Another job bites the dust: Where does Roy Keane go now?
At one stage the odds-on favourite to succeed O’Neill, Cork man’s stock has now taken a hit
Former Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane now has a choice to make whether to stay in management or not. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
So what now for Roy Keane? If this was always likely to be Martin O’Neill’s last hurrah in the game, it was never imagined as such for his assistant. Indeed for the best part of four of their five years over the Ireland team, Keane was the presumptive next man in.
As recently as January of this year, he was the 11/8 favourite to take over if and when O’Neill vacated the premises. Today you can more or less any price you like – he’s a general 33-1 shot, behind such luminaries as Garry Monk and Harry Redknapp. Even Robbie Keane is deemed to be higher in the pecking order.
Bookies’ odds on these matters generally carry a fairly slim level of insight, of course. And yet the one truth they reflect in this case at least is that whatever Keane’s next job in football happens to be, it won’t come with an FAI pay cheque attached. So as we wave him off from the island after his latest stint in our lives, it’s worth asking what this chapter did for him – not to mention what he did for it.
His role throughout the O’Neill era has never been defined in anything other than nebulous terms. O’Neill was the boss, Steve Guppy, Steve Walford and Seamus McDonagh did the coaching. Keane was a presence, an experienced ear around the place, a tone-setter in the camp. And even if that sounds airy-fairy and ill-defined, there were certainly times when it was needed and appreciated.
His press conference the morning after Ireland’s Euro 2016 warm-up match against Belarus in Turner’s Cross was a perfect case in point. The performance had been particularly turgid, with the side going down to a 2-1 defeat just under a fortnight ahead of their tournament opener against Sweden in the Stade de France. Ireland weren’t at full-strength but even so, there had been a lax environment around the game, as if nobody was especially bothered about it all. Keane saw a temple that needed clearing out and dutifully laid waste.
“Whatever about getting in the final 23, players had an opportunity last night to force themselves into a starting 11 for the Sweden game. Some did okay, and some were very, very poor for international football. It’s really important you control the ball, pass it and move. It’s a pretty simple game really, and if you can’t do that you’re up against it.
“Last night was a good occasion for some of the players. Whatever was said about it being down in Cork city and the pitch and it was sunny – forget that. You are playing international football, you are playing international football. Control the bloody ball, pass it and move to your mates and if you lose it, run back – and run back like you care.”
There and then, all the questions around what it was he did for his €800,000-a-year salary had their answer. The Euros were coming, it was time to buckle up and knuckle down. Straight away, you could feel the country straighten up and get its game face on.
Thing is, that sort of stuff has a shelf-life. Keane’s dressing-down of Harry Arter and Jon Walters just two summers later were presumably, to his mind, no different than what he’d said in 2016. Clearly though, the effectiveness of such an approach had waned by then – most obviously because Arter decided to absent himself from the squad on the back of it.
But more to the point, not alone did it leak out in dribs and drabs as the summer went on, when we got to hear Stephen Ward’s inadvertently damning voice message detailing it all, what came across most was how Keane was viewed by the players. Nobody was cowed by him now, there was no sense of kneeling at the feet of an Irish icon and making sure what he said went. He was just another coach in the set-up, as prone to having the piss taken out of him behind his back as anyone.
It’s eight years since he finished up with Ipswich, four since his four-month spell as assistant manager to Paul Lambert at Aston Villa. The football world spins on apace – Lambert is in his fourth different job since Keane was under him at Villa Park (as it happens, he took over at bottom-of-the-Championship Ipswich just over three weeks ago).
There are plenty of jobs and plenty of places for someone with Keane’s name and experience to land if he is so minded. Anyone who imagines his temper automatically rule him out of jobs in England hasn’t been in too many dressingrooms over there. Bollock and bite hasn’t gone away, you know.
The real question is whether or not Keane can be bothered. There is presumably a studio seat available to him for as long as he fancies that side of things. And obviously there will never be a financial imperative for him to keep working in the game. His reputation has probably been dented for sure but if he puts it around that he’s interested in getting another gig, someone will take a swing on him.
Only then will we be any the wiser on what he still has to offer.