'People were not happy but life goes on. Nobody died.'

 

ROY KEANE INTERVIEW: The Ireland captain talks exclusively to Tom Humphries on why he almost quit the World Cup squad and what made him stay in the end.

Q. So, after all the effort you put into getting the team here, what makes you announce that you are going home after a training ground row?

A. Well, it was the tip of the iceberg. I've basically had enough of certain things. I've come over here to do well and I want people around me to want to do well. If I feel we're not all wanting the same things, there's no point. It's been going on a while. It's the whole fact of being away. Like every other footballer. Maybe I should just be OK with it, but enough is enough. I'm banging my head against a brick wall regarding certain issues about this trip. This trip is the tip of the iceberg. From the training facilities to all sorts.

Q. Even here it's not right?

A. You've seen the training pitch and I'm not being a prima donna. Training pitch, travel arrangements, getting through the bloody airport when we were leaving, it's the combination of things. I would never say 'that's the reason or this is the reason', but enough is enough.

Q. Did you have reservations about the idea of flying 17 hours here?

A. Yeah, exactly. Flying 17 hours. It's different if we came here to a top training facility. The hotel is fine, but we've come here to work. You wonder why players get injured? Well, playing on a surface like that. I can't imagine any other country, countries in the world who are far worse off than us, playing on something like that. I don't think it's too much for us to ask, just for a pitch that's even watered. It's so dangerous. It's rock hard. One or two of the lads have picked up injuries. I'm amazed there hasn't been more but give it time. But you know, we're the Irish team, it's a laugh and a joke. We shouldn't expect too much.

Q. Did you talk to people about it before you got here?

A. No, no, I was quite relaxed. Everything was fine. Starting from the airport though, and the farce of trying to get through the airport, and all the press and nothing organised and we get here and the skips (containing the team's training gear) are missing, blah blah blah! Here we go. This is not right. All I want is what's best for me and the team. I mean that. It's not right in anybody's eyes. It's a laugh and a joke, of course, some of it, always has been with us, but now I'm thinking enough is enough.

Q. It's fair to say though that you came on the trip unhappy with coverage of you missing Niall Quinn's testimonial.

A. Yeah. It was straightforward. I was injured, I wasn't fit. Then coming over on Wednesday on the plane I got a couple of complimentary papers and the word "disrespectful" was mentioned. People said I should have been in the stand in a shirt and tie. Sure. I'm not that daft either. I was going away on Wednesday for five weeks, what was I supposed to do? Sit in the stand? Do you think I would have been left alone up there? Do you think Quinny would have been going "ah, cheers Roy for coming."

That wouldn't have been the case. It was a choice. I wasn't fit. To spend the last night with my wife and kids... as it happened I went to the pictures with my wife at about nine o clock after a day with the kids. It was that or be up in Sunderland sitting in the stand. I'd very little time with Theresa and the kids at the end of a long year.

I played Saturday, had treatment on Monday and Tuesday and left for here on Friday. Good luck to Quinny with what he's doing, but I don't need to be involved in the whole hullaballoo. My conscience is clear. Yeah, I wasn't happy, but I forgot about that.

Q. Was it something that could have been handled better by the FAI?

A. Again yeah. Without a doubt. They knew my situation. And Quinny did. They are the most important people, Quinny and Mick. They knew my situation. I've been seeing somebody in France who's been helping with my injuries. Then I picked up two dead legs against Arsenal. It had gone by Saturday (the one in my right leg) so I played against Charlton, but there was no way I could have travelled to France to have even done that work, because he does a lot of stretching on my legs and I wasn't fit. I wouldn't have made Quinny's game.

Either I went to France on Monday and after the stretching I'd have to rest for a day or two, or the dead leg would put me out. So I let them know. My priority was getting ready for the World Cup and, again, no disrespect to Quinny.

If people want to say that....

Q. Did you call Niall yourself?

A. I spoke to Mick Byrne who's the middle man for me, really. I spoke to Mick. If I thought for one minute it would offend, I would have gone up to save the hassle. But the choice of sitting in the stand or being at home with my family, there was only one winner.

