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Vincent Hogan: Humility and maturity at the root of Keane's decision to stay put

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'Keane didn't turn his back on a dream yesterday, he squared up to a cold reality.' Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

'Keane didn't turn his back on a dream yesterday, he squared up to a cold reality.' Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

'Keane didn't turn his back on a dream yesterday, he squared up to a cold reality.' Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Once upon a time, the idea of Roy Keane rejecting the big chair at Celtic would have been unimaginable. As a child, Parkhead had been one of the places his dreams took him to, but today he understands the gulf between fantasy and reality.

Keane tells a story himself of the almost jocular denial encountered in the east-end of Glasgow, the perpetuation of a gentle, enduring lie that Celtic can still go eye to eye with the giants of Europe.

In his autobiography, he writes of – late in his Manchester United career – trying to slip discreetly with some friends into a game at Celtic Park. Roy had a baseball cap pulled low when, outside the stadium, he was recognised by two Scots.

"'Are you...? You f*****g are'. One guy was about 6'5", built like a barn. 'Hey big man, when are you going to come and play for a big club?' Big man? He was looking down on me.

"My pal shot back: 'He's playing for a big club!'

"'Nah', the big fella replied. 'A really big club!' We laughed. I loved the Glasgow humour."

Keane didn't turn his back on a dream yesterday, he squared up to cold reality. Vanity might easily have taken him to Glasgow. He could have been forgiven that conceit – a Celtic fan, a former Celtic player, promising to return something epochal to that great east-end cathedral.

After all, we bought into the romance in December '05 of him finishing his playing career wearing the famous hooped shirt. And he did win a Scottish Premier League title and Scottish League Cup in that oddly stilted six-month cameo before retiring on medical advice.

But Celtic got only the dying embers of Keane the player. If he went to them as manager now, perhaps they would only have been getting the cartoon.

In staying as No 2 with Ireland, Roy did something that hasn't always been his first reflex. He took a step back.

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He weighed up the hype and tumult that would, inevitably, follow him to Scotland and came to a conclusion that there might be more long-term benefit to be gained from staying with Ireland and Martin O'Neill.

It took humility to do that. It also took maturity.

Keane's image has been rehabilitated in the relatively tranquil waters of TV work and – thus far – non-competitive action with Ireland. After being sacked by Ipswich in January 2011, that seemed scarcely possible. All football saw in him back then was the fraught, combustible image of a once-great player hopelessly at odds with the gentle wisdoms of man-management.

The Celtic job would have challenged that rehabilitation fiercely.

It was already apparent their supporters were not universally welcoming of his candidacy and such reservations might quickly have turned to something more audible had Celtic failed to navigate their way into the group stages of the Champions League.

Without Europe, his job would have been to sell Celtic's existence as something it plainly isn't just now: globally relevant. There are only so many ways you can depict games against Ross County or Inverness Caledonian or Partick Thistle as great football events before you start sounding like someone selling snake oil.

For Keane then, presumably, the potential for broad discord at Celtic seemed more compelling than the easy glory of stockpiling Premier League titles in Rangers' absence.

He knows the extraordinary scale of the club's support base. When Celtic, under O'Neill, reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final, it is said that 80,000 of their supporters descended upon Seville, roughly half of them resigned to not even getting inside the Estadio Olimpico.

CONSOLATION

UEFA and FIFA were both so impressed by the scale and behaviour of Celtic's support, they came up with awards for the club as some kind of official consolation for defeat to Porto.

Celtic's presence in that final was somehow stitched in the supporters' consciousness to the European Cup win of '67 and a final appearance in '70. But the club was now living beyond the financial means that Scottish football could provide. Celtic needed to be more circumspect.

That need was, ultimately, one of the reasons for Neil Lennon's recent departure. The club have never been anything but modest brokers in the transfer market and Dermot Desmond, perhaps wisely, sees little sense in heavy fresh investment on players at a time when, for domestic business at least, it is palpably unnecessary.

The truth of Celtic today is that it is a giant club freewheeling in a tiny pool. What could Keane have added to that? Charisma? Hype? Volatility? Those who regard him as a fundamentally ego-driven character may have to re-evaluate now.

For, in staying with Ireland, he has chosen – essentially – to further his education. That may look like a retreat of sorts today but, long-term, it might well make him a better football manager.


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