\"\"

A temporary detour from ecomic issues to Irish soccer madness

\"\"

Alex Ferguson with his new autobiography in Dublin last week.
Alex Ferguson with his new autobiography in Dublin last week.

There was plenty of heavy political and economic news here over the past week to do with the bailout exit, a new housing bubble in Dublin, property tax and other serious subjects.

But really there was only one show in town for the media.  All anyone wanted to hear about was Martin and Roy.

As Eamon Dunphy put it when asked on radio if he understood the rationale behind the new management duo for the Irish national soccer team, "It's show biz, folks!"

We all know what he meant.  Martin O'Neill, a former manager of Glasgow Celtic from Northern Ireland, on his own would have been a great choice.  But the addition of Cork-born Roy Keane lifted the whole thing on to a different level altogether because Roy is box office.

It's a pairing made either in heaven or hell, depending on how you look at it.  And it could go either way!  That's why the interest has been phenomenal.

The tension is palpable.   Was O’Neill mad to ask Keane, or inspired?  As the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said, "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that."  

They used to talk about the whiff of sulphur off Gerry Adams.   But Keane is truly explosive, simmering there in his sharp suit on TV football panels these days while viewers everywhere wait for him to go off, to say the un-sayable and then slap down any panelist who disagrees with him.  

As the legendary former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson says in his new book, when Keane got mad with him "his eyes started to narrow, almost to wee black beads.  It was frightening to watch.  And I'm from Glasgow."  

O’Neill may think Keane will behave himself as his assistant.  But who knows?

So the incredible announcement that O’Neill was the new manager and that he had asked Keane to be his assistant and that Keane had accepted after just five seconds was the most serious news last week for a lot of people here.

An incredible 200 alleged journalists and over a dozen TV camera crews turned up for O’Neill’s press conference in the Gibson Hotel, a super-cool new hotel at the far end of the new financial area in Dublin's old docklands.  

The venue, all steel and glass and designer furniture, seemed to emphasize that this was big.   The ranks of the assembled sports writers, news reporters sent to do color pieces and social diary writers sent to see who might turn up, were infiltrated by football "officials" and followers, security men and gawkers of all kinds. It all got very One Direction when the press were kept in a holding area as O’Neill arrived and the officials rushed him into a private room.

God knows what it would have been like if Keane had been there too!  O’Neill emerged ten minutes later to face the press conference looking a bit sheepish and shook hands all round and was as thoughtful and affable as ever.

Mind you, the absence of the new assistant manager (at the Aston Villa game presumably watching Ciaran Clark) allowed the real journalists there to put a few hard questions to O’Neill about Keane.  And to be fair to O’Neill he did not dodge any of them -- for example, at the World Cup pre-training camp in Saipan in 2002, when Keane left the Irish team after a disagreement with manager Mick McCarthy, O’Neill said he thought Keane was wrong and should have got on with it.

And no, he doesn't expect Keane to change.  He wants that intensity, that insight.  "I expect that from Roy," he said.

As my mother used to say, I hope it stays fine for him.   Opinion appears to be somewhat divided here,  but judged by on street interviews and calls to radio, most of the real fans (the ones who actually understand the offside rule) think Keane’s arrival is great.

The most recent Irish boss, Italian Giovanni Trapattoni, had a controlled, defensive approach that sucked the lifeblood out of the Irish team.  The team badly needs that fierce determination, belief and even aggression that Keane brings with him.  That, and O’Neill’s shrewd management could be a winning combination.  

O’Neill was not the only football show in town last week.  Just up the road in the new Convention Center on the waterfront, Alex Ferguson appeared before a capacity crowd of 2,700 fans in a public interview to promote his new book.

Security was even tighter there, with fans warned to be in their seats half an hour before the event was due to start or they would not be let in. Tickets for the event had sold out in minutes a few weeks ago, crashing the Easons website even though they are the biggest bookstore chain in the country.

The place was a sell-out and the audience had paid €40 each for their tickets.  That's pretty steep for an event of this kind, but it included a signed copy of the book, and there's only one Alex Ferguson.   They could have charged far more and still filled the place.

What we got for our money (me and my Man United expert son and all the rest of the fans) was an hour-long question-and-answer session with TV presenter and Man United supporter  Eamonn Holmes.   In fact it ran into about 15 minutes of extra time, or Fergie time as we call it.

After nearly 27 years at the helm, Ferguson is well used to being on TV and being interviewed and holding press conferences.  He can handle hard questions ... but he didn't get any in Dublin.

He came into a raucous standing ovation which went on for minutes, and that set the tone for the evening as Holmes turned what should have been a proper interrogation into a love-in.

Fergie was relaxed and good humored throughout, with no sign of the hairdryer.

"I think when you grow older, you mellow," he said, although he did not really take back any of the heavy  tackles he landed on Keane in his book.

"It only went wrong in the last year," Fergie said, reminding the audience of how Keane had been "fantastic" for him for years as a captain, a leader and a motivator.

Ferguson had to let him go because Keane had complained that year about the pre-season training facilities in Portugal (shades of Saipan), refusing to join his teammates in the luxury accommodation there because he was unhappy about air-conditioning.  As Fergie told it, what was really wrong with Keane was that he could not accept that injuries and age had caught up with him.

And then when they got back to Old Trafford Keane had heavily criticized his teammates in an infamous MUTV interview that was never aired.

Fergie insisted he had no option but to let Keane go.

"I can't say it was wrong – it was the correct thing to do. That was a tough, tough call but I had to keep stability at the club right. I had to let the boys know you can't go around criticizing your teammates. There was no other way to deal with it,” Ferguson said.

What was really going on was that Keane was openly challenging Fergie, accusing Fergie at a team meeting called to view the disputed interview of letting personal issues affect his management of the club.

And that public challenge in front of his teammates was something that Ferguson, the master of control, could not tolerate.  That was something Holmes could have explored, but he failed to make the tackle.  

Mind you, Fergie also said that O’Neill’s choice of Keane as his assistant manager was a good decision and would be "terrific for Roy," who had gone into management very early and could learn lots from O'Neill.  Talk about being damned with faint praise!

Fergie is not often wrong.  We'll just have to wait and see whether he is right about this as well.

Meanwhile, Keane is due to face his first press conference as assistant manager in Dublin on Wednesday of this week.  And that's unlikely to be any kind of love-in.

COMMENTS

Log in with your social accounts:

Or, log in with your IrishCentral account:

Forgot your password ?

Don't have an account yet? Register now !

Join IrishCentral with your social accounts:


Already have an account ?

For Newsletter Subscribers – Draw for 1 Prize on December 31st.

Prize: Your Piece of Ireland – a Square of Land in the heart of the Glens of Antrim, Ireland

More details here (or you can buy a little piece of Ireland directly): http://bit.ly/1zew9ox

Terms & Conditions

Or, sign up for an IrishCentral account below:

By clicking above you are indicating that you have read & agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.


Make sure we gathered the correct information from you

By clicking above you are indicating that you have read & agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.


You already have an account on IrishCentral! Please confirm you're the owner.


Our new policy requires our users to save a first and last name. Please update your account: