Richard Sadlier: Keane being picked as No 2 is beyond me
O'Neill surely realises Roy must alter approach
Appointing Roy Keane as your assistant would suggest you knew something the rest of the world didn't. Or at least that you're willing to ignore most of what is known to this point. Certainly it would be based on the need for Keane to be different in some way.
Martin O'Neill, however, is taking an entirely radical approach. "Do I expect him to change?" he said yesterday, "I really don't want him to change."
O'Neill was asked many times to explain Roy Keane's position. "First of all we will confide in each other regarding what we consider the best team, I can see that sort of role," he said.
He added he saw a place for Keane to work individually with the players, particularly the younger ones. "I actually believe Roy wants to integrate with the players," he said, perhaps the first man to ever put those words in that order. "This is where I think on a one-to-one basis with the players he will be excellent."
Imagining Keane in an assisting role is hard to do, but O'Neill outlined clearly who's in charge. "We will devise some method whereby I will enthuse over his input, but eventually the decisions will be down to me."
He spoke of the relationship that has developed during their time together working for ITV. "The thing I like about him is that he's very intense and he wants to do well. He loves football."
Yesterday's press conference was dominated by questions about Keane, as have most conversations about the appointment of the duo since it was announced last week. As long as Keane is involved he will be the focus of interest. Nothing O'Neill says or does is going to change that, but he spoke enthusiastically about the job he has taken on himself. Emphasising the importance of results, he said he'll find most joy in winning matches. He knows he'll be ultimately judged on whether Ireland qualify for Euro 2016 and John Delaney confirmed a new contract will be offered if that happens. In that context, the credentials and responsibilities of his assistant would seem trivial enough.
But describing Keane in terms of his remit or his role would miss the point. The sheer force of his will and the might of his character should be the focus of attention now. His playing ability is irrelevant. Keane's personality has always been the issue, both his towering strength and crippling weakness.
It's what led Alex Ferguson to offload him and why Mick McCarthy sent him home from Saipan. O'Neill said he doesn't want Keane to change, but it's hard to see him succeeding in the role if he doesn't.
O'Neill answered every question put to him yesterday about Keane. He was engaging and articulate, charming and humourous. Keane can be all of those and might well be when he appears before the press on Wednesday. On the day he arrived at Sunderland one of the players told me he was unsure whether to shake his hand or ask for his autograph. He has few peers in terms of his presence but his flaws are common enough.
How he handles the days when things aren't to his liking has been his downfall before. His way of responding when it happens again will define him in this role.
O'Neill joked that if Keane ever looks to overshadow him he can turn to Ferguson for advice on how to handle it. Going by the public response to the appointment and the questions that were asked yesterday, he may have to make that call sooner than he thinks. Keane is box-office for sure. He is the most iconic figure in the history of Irish football, but why he was chosen to fill this particular role is just beyond me.
Ireland's qualification chances obviously won't hinge on Keane's input, but his presence could become an unnecessary distraction or worse. The outcome of a campaign depends on far more than the role of a number two. He will contribute greatly to the attendances at games at the Aviva, but it's an odd choice to make given all that we know.
O'Neill spoke glowingly of his playing ability and his stature in the game, but neither is relevant now. It's an entirely new landscape for Keane and one that requires a new approach. Of most concern is that O'Neill doesn't want him to change.