No-one is bigger than the club. It’s a line we hear multiple times every season, even in this post-Bosman era of player power and multi-million pound contracts. It is a line we heard time and again when Roy Keane parted ways with Alex Ferguson and Manchester United back in 2005.
Yet Martin O’Neill’s assistant manager has now managed the seemingly impossible by proving to be bigger than his country and its most eagerly awaited fixture since whenever.
Quite the achievement, that.
Keane’s most recent elevation into the spotlight may have been his most unwitting yet, but it goes to prove again the magnetic hold which the man from Mayfield holds over, not just our nation, but those of our closest neighbours for whom a Keano story never fails to merit microscopic inspection.
Scotland’s papers covered Wednesday’s bizarre team hotel incident with a thoroughness that would not have been out of place back home and the hyperbolic tag line on the Scottish Sun’s lead back page piece exclaiming that Ireland’s European qualification plans were now in ‘chaos’ said a lot about the added significance that is attached to every Keane-related item.
Gordon Strachan and his back room staff were overheard talking about it — and having a bit of a chuckle, by the sounds of it — at the Scottish team’s hotel outside Glasgow yesterday morning while Ray Houghton found himself quizzed endlessly on the same subject as he talked at a William Hill bookies promotion back in the city around about the same time.
“You are going to get that with Roy,” said Houghton who soldiered with Keane on the Irish scene for in and around eight seasons.
“When you are getting someone like Roy Keane — a larger than life character and one of Ireland’s greatest ever players — there are always going to be stories about him. No matter how small they can be, they can escalate into a massive story. And that might be the case here. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to comment as I was not there. I don’t know what has happened.”
That’s the problem, though. Far too few people have ever taken that cautious approach. People with no knowledge of given issues or incidents and, even those without any interest in football, feel abundantly qualified to offer opinions on Keane and so it is that we now find ourselves faced with those asking whether O’Neill shouldn’t just cut his wingman and the circus that follows in his wake loose.
This somehow appears to be a serious proposition for some.
How quickly we forget the way it was. The slow and painful decline in the national team’s fortunes after Mick McCarthy’s time in charge. The squandered early promise of the Brian Kerr years. The embarrassment that was Steve Staunton’s tenure. The mixed bag that was Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign when an Irish team that could qualify for Euro 2012 and still find itself stumbling into irrelevance within no time at all in the aftermath.
Who knows how much credit Keane can be attributed with for the team’s recent recovery — and it is a recovery that is still very much in it’s early stages, lest we forget — but the fact is that he is a prominent part of a management group that has delivered results, instilled a sense of purpose and promise in a group of players almost identical to that which Trapattoni had and achieved a reconnection between team and spectators that was in danger of being lost.
Not a bad start, all told.
“Martin has got to back his judgement,” said Houghton. “Martin picked Roy and we have got to remember that. It was Martin’s choice, nobody else’s. At the moment, he might be privately having a word with Roy for whatever reason to say these things can’t happen but I think there is a good partnership there, personally I think the players have really bought into the pair of them.
“Certainly, what I have heard with Roy, the lads really like him. He has probably quietened down quite a lot. He has got that focus now on what he wants to do, where he wants to go. I have spoken to him before and I have got to say I thought he was excellent. He had a way about him that I did not think he had before. I had spoken to him earlier on and did not always get that feedback from him.”
For all the subplots, Keane brings far more to the table than he takes from it.
Make no mistake, this too shall pass.
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