Roy Keane is ready to confound expectations as the new assistant manager of Ireland. Acutely conscious that he has a reputation as an Edward Hyde, Keane is hoping the Irish squad responds positively to his lesser-known Henry Jekyll.
“Hopefully, the players are in for a pleasant surprise, particularly the lads who’ve not worked with me,” he said, after concluding his main press conference in Malahide yesterday.
“I know people can believe what they hear and read and, if they’re thinking for some reason that some monster’s going to turn up and, all of a sudden, I’m quite placid and nice to them, I think that will help me.”
Could he, someone dared to ask, even see himself in the role of kindly uncle? That tongue recently deemed “savage” by Alex Ferguson was only partially in cheek as Keane contemplated the possibility.
“Yeah, I could be — if things go well,” he mused. “If we’re winning, yeah, Jesus! If we’re not, listen, you’ve always got an uncle that you don’t really like.”
Beyond the humour, it’s clear Keane regards his image as a tyrant in the dressing room and on the training pitch as something rooted more in caricature than reality.
“I don’t think there will be an issue with me and the players over the next few years because I’m not as bad as everyone makes me out to be in terms of criticising players,” he said.
“Demanding of players, of course, making sure they’re training properly and pushing them in training — and hopefully that will never change.
“But this idea of being, I don’t know, being a bit softer with players — because obviously I’m not going to be the one dropping players or leaving players out — that might give me the opportunity to be nicer to players, but without being a pal to them either.”
Calmly, Keane took issue with Liam Brady’s recent declaration on television that his relationships with players had been “disastrous” during his time in management at Sunderland and Ipswich.
“No, I don’t think my relationship with players was bad, it was okay. With all the lads I worked with. Listen, you are always going to get one or two — that happens in every walk of life, particularly if you are the manager that sold them or dropped them, that is part of the game. Generally speaking, I am pretty sure I had a decent relationship with players I have managed, absolutely, and if not, I would be the first to say it.
“There are lads in the Irish squad I worked with as manager, people like Jon Walters, Paul McShane, young Meyler is not the in the squad, Reidy. There are lots of players I think I’ve managed and I hope we are quite okay with each other. There is not this tension or any sort of issue like that.”
When it was pointed out that Walters, amongst other, had been critical of him, Keane allowed himself a grin.
“Has he? What’s he been saying? This is the bad uncle now.”
And Damien Delaney. And Aiden McGeady too. In his new role as assistant manager, had he felt the need to address such matters head-on?
“Of course. Obviously Damien’s not in the squad. There’s no real issue with Damien, to be honest. Jon Walters did very well for me, very well for me. Disappointed with the way it ended but any time a player wants to leave a club, it’s not going to be a pals’ act. When someone is desperate to leave your club and you’re desperate for him to stay, that’s natural. I’ve been with Jon the last day or two and that’s all been sorted out.
“I had a bit of banter with Aiden (McGeady) too, the other night. No problem. People might have said that I had an issue with Aiden, that he could do better.
“I think that’s a compliment because I rate the player. It’s the lads you don’t talk about or put demands on, they’re the ones that should be worried. If you’re putting demands on players, it’s because you believe in them.
“‘Listen, you can do better’. What is wrong with that? I’m sure you get that in your working life.
“I think Aiden probably sees it that way. I had a bit of a chat with Aiden two nights ago and it was actually quite... it can turn into a bit of craic and a bit of banter.
“Aiden’s trained well for the past day or two and I think he’s a really good player.
“Hopefully, I think he can do better. Jesus, there’s nothing wrong with saying that.”
For Keane, the past is not something to get hung up about.
“I had the same when I came back as a player — what’s going to happen?” he pointed out. “But all that’s put to bed very quickly.”
He used the same expression when asked if he’d thought his previously fractious relations with the FAI — and in particular John Delaney — might have been an impediment to him taking the job.
“No, because as soon as I met John (Delaney) and Martin in London, we put that to bed straight away. It was very straightforward. Obviously Martin had already made contact with me and that was discussed. I think actually one of my strong points, when I meet up with people, when I’ve had disagreements with them before, is that I can move on pretty quickly. It’s happened in other parts of my life. To be honest, I’m going to disappoint you because it was very, very straightforward. It was a case of, we wanted what was good for Irish football and Martin wanted me on board and the past is the past.
“Just like what has been discussed here. You said something about Jon Walters — we all say things. Jon Walters, McGeady, Delaney, anybody. I mean Damien Delaney — I just fall out with Delaneys, as simple as that (laughter). We can talk. It was a case of meeting people and ‘listen, let’s move on, what do we want, what’s best for Irish football’.
“If Martin never made the call then so be it, I’d have wished him well, but the fact he wanted me back involved was fabulous.”
Keane went on to lavish praise on the new Ireland manager, itemising the qualities about Martin O’Neill which have always impressed him.
“His knowledge of football, his hunger, his desire, his track record, the way his teams play, the way he comes across. Is that enough? I don’t want to go overboard on him (laughs). I came across Martin briefly years ago. I went up to watch a Celtic match and had a brief conversation with him afterwards. Obviously, I’d come across him as a manager. Strangely enough, we had one or two decent results against Villa when I was at Sunderland. Beat them at Villa Park. Got robbed up at Sunderland from a set-piece — but we drew with them.
“I think a lot of people in football can be very robotic — players, managers and staff. I think Martin brings something different and hopefully I’ll do the same. Hopefully that chemistry will work. I’ve worked with Martin in terms of TV games, which is a totally different environment — very relaxed, whatever happens in the game is almost irrelevant to us. But now it’s a case of working together, making sure we’re well prepared and that we try and win matches.”
So, lovely, everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and all is rosy in the garden. But, hang on a mo, Roy, one more question we almost forgot to ask — Martin O’Neill told us the other day that he disagreed with your stance in Saipan.
Your response please? “Martin is entitled to be wrong,” said Roy Keane crisply.
And then he was gone.
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