Not the least of those issues relates to his still burning managerial ambitions, to what he calls “getting back in the driving seat”.
Speaking at the launch of the new U17 national league at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown yesterday, Keane initially reacted with a broad smile to a question about O’Neill’s tenure - “What do you want me to say? Get rid of him? If we lose the next four games you’ll be kicking us down the road!” - but, in more reflective mood, accepted the question had validity, in terms of the opportunity the World Cup would offer to build on the manager’s first campaign and, more specifically, against the backdrop of O’Neill’s own recent hints he’d be willing to stay on.
“Do I think he should stay on? I think he should,” said Keane. “Stability is an important word in football but so are results. You could be talking to me in Faro in October and the dynamics of the group could have changed and the feelgood factor will be back.”
Asked if he himself would like to stay on, irrespective of whether or not qualification is secured for France 2016, Keane replied: “Someone asked me a few months ago where does your future lie? Well, I said, first of all, will the FAI want Martin to stay on? Will Martin want to stay on? Will Martin want me to stay on? And will I want to stay on? I could have carried on a bit longer there but you would have fallen asleep (laughs).
“So there are a few hurdles to get through and - I have made it clear - I certainly want to get back into being a manager. But I’m enjoying the role, I feel lucky to have it. I’m not blase about my job either: ‘oh maybe I’ll stay on’. If it’s put to me, ‘listen Roy, do you want to stay on with me?’, then it’s something I will have a look at. But at this moment in time we’ve had no conversation.”
Despite being strongly linked to the Celtic job at one point, Keane maintained that, like O’Neill, he never planned to leave his current post prematurely.
“I don’t think that was going to be the case unless we were sacked,” he said. “I don’t think Martin or myself were even going to jump ship through the contract, even though, obviously, I maybe had an opportunity last year and there was speculation about Martin in the last month or two.” But would he be more inclined to look at what else is out there at the end of this campaign?
“Whatever way people work, I don’t work that way,” he said. “I am not really proactive in looking for work, getting messages out there saying ‘my contract is...’ There’s a saying in football: the best time to get a job is when you are in a job. I’m not daft enough to walk away from jobs and wait for the phone to ring. I’d hate to be out of a job and the phone not ring for six months and think ‘why did I give up a bloody good job?’
“It’s all ifs and buts at the moment. I want to get back in the driving seat but the driving seat might be in another two years’ time or two months, it depends on what happens over the next few months. Whether Martin doesn’t want me to stay or the FAI don’t want Martin to stay but ask me to stay on, at that time I might have a different mindset.
“If jobs do come up I might be a bit more proactive in trying to speak to people. But I would hate to be doing that when I am under contract, it’s not my form.”
In principle, Keane echoes O’Neill’s view that international management should be, at a minimum, a two-term job.
”I would probably agree with that. The dynamics of the group will change over the next few years and I don’t see that as a bad thing. You want to keep your experienced players but you want young players coming though. Obviously there’ll be friendly games in between the two campaigns and you have a chance to look at players. If you have young players in England progressing or going out on loan and doing well, they automatically will put themselves in the shop window for the Irish team, because there are players coming towards the end of their careers. When you work with lads for one or two years, I’m guessing, players will fall by the wayside. When you’ve given them a chance two years ago, you’re thinking ‘how many chances are you going to get?’ But we also know there aren’t 100 players waiting to get in the international team so it’s a balancing act. I’m not talking about 10 players in and 10 players out, I’m talking about two or three players. And a few players coming from nowhere, which has happened in the last year or two.
“As much as I’m looking at where these players have come from, some have snuck under the radar and surprised us and done well. Guys come on board like a Harry Arter and then play in the Premier League next year and that’s a good challenge for them.
“It’s certainly not doom and gloom from my point of view. If we stay on another two or three years and Martin wants me to stay on, I won’t be uncertain about it, I’ll be enthusiastic about it.”