Roy Keane has been appointed as Martin O’Neill’s assistant manager for the Republic of Ireland, which gives him a chance to mend his reputation.
When he was at his peak in the centre of the Manchester United midfield, Keane was arguably the most influential player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Before their bitter falling out in 2005, which continues to rumble on, he was the heartbeat as United swept all before them, and he bowed out of Old Trafford with seven league titles to his name.
He famously missed the UEFA Champions League final triumph over Bayern Munich, which secured the historic treble, yet United may not have made it to the Camp Nou where it not for his heroic performance in Turin when, even though he received a yellow card to rule him out of the final, he dragged the Reds back from 2-0 down to defeat Juventus.
Of all the players Ferguson had under his lengthy reign in Manchester, none were expected to go on to become a successful manager as much as Keane. And at first, this looked even more so when, in his first job, he led Sunderland to the Premier League as Championship winners. Yet he struggled to progress the Black Cats amongst the elite, and he stepped down in December of 2008, two years and four months after his arrival.
In April of 2009 he returned to management in the second-tier with Ipswich Town. At the start of the following season the Tractor Boys failed to record a league win in their first 14 matches, until they beat Derby County on 31 October. Form did improve, eventually, as they finished in 15th place, but next term they dropped as low as 21st before the board finally lost patience with their manager and issued his P45 in January 2011.
Keane has since been working as a television pundit for ITV, despite once declaring a lack of enthusiasm for such a role. He has proven to be quite an entertaining pundit in his own way, with his hard-hitting approach never far from causing Adrian Chiles, the channel’s anchorman, something resembling panic crossed with awkwardness.
The former United skipper was again offering his opinion this week, when he watched his old club play out a dull goalless draw with Real Sociedad in the Champions League. He was there alongside O’Neill, who had by then been confirmed as the new national coach of the Republic of Ireland with Keane, intriguingly, as his assistant.
“I’m honoured Martin has asked me to work with him,” Keane said. “I’m looking forward to working with the players and getting to the Euros. I am very lucky to get another opportunity. I think I have deserved another chance to get back into football. It is great to work with Martin and hopefully we won’t let anybody down.”
Keane won 67 caps for the Republic, but infamously walked out on the squad before the 2002 World Cup Finals when he fell out with Mick McCarthy. He has in the past accused the Football Association of Ireland as showing a favouritism towards Dubliners over those from more provincial towns, and more recently, he accused the 25,000 travelling Ireland fans of having the ‘wrong mentality’ during Euro 2012.
“I think the players and even the supporters, they all have to change their mentality,” he told the ITV panel and the watching millions at home. “It’s just nonsense from players speaking after the games about how great the supporters are. I’m not too happy with all that nonsense. To praise the supporters for sake of it, let’s change that attitude towards Irish supporters; let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”
Despite this outburst, Keane is likely to receive a warm welcome by the Irish support when he takes his place in the dugout for the friendlies against Latvia on 15 November and Poland four days later. Attention will soon turn to the Euro 2016 campaign which, with an expanded entry of 24 teams, anything other than qualification will be deemed failure.
If Keane can help O’Neill guide the Irish to Paris, he will have achieved what he has set out to do, namely to rebuild his reputation as a coach. And once he has done that, he will then likely look for an opportunity to return to club management, in an attempt to once and for all live up to the early expectations many had of him.