Andy Cole doesn’t have to pause for thought when asked what he thinks Roy Keane can bring to the Irish cause.
“Roy brings fire and desire,” rhymes Keane’s former team-mate, recalling their days sharing a dressing room as well as multiple successes at Manchester United.
“For a winning mentality, you won’t get many better. He wants to win every game and he made sure that if he couldn’t win every game he would go down fighting. Martin O’Neill bringing him into the Irish squad is a big, big plus. ”
While a good number of Keane’s former colleagues, for both club and country, talk of the player-turned-manager-turned-assistant-manager as a distant and even intimidating character, Cole maintains he always saw eye to eye with the Corkman.
“When two people are similar, you know what you want,” he says. “You see things through the same glasses and it makes it easier.
“I knew what Roy was as a person. When you stepped over that white mark, you knew as your leader that he wanted to win a football match. He did everything possible as a captain for you as a player to win and for the team to win, and you have to respect that. We’re all different. He is different and gets questioned about being different and his views on things. But if you took that fire away from him, he would not be the player he was.
“I respect him as a person. You knew what he wanted from you. And if you gave him what he wanted and vice versa, you wouldn’t have a problem.”
Cole reckons that being No 2 to O’Neill will be a good learning experience for Keane, which he can turn to his advantage by doing things differently if and when the day comes for him to assume a fresh management role — perhaps in the Premier League.
“I think that will be his ultimate goal,” says Cole. “Sometimes you’ve got to learn from your mistakes, take a backward step — I’m not saying a No 2 is a backward step — and look at it through someone else’s eyes and say, ‘right, I’m not a No 1, I’m a No 2 now, how can I use this if I do go back into management, how can I change?’
“Because Roy will have to change. Every job he’s gone into in management, he’s always done confrontation, he’s fallen out with someone. When you’re a player, you can do it, you can fall out with your manager as much as you like. As a manager, if you keep falling out with your players, at some stage your players are going to say to you, ‘I don’t care who you are, I don’t want to play for you’.
“I honestly think Roy knows if he is going to get back into management, he’s going to have to go about things in a totally different way. The days that managers can rule by fear are long gone.”
Former England international Cole, now 42, believes Ireland have under-achieved in recent times and fully expects the team’s fortunes to improve under O’Neill and Keane.
“Ireland should be doing a lot better than they are because they’ve got some good players,” he says. “I’ve watched [Wes] Hoolahan play a few times — for some reason he was never in the team. The experience of Sheasey [John O’ Shea] — you’ve got to marry those two together. You’ve got a lot of young players. They don’t play in the Premier League, granted, but because you don’t play in the Premier League doesn’t mean you’re not a good player. If you can marry those two together you, you’ve got two good people [in charge] who can get good results.”
Turning to difficult times at Old Trafford, the striker whose goals once lit up the ground accepts that, with the departure of legendary boss Alex Ferguson, a level of intensity has been drained from the club, reflected not only in the team’s below par performances but in the eagerness of opponents to capitalise.
“There is no fear factor.,” he says of the side under David Moyes. “Teams have gone to Old Trafford this season and gone, ‘right, the king is gone, it’s the best time to attack when the king has left’.
“These teams last season would have lost it in the tunnel. Now they come to Old Trafford and go, ‘right, now we can actually beat these guys’.
“That’s what happens in football when there’s a change at the top. Liverpool were the same. When Kenny Dalglish left, people went, ‘right, great opportunity to beat Liverpool’.”
He added: “People always try and go for you when you’re weak. That’s life. You just have to step up to the mark and try and rectify that as best as you can.”
And Cole is inclined to buck the gloom surrounding his old club by suggesting that United still have the core of a team which can compete for the title again next season. The much touted alternative of wholesale rebuilding, he argues, is simply not financially realistic.
“There is no way you can go out and buy 11 new players, how much is that going to cost you? If we’re talking about the players that get bandied about at Man United, it could be £500 million on a new team!
“That would get you fishing in the same pond as City, Chelsea, Arsenal.”
And he reminds the unconvinced that the current squad, for all the criticism now being directed their way, was good enough to cruise to the title less than 12 months ago.
“You do not become a bad set of players after doing what you did over the last two years,” Cole insists.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved