Sunday 19 November 2017

Roy Keane and the FAI: Time to build new bridges

Keane must quickly show he has worked on character flaws and improved his personnel skills, writes David Kelly

David Kelly

David Kelly

"I'm too young to be wise" Roy Keane, Sunderland 2006

When Roy Keane began the first day of the rest of his football life in management, he spoke about his previous life as a player. The war was over. Keane had de-commissioned his most wounding weaponry. This was six years ago. Disarmament was difficult.

Despite his initial success, it was clear that he was as yet unwilling – or more accurately, unable – to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate his character in his coaching.

While his three-year unemployment obscures any possible evidence that Keane's uneven professional skills may have altered in the meantime, what is really important is how much his personal expertise has developed in that time.

His immediate reaction to Ireland's call, via the persona of Martin O'Neill, is vividly illustrative that a touch of modesty may have emerged to obviate the raging intolerance that ultimately undid him in his previous postings.

O'Neill did not want to recruit a coaching assistant who was too young to be wise. He wanted a professional associate who had found wisdom with age. The manner in which O'Neill's invitation was answered would suggest that it was the latter figure who took the call.

Now it will be up to Keane to develop the key relationships required to ensure that he can maximise the most from this radical shift in career direction.


"Sometimes I have to go easier on myself a little bit and that's something I hope will come from experience."

Roy Keane, 2010

If Keane was, as both player and manager, guilty of over-zealously demanding the impossible from players around him, then it is was for one simple reason.

Keane only expected so much of others because he expected so much of himself.

Keane hinted at a softer treatment of himself when speaking to this newspaper back in 2010 (

Sadly, he was nearer the end than the beginning of an unfulfilled Ipswich Town job. The necessary realignment in his character came too late.

Coaching demands that people change not only the way they perceive others, but how they perceive themselves.

Keane has learned from his mistakes even if he sometimes seemed helpless when trying to correct them.

He knows that coaching is about progress, not perfection. Perfection may suit his character, but it doesn't fit others'; this is the accommodation he must now make.

Coaching is about moderating personal control. Keane has too often been able to locate the volume switch. The subsequent lack of control has stressed him out – and all around him.

If Keane can let go of the need to control, it may be then when he gains the most.

It's not about Keane being easier on others. It's about Keane being easier on himself.



"I don't think you can go around trusting every Tom, Dick and Harry."

Keane, 2010

This partnership will be hewn from the seeds that were sown upon their first professional exchange.

Keane's inherent modesty betrayed a man who almost instantly accepted the terms and conditions in principle even before he'd read the contract.

As the primary basis for a professional working relationship, it seems like a fundamentally solid foundation from which to develop.

It begins and ends with trust. Trust is imperative. Both men have derived from their mentor, Brian Clough, a preference for surrounding themselves with people in whom they can place absolute trust.

Keane instinctively mimicked O'Neill and Clough in adopting this tactic. But they also appreciate that when Clough momentarily lost Peter Taylor, his trusted sidekick, he floundered. Later in life, even Ol' Big 'Ead would have to widen his circle of trust.

By embracing each other, O'Neill and Keane have done just that.

Both men would previously have viewed such a partnership as merely a marriage of convenience. Instead of being a sign of weakness, it can be a source of formidable strength.

O'Neill's generosity of spirit in inviting Keane to work alongside him reflects in the Derry man a sense of humility, too.

O'Neill needs Keane for this to work as much as O'Neill needs Keane. This partnership works as one, or not at all.


"I wouldn't take any notice of that man." Keane, 2009

Keane's relationship with John Delaney? As far as we know, there isn't one to speak of.

The public perception demands this position of intransigence should change. We would ask, whyever so?

The private reality admits no need for such an awkward, forced accommodation.

There is no earthly reason, apart from the staged perfunctory greetings to satiate the baying media mob and public rump, that Keane and Delaney should be detained in each other's company long enough for their relationship to become an issue.

O'Neill will be Delaney's point of conduct for Keane and vice versa; Keane can benefit from having an intermediary though which to funnel whatever grievances he may have and to prompt any necessary change.

The bottom line is that this is a professional arrangement; Keane is acutely aware that, aside from O'Neill being his No 1, Delaney will also be the signatory on his wage packets.

It is nothing personal; purely business. This is about results and hearing the till ringing – this will decree success, not whether they are on each other's Christmas card list.

Regardless of whatever personal animus existed in the past, both Delaney and Keane share a similar vision for the future Irish football.

Some of Delaney's pronouncements – 33rd team and all that – have earned Keane's wrath. But the future, not the past, will inform this pact.

But Keane's recent, clearly coloured praise of the FAI's managerial search reflects a thaw in relations and Delaney has implemented much of the radical change Keane once called for.

There is a bigger picture here than the context of two of them clashing.

If this wasn't the case, neither man would dare contemplate being on the end of a handshake.



"Someone who is honest and someone who has balls, you know? Someone who doesn't take any shit from anybody. That's what we need."

Robbie Keane, October 2013

As we wrote in these pages last Saturday, if Robbie Keane wanted a manager with balls, then he got two for the price of one.

More importantly, when he was pressed to respond positively to a list of candidates, his namesake was one of those to which he expressed no opposition. O'Neill's was another.

But the captain's influence on this team is decreasing exponentially; were it not for the paucity of striking options, he would not be a factor in offering his imprimatur to any managerial appointment.

Indeed, it is debatable whether players should have any influence in this sphere at all. The relationship will be an interesting one to watch unfold.

One-time team-mates, one of Roy Keane's first tasks as the next qualification campaign kicks off could be to inform his namesake that he is no longer an indispensable part of the starting 11.


"It doesn't matter if the players like you or dislike you. It's when they respect you that they play for you."

Brian Clough

Aside from the ever dwindling band of erstwhile team-mates, Keane will pitch up in an Irish camp of whom the majority were once dewy-eyed devotees.

There will be immediate respect proffered; Keane will not have to cajole it from an emerging group of ambitious and intelligent young footballers.

The relationship must be established immediately. Keane's behaviour and attitudes will be viewed as if a mirror; hence the importance of Keane's realigned relationship with himself.

Thus, if Keane demands honesty, commitment and trust from his players, he must be willing to display those attributes to the group himself.

O'Neill would seem to be the obvious good cop in cartoonish depictions of this management duo, the figure who will put an arm around the shoulder of the player who has been scythed to pieces by a withering Keane rebuke.

But the generation gap means that Keane will need to be closer in thought and mood to the playing group than in his previous management roles.

While all his instinct may scream at him to be distant, it will be his intimacy and loyalty to the players which will be a crucial component.

He has to contribute and influence, not lead or dictate. He cannot hope to influence players if they are afraid of him.

This new chapter in Keane's life could open his mind and heart to resources even he knew never existed.

With age comes wisdom.

Irish Independent

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