Friday 23 March 2018

Vincent Hogan: Victory would be one certainty in Roy Keane's Glasgow cauldron

'Roy Keane will have to surpress that dark anger more often, but the one certainty is that he will win.' Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
'Roy Keane will have to surpress that dark anger more often, but the one certainty is that he will win.' Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

If Roy Keane is bound for Celtic, then that famously inflammable personality will guarantee interesting times in the east end of Glasgow.

Martin O'Neill sounded resigned to losing his assistant last night, knowing – better than most – the compelling lure of Parkhead to an Irish heart, the electric appeal of a place where football seldom feels anything less than an extremist religion.

Glasgow seethes with an energy for the game that has never been especially dignified or rational.

O'Neill, after all, was Celtic manager when Neil Lennon was spat at and headbutted by two attackers in the city centre. The chap who landed that so-called 'Glasgow Kiss' on Lennon turned out to be a law student. His accomplice? A medical student from Aberdeen. Both were students in nearby Glasgow University. Both, naturally, supporters of Rangers.

The financial fiascos at Ibrox have, to some degree, cauterised that tension now. Rangers' humiliation means that Celtic look set to stockpile Scottish titles for the forseeable future and, as such, Keane would represent a largely risk-free appointment for the club.

He meets the supporters' appetite for a big, charismatic name at the helm. Better still, he carries the added charm of being a former player, albeit his late cameo at Parkhead came at the tail end of a tumultuous career, his body palpably rebelling against that obstinate Cork mind.

In admitting that he had taken a call from Dermot Desmond this week, seeking to clear a path for talks with Keane, O'Neill bore the air of a man who understood implicitly what that call signified.

Keane has never seemed entirely convincing in the role of Irish No 2, if only because his presence tends to dwarf everyone around him. Within the media, his press conferences remain virtual all-ticket affairs, provoking attention that would be unimaginable for any other assistant in the international game. O'Neill seems mildly tickled by this curious pre-occupation with Keane and it isn't inconceivable that he might now consider it better for both parties to go their separate ways.

He is one of the few people in football who seems utterly unfazed by the Corkman's volatility. Indeed, if anything, he has tended to parody that side of Keane, playing on the "good cop, bad, bad cop" line with a knowing smile.

He recently added Steve Guppy, among others, to his coaching back-up and, while it is known that the FAI would like to see Keane remain, it would not be a surprise if O'Neill gave the Corkman his blessing to move on.

Keane's reputation in management is complicated. While his first season at Sunderland brought promotion, he subsequently struggled to motivate the dressing-room and – to staff at the Stadium of Light – his behaviour was seen as positively eccentric by the time of his departure.

At Ipswich, he never mounted a compelling Championship challenge, his efforts undoubtedly constrained by lack of sufficient investment from the owner. That said, Keane's sacking fed the caricature of a man maybe ill-suited to getting the best out of players, whose ability was many leagues below the standard at which he gloried in his pomp. At Celtic, that caricature will again come under the whitest of lights.

Lennon's departure was almost certainly triggered by the lack of finance for new players. Last season, Celtic sold two of their biggest names – Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama – to the English Premier League without investing in replacements. Yet, they still retained their Scottish title with 29 points to spare.

Winning the Scottish title guarantees Champions League football and, logically, Celtic should continue doing that indefinitely.


Long-term, Keane – too – might find that flat-track bully existence a little tiresome, a little pointless even. But, for now, his managerial CV could do with the nutrient of trophies. As such, Keane and Celtic would make sense just now. The club needs a hero; the hero needs a stage.

Martin O'Neill rehabilitated him in football by bringing Keane with him and, in turn, Roy helped invigorate a dressing-room. But where exactly was the partnership headed?

Could Keane honestly continue sifting through the mundane chores of assistant without, becoming hopelessly restless?

If he goes to Celtic, he should go with the good wishes of a nation. But Roy should brace himself, too, for a life where football is never simply about the game. He will find it is about living and dying at weekends. It is about hearing the narrative of war.

In Scotland, he will become familiar with the term 'Fenian b****rd' and learn to regard it as just an everyday acoustic. He will have to suppress that dark anger more often.

But he will, too, have the ultimate consolation. Because, in the east-end of Glasgow, the one certainty for Roy Keane is that he will win.

Irish Independent

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