MATT COOPER: Roy Keane on thin ice when he talks about loyalty to the manager

IF ROY Keane ever gives up football management then a brilliant career as a controversial TV pundit beckons.

Amid all the blather that followed England’s exit from the World Cup, Keane did not sit on the fence or offer banalities when asked for comment.

The former Irish soccer captain — now trying to re-establish his managerial career at Ipswich Town, having apparently lost the confidence of his players at Sunderland because of his mercurial man-management methods — leapt to the defence of England manager Fabio Capello this week.

“To keep criticising and questioning the manager is crazy. He didn’t do anything wrong in the qualifying campaign and now, all of a sudden, he’s not the top man anymore. They should just leave him to do the job. He is absolutely brilliant and England are lucky to have him,” declared Keane.

Having opined that Capello’s nationality was irrelevant, Keane also had a pop at the English players: “They have to take a long, hard look at themselves. They get away with murder. I keep saying it — good players don’t necessarily make good teams.”

Well, they usually do if they are managed properly. Just look at how the Irish team performed in the 2002 World Cup, for example.

Once Keane left the training base in Saipan for home in 2002, the Irish team was left with some good players but no world class stars — and with respect to Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and Shay Given, they were good players back then but not of the very top rank, to which only Roy Keane belonged.

Yet the Irish side rallied in adversity for the group stage and showed great spirit, particularly in securing an injury time draw against a German side that later reached the final (That they spurned the opportunity to beat 10-man Spain in extra time in the next round and lost a penalty shoot-out only partly damages the reputation that the team established).

Substitute Ireland for England in the quote from Keane above and you have to ask why he should not have offered his manager then the loyalty he believes the English should now show Capello.

After all, Ireland had knocked out Holland in a tough qualifying group that also included Portugal — and Mick McCarthy had tolerated Keane absenting himself from the second leg of the qualifying play-off in Tehran into which we carried a tenuous 2-0 lead against Iran.

Maybe Keane has more admiration for Capello’s “first touch” (during his time as an Italian player) than he had for McCarthy’s (having made sarcastic comments about it previously) and has forgotten how he had berated McCarthy, of Waterford parentage, for not being born in Ireland during his infamous Saipan rant.

Keane’s supporters keep reminding us he did not walk out of the Irish squad but that he was sent home. That is true. But as a manager now, though, how would he react to a player talking to him like that, given that he clearly believes many players are spoilt and detached from the reality of their own responsibilities?

This is not an attempt to reopen the Saipan debate, but I still wonder if the day will come when Keane admits, with the benefit not just of time but of his subsequent experience as a manager, that his behaviour left McCarthy with little or no choice.

Keane also needs to start seeing the grey in situations because he has a tendency to view everything in black and white terms.

Unfortunately, he can be a bit simplistic in his analysis. Even if the players should bear the bulk of the responsibility, Capello is not as blameless for the English debacle as Keane now claims.

Capello may have a wonderful track record as a club manager, most notably with an AC Milan team in 1994 that was among the best to have ever won a European Cup, but he made many mistakes in this World Cup that made an already potentially bad situation worse.

Here are just a few. Having won the qualifying group comfortably, Capello seemingly panicked about the quality of the players available to him: he tried to bring back old players, unsuccessfully in the case of Paul Scholes, and unfortunately for England, successfully in the case of the clearly too slow Jamie Carragher.

He dropped Theo Walcott for apparently not following instructions in recent friendly matches instead of persuading him to do as he was told. Instead, he picked a host of players who clearly weren’t good enough and he wasn’t brave enough to try young players who had shown good end-of-season form like Adam Johnson of Manchester City (picking instead his long out of form teammate Shaun Wright Phillips).

Capello persisted with Emile Heskey as a forward, even though he hadn’t scored a goal since February. He didn’t make his mind up about a goalkeeper until the last moment and the choice of Robert Green backfired when he gave away a soft goal against the USA. He then picked a 39-year-old from the bottom team in the Premiership to replace him, and while he made some good saves against Germany he was also at fault for two goals, even if the blunders were not as obvious as Green’s.

He established a training regime that apparently did not take the temperament of the players he had selected into sufficient account (shades of Saipan and Mick McCarthy’s failings perhaps?)

Capello gave out about the ball the players were made to use at the World Cup, but what was the point in that? It wasn’t going to be changed and it only gave his players an excuse for their failings in using it. Worse, Capello tried before the World Cup to become involved in a commercial venture called the Capello Index that would rate the performance of players — including his own — during World Cup matches.

THIS was clearly ludicrous because it would have involved him offering damning assessments of his own players and also of players England might be facing in future games. It was was also greedy for a man who is paid the excessive sum of £6 million a year (And that would be madly excessive even if England had won the World Cup).

Clearly to give Capello such a thumbs-up does not make sense when you examine the facts. It makes you wonder what Keane’s game is. Shortly before he went over to the other side (from being a player to manager) he let loose with an almighty rip at his Man Utd teammates, questioning their commitment, among other things. He was dispatched quickly by Alex Ferguson who’d had enough of him. Most of those same United players, including younger ones of whom Keane was so dismissive, have gone on to enjoy enormous club success since.

Keane himself is said to be under pressure at Ipswich Town where his first season in the championship was difficult. Maybe he had himself in mind when he praised Capello so effusively. It may have been a non-too-subtle message to his club’s owner: I have the track record, these players can’t be trusted, if things are going wrong you have to blame them. No, that could hardly be what he had in mind, could it? Let’s wish Keane the best in his new season and if it doesn’t work out, then maybe that TV career could beckon where he could provide years more entertainment.

The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM, Monday to Friday, 4.30pm to 7pm.


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