Q. But you were asked to write a piece for the programme and declined?

A. Yeah, with Cathal Dervan. No way. Not with Cathal Dervan. The same man who three or four years ago insisted the fans boo for me. Michael Kennedy (Keane's agent) asked me, through Quinny. I said, if they wanted to do it through a different avenue... but it was just left. As soon as it happened, I knew the story would be that 'he refused to write a piece'.

Q. So Tuesday, you left for training, you seemed to be in good form. What happened?

A. It's a lot of things. There's a lot of things I don't understand when we come away like this - barbecue with the media, say. I don't understand the purpose of things. Or some of the gear going missing. The barbecue. Training pitch being wrong. No balls. Only two goals. There's differences of opinions about different things. Maybe I just don't get it,

Q. What bugged you about the barbecue? The media?

A. Yeah, I'm thinking, am I supposed to sit down with people, the likes of... I'm not going to mention any names because it gives them the satisfaction, but people who've slagged me and my family off. I know papers have to report. I accept criticism, constructive anyway, but not hypocrites. And I'm not talking just about the press there but people who were there with us being pally pally.

Things like that get under my skin. I've come away to train for the World Cup, not to have barbecues with the press but, if I don't go, I'm the only person who didn't turn up. It's all false.

Q. The team went out that night. Had you any problem with that?

A. I didn't fancy going out. We'll be away a long time. No problem at all. They needed to let off a bit of steam. I went to bed. I was tired. I'm getting old.

Q. As captain, do people come to you about these things?

A. The barbecue was mentioned. I questioned it, yeah. Believe it or not, at the time I didn't want to make a fuss. If the other players were comfortable...

Q. So what was the final straw then?

A. We'd no goalkeepers for the five-a-side.

Q. I saw you reacting badly to that. Why?

A. Ask any player, any footballer, anyone in the world, anybody - at the end of training you need a little game. Their attitude was that the keepers were tired. I completely disagreed with them. Tired? Well, is that not why we are all here? Explain that one to me. We've done about three hours work here, three hours work since Nigeria last Thursday. I know it's a relaxation but we could be in for a big shock next Saturday against Cameroon.

Q. But how does it go from there to you and Alan Kelly having a shouting match?

A. Obviously Alan disagreed. Packie said they'd worked hard. Alan said they worked hard. I said "do ye want a pat on the back for working hard - is that not why you are here?" I did mention that they wouldn't be too tired to play golf the next day and, fair play, they dragged themselves out! That was my stance and Kells took his stance. Few words, but I've had arguments like that hundreds of times. Unfortunately, there was press there and you could say it got heated between me and Alan, but Alan is a decent lad. I went to speak to Alan later.

You can laugh about it. These things happen. You get 23 lads away with each other. No big deal. It's over and gone. Done with.

Q. And when you came off the training ground and got on the bus on your own, had you decided then to come home?

A. Yeah. I'd had enough. I'm not asking too much - for everyone to want what's best. If it's a crime, fuck it, I'm guilty. Listen, people show it in different ways. Some people go to their rooms but it plays on me when something can be done about it. It's not being a prima donna. There's things you can't accept. That kind of pitch. No training kit. No balls. A 20-hour flight and there's no skips (containing the team's training gear). They said the skips were supposed to be here on Thursday. They should have been here two weeks ago, so there was no doubt! We're getting advised that we have to drink this stuff. It's not here yet, but when it does come you have to drink it. All the lads feel the same. I react differently. I know that's a downside. I am what I am, warts and all. Maybe you'll say I should have taken a step back. That's hindsight.

Q. So what happened?

A. It was a long night and a lot went through my head. I had to speak to people I respect. Obviously I had my family to think about but if it was up to me I wouldn't still be here. Couldn't have got a flight until four o'clock Wednesday. I spoke to my wife. I spoke to Michael (Kennedy, his agent), I spoke to Alex Ferguson. He's a good man and he gave me good words of advice. You have to listen to these people. The manager (Ferguson) has the same temperament as me. He understood what I was going through. He told me to stick it out, but this is it.

