words somehow come back to haunt him.

Asked how he saw this cosy little arrangement working out, the Scot said: "I'm pretty sure you'll find out in time."

Irish Independent

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