LARRY RYAN: Golden chance for Roy to play the loyalty card

Whatever about the inclination, it is unlikely that Roy Keane will have the opportunity to stand over Alex Ferguson any time soon with a copy of his FAI contract.

But less than a fortnight after many observers suspected Ferguson’s book would make it difficult for Keane to return to active service in football, he is on the verge of just such a return.

He’d waited long enough. “Take that you ****.”

So. Dream Team? Or too many cooks? Can the ticket work? In a way, it already has. These in-between days might have passed under a low cloud of anti-climax. If Martin O’Neill was due to arrive alone, after a delay that suggested prevarication, his every move would be ransacked by the body language experts, just as they puzzled over his lost spring and slumped shoulders during the dog days at Sunderland.

Instead, there is, at least, a buzz. The ticket will sell tickets. And while everyone speculates about the dynamics of the new relationship and the specifics of Keane’s contribution, at least we know what not to expect.

Keane has studied closely the work of international assistant managers and he has not been terribly impressed.

He ‘smelt bullshit’ from Maurice Setters’s clichés and he was disgusted with Ian Evans’s role in the supply of ‘fucking cheese sandwiches’ before training. So Ireland should eat well without having to swallow nonsense.

But will Roy have to bite his tongue? “The hardest part of his body”, as Ferguson recalled. As he tried to convince us that he was afraid of Keane, Ferguson told us that Roy could “debilitate the most confident person in the world in seconds with that tongue”.

And maybe there are some in the Irish dressing room whose egos and Twitter accounts could do with a little debilitation.

We have heard much already about a good cop/bad cop vibe; that Keane will ask the searching questions once O’Neill has used his renowned ability to put the suspect at ease.

But a man with that much power to cut you down can also lift heavy.

A few years back, in a Sunday Independent interview, O’Neill talked about how he had seen, in Keane, the eye of the pussycat as well as the tiger. “He would look through you with those eyes as if you didn’t exist and he can be as warm as the next man if he feels comfortable.”

David Beckham didn’t spoil us with that much insight in his new book, but he also remembers looking into those eyes after he recovered from the booing and the barracking and the effigies with a goal on his return for United after his 1998 World Cup shame.

“The other thing I always remember was the reaction of Roy Keane. He rarely shows his emotions, unless it is to tear strips off you. But he came running over and I could see in his eyes how much that goal meant to him. In some ways, Keane’s reaction meant more to me than the goal itself. I have always treasured that.”

It is hard to imagine there being many Ireland players who wouldn’t opt for the look over the strip-tearing.

We will need more than motivation, of course. And there are bound to be some style clashes in the way O’Neill and Keane see Ireland playing football.

Maybe that is where there should be most worries about Keane’s ability to be a subordinate. If Ferguson got rid of Beckham because you can’t have a player that is bigger than the manager, what would he make of an assistant manager that arguably overshadows his boss, at least in terms of box office appeal?

“Two equals never works in football. Players will always play one off against the other,” reflected Kenny Dalglish, of the time Liverpool paired Gerard Houllier with Roy Evans.

But then Kenny, wistful for a job he wasn’t offered, put forward a template for how a relationship like this might work.

“If it had been me, I’d never have tried to undermine him. I’d have kept my counsel, just chipping in when Roy asked. I’d have been loyal, doing anything to make Roy’s time in the job a success.”

We’ve heard a bit about Keane’s views on loyalty. Now he has the opportunity to show Fergie he does know the meaning of the word.


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