Q. What were the arguments being put to you?

A. I knew I had my family to think about back in Ireland. My poor Dad, me Mam. My three brothers and sisters. It would be all very well for me going back to Manchester. I knew all that. I was seeing straight, you know, but I just couldn't justify myself being here. Not just this trip, there's the constant, negative criticism over the years chipping away. I'm 31, I've had my few injuries. I travelled more than other players because of my commitments to United. That's not a complaint, it's just a fact and I just got to a stage where I said, I don't need this. So I spoke to the manager and I'll stick it out till after the World Cup and that will be it for me. Without a doubt.

Q. And how do you feel now that you are staying?

A. Today I'm thinking that the first game is next Saturday. I've got some of my family coming out before then to relax with. They're people I can switch off with and relax with. Obviously I room on my own and I'm in here (in his room) quite a bit, which is what I want anyway. If there was a flight yesterday, I'd have been gone.

Q. Being on your own on these trips, does it make you lower?

A. If I did want to room with somebody, maybe. On the whole, I prefer rooming on my own. We do it at United, pre-season we'd be away 10, 12 days. I know club level is different, the bonds are different but you can't have everything. I prefer to be on my own as regards using the telephone, getting up, reading, using the bath, whatever you might want. I could do something about it but I do accept I'm on my own. I've nobody to bounce things off or have a laugh with. That's the downside.

Q. So you spoke to Theresa (his wife), to Alex Ferguson and Michael Kennedy. Was there anyone from the team coming up to your room by this stage?

A. No. To be fair, I'd made my mind up. They were giving me breathing space. I didn't want to speak to anyone else. I spoke to Theresa and she said Michael was under pressure. It had been out on the news in Ireland. I don't know how that happened, only one or two people knew, but a ticket was booked for me, so maybe that way things got out. It's no good trying to blame any one person, it's a combination of things and myself. Enough was enough.

I spoke to Michael, he said the manager (Ferguson) had been on. He was on holidays but he'd seen the news. I had a good chat with him. He's someone I respect. In football, he's the only person I would listen to. We spoke about my family. I knew what he was saying but it helps when you get other people saying it. We'd discussed it before because of my injuries curtailing my international football. He said hang in there because of my family.

Q. What impact has it all had on the lads on the team?

A. Not sure, to be honest. I think when you are away things happen. To me it's gone now, what happened. I need to get my head down for two or three weeks. Get my head down for the country, enjoy it and leave with my head held high.

Q. How have you dealt with it in terms of your relationship with the team?

A. It's gone now. Me and Kells spoke, even. We had a laugh. We are grown men. I've had hundreds of thousands of those heated discussions. Every day in training at United. Really. I had lunch with Kells on the day it happened and - this is funny - we were saying how we were both the sort of people who fly off the handle easily and how we had to learn to control that. Then three hours later we had that row. Then today at lunch we were saying 'remember that discussion we had yesterday!' It's forgotten about. We want what's best for each other. I'll get my head down for the next three weeks. I want to do well for the people of Ireland, for my family and for me personally.

Q. Do you think though that you exist as an island apart from the team? Take the Iran game, the players were baffled that you left the morning after the first leg without saying anything?

A. It was straightforward. Sunday morning, the manager (Ferguson) spoke to Mick McCarthy. I hadn't played for three weeks before that game. After the match I was feeling my knee, especially in the last 20 minutes. We were 2-0 up having not played that well. I felt the job was done. So, it was Sunday and the manager rang me. Mick Byrne and Mick McCarthy were there. It was agreed I'd go home. I just couldn't see us losing 3-0, but I probably would have taken the blame for it anyway if we did! The lads were having a warm-down, they were all in the rooms. It's not my scene. If I passed somebody in the corridor, I'd say goodbye. I didn't go round door to door. Even here, if I was leaving I wouldn't have gone door to door. That's not my scene.

Q. Do you know anyone else who gets as intense about football and getting it right?

A. Our manager, Alex Ferguson. Look, I just want what's best. Realistically, I didn't expect to come over here and find Highbury or Anfield waiting but I expected the pitch to be at least watered. We've had two injuries. Players are tired, fatigued after a long hard season and it would be softer out there on the hotel car park. If there is something wrong with wanting that, then what chance have we got? All the players feel the same. They react differently. Some people accept it easier. Maybe that's why some of our players are playing where they are. You have to want the best. You need to prepare. It's hard enough as it is, playing Cameroon next Saturday it's going to be so bloody hard. We could be in for a shock. Everybody could be in for a shock.

