Roy Keane: Irish players don’t get enough credit
Ireland assistant coach says midfielder Glen Whelan among underappreciated players
Mind-boggling: Van Nistelrooy would be worth a billion now, says Roy Keane. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
His omission from the Premier League All-Time XI just selected by BBC pundits might suggest otherwise, but Roy Keane reckons that some of the current Republic of Ireland side might be better appreciated when they hang up their boots.
At a time when the money being paid for soccer’s top talent can make some very good players seem just a little ordinary, the former Manchester United player believes that one or two of his fellow Irishmen don’t quite get the credit they deserve. Unglamorous roles at unfashionable clubs can be a factor, he suggests, with the contribution of players like Glenn Whelan routinely eclipsed by people who can do the more eye-catching stuff, like grab a goal or two.
“Glenn will never get you a goal” – he has scored two for Ireland, in 81 appearances – “and probably doesn’t get many assists, but when you’re a sitting midfielder it’s hard to do that stuff, because you’re protecting your back four,” Keane says.
When people look at sitting midfielders they think they need to do more, but Glenn plays an important role, because playing in the middle of the park is not easy
“Part of the game is that people will analyse what Glenn doesn’t do, but sometimes you have to focus on what the player does do well, and that might be the dirty stuff in a game, or whether they are more of a team player than other players.
“Is there stuff that Glenn can improve on and be better at? