Roy Keane has no time for Peter Schmeichel ahead of playoff
Ireland assistant says he would say ‘f**k-all’ to former teammate if he came across him
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane speaks at a press conference on Tuesday: “If players don’t know by now how big the game is, we’re all in trouble.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Roy Keane talks about relishing the pressure that comes with games like these and if his mood five days before the first of Ireland’s World Cup play-off games against Denmark is anything to go by, he’s not lying.
“I’d say f**k-all to him,” he replies, deadpan, to a question from a Danish journalist about what he might say to Peter Schmeichel if he bumped into his former Manchester United team-mate between now and Saturday’s first encounter in Copenhagen.
“What do you want me to say to him?” he asks, hamming it up slightly and clearly enjoying himself. “Is he playing? He’s not playing. I’d say nothing to Peter. What could I say to him? I don’t keep in touch with Peter.”
By this stage, Keane’s stern expression is melting and he reveals that the pair, who famously fought each other on the 27th floor of a Hong Kong hotel while on a preseason tour in 1998, had a chance encounter at a London hotel a year or so back and had a good-natured chat over breakfast.
The fight ended almost as well; at least the aftermath did with the Dane, it seems, going up in Keane’s estimation when he took the rap for the altercation the following morning. “He started it,” says the former midfielder, grinning broadly by this point. “He said it himself, he held his hand up, he said he started it. I think he had two pints and got a bit brave.”
Alex Ferguson described the pair as being a disgrace to the club but left it at that, which just might have been a good call. Both men would go on to play big parts in the title-winning campaign that followed.
“The key to the really top managers is saying the right thing at the right time.” Martin O’Neill, he suggests, just like Ferguson, has the knack.
The right message
“There are hundreds and thousands of coaches out there but management is different,” says Keane nearly 20 years on. “It’s about saying the right thing at the right time; the right tone, the right message. You simplify things.
“I worked with Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson and I’d certainly have no problem mentioning Martin in the same breath as them. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t blink an eyelid at it. I have obviously made it clear before about Alex Ferguson that, whatever you are saying about him, in team talks, he knew how to say the right thing at the right time.
“And I know that if I was a player, I’d like Martin’s messages. Of course, you are going to say that I have to say that because I work with him but I always try to picture myself as a player and if I was a player and these were the messages that I was getting from the manager I would be going ‘Yes, I get that’.”
Like himself, he says, O’Neill is better equipped now than at any time during his time with Ireland to prepare the players for these two games. “We’ve learned a lot in the last four years,” he says. “The first year or two you are finding out about players and sussing them out because we didn’t know everything player, every character.
“When you get together there is a mix, some of them having good times at club level, some not. You have got to get that balance right. But we know, the fans know and I’m sure ye know that whatever happens on Saturday we know that the lads will go out and put a shift in. That gives you a chance.”
Keane readily accepts, though, that it is not as if Ireland will be the only team trying out there. Both teams want to make it to the World Cup and both have obstacles to overcome, including significant injury worries.
Denmark’s may actually be easing slightly but Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward both both missed training again on Tuesday. Hendrick was actually absent as he was having a scan but, says Keane, it is too early in the week to be getting really worried.
Whoever is shaping up to play, he suggests, will not need to be told the obvious. “If players don’t know by now how big the game is, we’re all in trouble,” he says. On other fronts like the need for the Irish players, where possible, to avoid a booking and the suspension that would in many cases come with it, he might as well, he feels, keep his views to himself.
“I don’t think that would be a conversation I’d be having with players,” he says, a hint of a smile breaking out again. “I’ve spoken to James [McClean] before and he’s done the opposite. I know players look at me and think ‘We’re not really going to listen to you on that aspect of the game’, but again I think that’s where the experience comes in.”
It is a commodity, he still seems to feel, he could profitably bring back to club football some days although the question of his future ambitions, like his current contractual situation, are for the “back burner”, he says, in a week when there should be only one thing really to focus on.
His primary role, he says, smiling again, is to make a lot of tea for everyone. But will he be content to do that for another two years? “That’s a good question. We’ll see.”