Q. Apart from facilities, is it too laid-back here for you?

A. To be fair, the hotel is nice, the sun is nice but it's a long way to come for that. That's my opinion. I think we've come to train hard, to get ready for the World Cup. Look at the facilities. We need to be taking it easy a little bit, I know. To be fair, I don't see anything wrong with the golf or the night out but, when we are working hard, can we not work for three hours solid on a good pitch? Instead, we've done three one-hour sessions.

Q. Why are the highs higher for you and the lows lower?

A. I try not to be like that, believe it or not. I'm trying to get level pegging. I don't want that, the highs and lows. I react. That's the way I am. That's what's made me what I am, good and bad, but I like me. I do like me. I don't think I'm a bad person. In my life, I'm trying to get things level. When I was younger I was up and down like a roller coaster. I was up, out and in headlines, injured and winning trophies. High up, low down. I'm trying to get things down, accepting things, but there's only so much you can accept.

Q. Do you get depressed?

A. No. I wouldn't say depressed. I can't go back to my room and switch off. It plays on my mind. I accept a lot of things, especially with the Irish team. People say I'm always moaning but, if I moaned about everything you'd have about 40 tapes there. I like my life simple, I really do. I didn't want the hassle I had yesterday, far from it. I didn't want the night I had last night? Do you think I slept like a baby? I slept okay in the end last night but that happens when you drain yourself taking things on board. I've decided I'm here for myself and the people of Ireland and my family. Sod everybody else. This will be my last trip. I can't go banging my head against a brick wall. I can't. Sometimes you have to make a stance. If there was a flight yesterday I'd be home now and I wouldn't have felt bad about it.

Q. When you went asleep, did you know you were staying?

A. At that stage, I was still going back. I woke at about 6.30 and I rang my wife. She said Michael Kennedy had been on, he was under pressure from the press. I rang him and he said to ring the manager (Ferguson). He'd been ringing me but couldn't get through to the hotel because of the phones here. I spoke to the gaffer, he said his piece. I decided. I think there was all sorts going on in the background. A lot of people were not happy but life goes on. Nobody died.

Q. What did you say to Mick McCarthy after training?

A. I told Mick I had enough. Basically that was it. We've had discussions already the other night about training facilities. You've got to prepare properly is my attitude...

Q. You hate the loveable Irish thing, don't you?.

A. I suppose so. I accept it, I'm as Irish as anybody, but this has been going on for years. Training facilities, travel arrangements. It's easy to pass the buck. Everyone here does it. You got to prepare properly though, it's hard enough as it is. If I opened my mouth every time there's something wrong, I'd need my own newspaper.

Q. Had you any idea coming away that this was the end of your international career?

A. No. I was definitely going to the European Championships. Without a doubt. Maybe no friendly internationals but . . . It gets harder, no matter what you are doing. That's all. I had no intentions of quitting. I do love the 90 minutes, it's the rest of the crap. I'm sure the other players love their kids, but I can't worry about the other players. I have to worry about me. I travel a lot, I have four kids. I miss them. Everyone is different. All I can do is look after me and my family. The European Championships would have been my swansong. It's just come early

Q. Any going back?

A. Unless there's drastic changes. No.

Q. Who are your friends in football?

A. There isn't anyone I wouldn't class as a friend. There's a lot of people I like. The Irish lads are all decent, good lads but I wouldn't be one to pick up the phone or send Christmas cards. A lot of people are like that. I have my family. I can go out with them and relax and switch off. It won't go beyond them. I've been that way for a long time. It's nothing to do with having a high profile. I've been a bit wary of people for a long time. It's a good thing.

