Roy Keane made many comments over the past seven days – including a wonderful claim that he is Mother Theresa next to Martin O’Neill, which their former boss Niall Quinn must have found amusing – but one observation had more resonance than the others.
Ignoring the fact that he has promised to eventually respond to Alex Ferguson’s claims in his latest book — filled with over 40 factual errors by the way as his publishers have admitted — Keane’s comments of a circus variety deserve further examination.
Speaking to the Sunday newspaper journalists on Wednesday of last week, when he did vow to answer the Fergie criticism at a better time, Keane expressed his amazement at the fact that a circus now surrounds his every move.
And he’s not wrong. No assistant manager in world football has commanded more column inches and media attention in the past week than Keano. No number two has ever spent as long in the spotlight since O’Neill made the shock appointment.
In fact, I would struggle right now to tell you who is the assistant to Roy Hodgson in the England camp. I think Mark McGhee is number two to Gordon Strachan with Scotland, and I know Billy McKinlay works alongside Michael O’Neill with Northern Ireland.
Who’s the Spanish number two? Or the Portuguese Keano? Or the Dutch version?
I haven’t a clue and I doubt most of you, my two or three avid readers, have either. That’s a footballing fact of life.
Assistant managers in the international game are not there to be seen and heard by the public. They are there to be seen and heard by the players and the players alone.
What they think about world peace or World Cup hopes are by and large irrelevant anywhere other than inside the four walls of the dressing room.
Keane cast in the role of assistant manager is a different story altogether, of course. It has to be, particularly when he has assumed the role with the team that represents a country besotted with his every move.
Keane is box office in Ireland. The entire population has an opinion on him.
The entire country wants to know what he is going to do for Ireland and how he is going to behave in the unusual role of understudy, a role that never suited him on the pitch in his playing days with Manchester United or his country.
He was right last week when he also suggested that he is not an animal who needs to be tamed but he is a beast – a media beast before his many fans jump down my throat.
And that infatuation among headline writers for all things Roy isn’t going to go away any day soon.
No sooner had O’Neill emerged from the tunnel in the Aviva Stadium for the first time on Friday night than the cameras began to search for the first spotting of Roy Keane ahead of the Latvia game.
No sooner had the RTE cameraman spotted O’Neill at the Ireland-Australia rugby game on Saturday afternoon in the same venue than he turned his attentions – and his lens – to Keane, two seats away.
That’s the way it is going to be now. Keane as Ireland assistant manager is a circus act, and he will have to get used to it.
Studying how he responds to the role promises to be fascinating but already the omens are good, I have to say.
He is clearly comfortable with the role as right hand man, and he clearly understands exactly who is boss. Where O’Neill was suited and booted on Friday night, Keane was track-suited and football booted if you get my drift.
When O’Neill wore a smart suit and tie to the rugby game, so Keane wore a leather jacket and jeans.
He may not be the manager and he may still be the focus of attention, but all that seems fine with Roy Keane. How long that lasts is the question on so many Irish lips right now. I’ll get back to you with the answer.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
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