This is not a tale of treachery or betrayal

He came, he saw, he went home… Should the creators of the hilarious Saipan spoof I, Keano decide to write a sequel, the tagline might be a bit more of a mouthful.

This is not a tale of treachery or betrayal

Something, perhaps, along the lines of, ‘he came again, he saw again, he decided that, on balance, and all things considered, he preferred the look of Paradise’.

While Roy lovers will be saddened and even dismayed by what seems to be his imminent departure from Irish football, Roy haters will be only too happy to pick at those old Saipan sores again and, snorting derisively, declare that weren’t we all the big eejits not to think he would be capable of “walking out on his country again” at a moment’s notice.

They really should try and get over themselves. This isn’t, by any remote stretch, a tale of treachery or betrayal, still less of a decision made in the white heat of a raw battle of personalities. True, the timing is a shock and even Martin O’Neill has admitted he didn’t envisage a parting of the ways coming quite this quickly. But, in almost the same breath, he has conceded that Celtic is one of the few jobs in football which Keane could never casually dismiss from his mind.

Of course, as I write, the deal is not yet over the line. And Roy Keane, being Roy Keane — a man predictable only in his unpredictability — could yet confound the widespread belief that he will shortly be pictured at Celtic Park holding a club scarf above his head.

It’s also fair to accept at face value O’Neill’s repeated assertion that it’s not a decision his assistant would take lightly. The common consensus from sources within the Irish camp is that Keane has thoroughly enjoyed his time on board, apart obviously from when his duties obliged him to put up with us lot sticking tape recorders under his nose. But even then, he generally refrained from outright snarling and on occasion even managed to raise the odd half-smile.

But in so far as anything to do with Roy Keane can ever be filed under business as usual, a move from Irish No 2 to Celtic No 1 must fit the bill, representing as it does the opportunity for an ambitious professional to swap a secondary role in one job for the energising challenge and heady combination of power and responsibility which comes with managing one of the world’s most storied clubs. It would also return him to that all-consuming day to day involvement in the game which is universally acknowledged to be the gaffer’s lifeblood, and the loss of which even O’Neill, by his own admission, has found difficult.

So the attraction of Celtic for Keane is understandable. But whether it’s the right move for him to make is another matter entirely. I’m not at all convinced. The perception, indeed the fact, that Celtic now hold a virtually unassailable sway in the SPL can only be interpreted as both a blessing and a curse. Win the league by 20 points and, in the absence of Rangers, it will be regarded as merely the very least Keane should achieve. Fail to match Neil Lennon’s most glorious exploits in the Champions League and the Corkman will be deemed to have taken the club backwards.

And, remember, one of the reasons Lennon called it a day is that he felt he could take the club no further.

So, yes, the pressure at Celtic would be very different to that involved in getting a club up from the Championship, say, or keeping a club in the Premiership, but it would be serious pressure nonetheless, with the stakes made even higher by the peculiarly intense scrutiny which always attends the workings of Glasgow’s Old Firm.

Of course, pressure comes with the territory for any new manager, and Keane won’t be cowed by that. The critical issue here is whether, before taking the plunge back into club management, he might be wiser to continue to develop a role with Ireland which appears to be rewarding on a personal level and which, professionally, could only enhance his CV if, in tandem with O’Neill, he was able to lead the country to a successful showing in Euro 2016.

Mention of which is a reminder that, for all the differences between managing at international and club level, the common denominator remains the primacy of the result. Questions about whether Keane’s intense personality will ever be fully suited to the vast and varied demands of full-time management will only begin to be answered when we see how he fares once back on that beat. But the ultimate measure of his ability to succeed will, as ever, be writ large and definitively on the scoreboard.

The same applies to O’Neill as manager of Ireland and, if there is one upside to Keane’s expected departure arising now, it’s that it will happen not on the eve of a tournament but with more than three months to go before the start of a qualifying campaign.

And even though O’Neill insists that the appearance on the training pitch of the Steves, Walford and Guppy, for these summer games had nothing to do with concerns he might have had about the permanency of Keane’s position at his side, it certainly won’t hurt that, by the time the squad reassemble in September, the players will have had this time to get to know one or two of the personalities who could yet be working with them during qualifying.

All that is for the future and Irish supporters will, as ever, travel in hope if not necessarily expectation when the time comes.

For now, unfortunately, the prospect of Keano riding off into the sunset means the overriding mood is of deflation once again.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

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