Q. What's that song you've been heard to sing, Positively 4th Street?

A. My singing days are over. How does that one go again?

Q. You know. "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend, you just want to be on the side that's winning."

A. Oh yeah, that one. In my defence, I was only joining in. Yeah, that would sum it up for me but there's people away from football I'd be comfortable with. You have to be like that, have to be a bit wary. People talk. I read things about myself. Players even. Niall Quinn did something, with Paul Kimmage I think, a few months ago. Jason did something too. Niall said, if Roy was buttering his toast it would have to be perfect. I'm thinking, what's Niall talking about? People think they know you. Daft things like that. I don't want to get on the PR machine though. I don't want it. I do like my life simple. People will laugh at that but people who know me . . . I was in UCC last week and it was a huge honour for me and my family, but a day like that it takes its toll on me. I don't feel comfortable in places like that. I'm so grateful for it - that goes without saying - but give me my kids and walking my dog any day of the week. I do like my life simple and I have to laugh at myself because...

Q. Do you think you'll manage or would you prefer to walk away from football altogether?

A. It could go either way. I'd be very capable of walking away but I see the challenge of being a manager, I'd love to pull the strings of a big club, players, listen to people. I look at our manager and I think about it. I know it's stressful. People will say, if I'm going to walk away from this, what chance do I have of being a manager. I don't know. I think I'd enjoy that challenge. At the end of the day, I enjoy managing myself regarding looking after myself, stretching, weights. I'd enjoy stretching that. Good players and good people with me, people I could trust. I'd like that.

On the other hand, getting away from it, to a life where people leave you alone. I suppose the longer you're out of it... I'd love the idea of holidays at Christmas with my family, summers in Australia, doing courses or whatever. It's hard to imagine.

I have a four-year contract at United, though. That has its challenges. I'm hungry, I've probably never been as hungry as I am now for success. It still hurts me what happened at United this season. I need people around me to be hungry, too. It's the same with Ireland. I need people pulling the same way and wanting what's best.

Q. But isn't there more than one way to skin a cat?

A. Possibly. People do it different ways. Some people need an arm put around them. Yeah, I'm sure there are other ways. I watch people who I respect and if you know football it's about the different needs of different players.

People think because I go away with the Irish team I'm moaning, because it's not as good as Manchester United. That's nonsense. I want to have a good training pitch. At Manchester United they want the best of everything. That's the difference, they want it. Everybody. When we travel the treatment is fantastic because of that. People in the laundrette, the canteen, feel that way at United... A bad result and there's doom and gloom. Otherwise what are you playing the game for? I accept a lot of things. I know the FAI haven't got millions in the bank, but it's cost a lot of money to come out here and look... It's preparation. Fail to prepare. Prepare to fail.

Q. Why do you think Saipan was chosen as a venue for preparation?

A. Haven't a clue. Somebody came here once and it looked nice once. They thought they were making an effort because it's really far away. The important things weren't looked at. Travel, of course. A training pitch.

We had a lovely day yesterday, we went up to Suicide Cliff and learned the history. I enjoyed that, that's the nice side of it, but I keep saying to everybody we're here to prepare for the World Cup.

I was going to go back up there today to that cliff! Add an Irishman to the list (laughs).

It's gone now, this business. We'll just get on with it. Maybe it's the vibe I send out, the monster that's been built, some of it through my own doing but I don't expect anybody here to tiptoe around me. Alan Kelly took the piss out of the thing today. He came out at training with a balaclava on. I was glad. Alan would be a player I would talk to a lot. I don't want to be burning my bridges there! I'd be down to zero!

Q. How do you think you've come out of this whole thing?

A. I come off the worst, no matter what! Eventually the penny has to drop but you need to put the penny in. I'm learning but I'm only human. These things happen for a reason. You have to learn from these things, the bad things. Without a doubt. I think the best has still to come. I've made mistakes. I'm better for the mistakes. Introduce me to somebody who hasn't made mistakes and I'll shake his hand. Things happen for a reason, I'm sure the man upstairs is guiding me along the way, putting a few obstacles in the way but I feel very happy with life. I do. I just don't want us going home saying 'if only we'd prepared better'.

Q. And what have you learned?

A. Well, it's brought a decision that enough is enough. At this moment in time, I know this is my swansong. Not sure I'll be missed.

Q. It'll be duller!

A. It might be!

Q. You could be player-manager in the future?

A. Yeah. Nobody would play for me but we'd have great facilities!

Q. Well, you'd be the media choice.

A. Yeah? Right. That's that then!