Friday 13 December 2019

Time for Roy to change his act and leave past behind

James Lawton

Even for Roy Keane, there just might be a point of no return, a time when his latest immersion in controversy provokes not so much a furore as something close to mass coma.

This may seem unlikely, given the reaction to his latest misadventure, but he would still be unwise to dismiss the possibility.

You have to say this because whatever the rights and wrongs of the skirmish in the lobby of the hotel where Ireland's young and thus far impressively resolute team were supposed be concentrating their minds on tonight's vital game in Glasgow, Keane may be a lot closer than he imagines to such a landmark in his increasingly arrested life pattern.

We know he can be a shrewd and biting analyst of the game. We know that his humour can be sardonic. But his problem is that he lives in a wearying time warp.

Admittedly, this is a personal suspicion, and there is much evidence to the contrary.

Dwarfing

We see this in the fact that when someone went down - however it happened - during the course of a conversation with Keane, it meant the dwarfing of any consideration of the fate of Martin O'Neill's team, the one Keane was hired to assist.

The Keane agenda, desperately retrospective though it is, was rampant again. Old battles have been endlessly regurgitated, and an incident widely dismissed as insignificant is thus quite enough to provoke a new outbreak of demons.

But for how long will this be so? How much oxygen is left in all the angst? How long before O'Neill and his FAI bosses, for all their current support, tire of the Keane side-show which runs and runs, to the delight of his high-selling book publishers but at such cost to the idea that when the Irish players report for duty they might be excused the subdued demeanour of movie extras.

For the present, and apparently despite whatever they achieve, including that notable grabbing of a point in Germany, they must despair of ever seeing their names in the working script.

This cannot have been the motivation behind the appointment of Keane, which was surely to do with his ability to give the players a sense of who they were and how best to build new levels of competitive performance.

The team, no doubt, is showing signs of growing green shoots but increasingly we have to ask if this is because or in spite of Roy Keane.

For Keane himself, the question should really run deeper. He might be asking how much intrigue can be left in a story which never seems to advance, which indeed is rooted ever more deeply in the perception of a man apparently incapable of moving beyond old hurts and furies.

Whatever the definitive version of this week's affair, we know that it was the cause of considerable commotion. And that a man who can be so quick to guard his privacy has offered little recent evidence of someone seeking the shadows.

The result is that by late Wednesday night the brief central dramas of two of Ireland's key, and Scottish-born players, facing orchestrated hostility tonight, had slipped into the outer margins.

James McCarthy has been ruled out but his Everton team-mate Aiden McGeady is said to be at risk of a grave challenge to his nerve in a place which might have contaminated the spirit of the Last Supper.

Former Scottish international Gordon McQueen has urged that the pair receive a 'horrible' reception. There, surely, was fertile ground for the Keane flair for programmed aggression. And, who knows, he may get around to a little of its advocacy before kick-off.

Yet such bittersweet and simple focus has been irreparably deflected. We are back in that plot-line which still has Keane as the central figure, the eternal warrior, but what is there left for him to fight? His reputation, like it or not, is made and it is not augmented by news of still another rancid confrontation.

Both O'Neill and Scotland's Gordon Strachan have worked well to re-establish a degree of belief in young sides not so long ago deemed to be mired in futility.

Horizons

They have lifted the horizons of their players to a remarkable degree. Going into Parkhead they have announced themselves so promisingly in tune with the nature of their challenges.

Above all they have said that, for all their achievements as players and club managers, they have a single preoccupation. It is persuading their young players of the need to build a different kind of future for themselves, one pitched in new hope and new determination.

It is an approach which naturally draws a veil over the past. It is not about old battles, old regrets, old pain. It is about making something new.

This cannot be said to be the style of Roy Keane. At least one of his feet is rooted in the past. It is something he might just reflect upon when he emerges from his latest and, let's be honest, ultimately inconsequential war zone.

What happened in the hotel was, at best, some of the old aggravation. What may occur in Glasgow is, surely, rather more compelling.

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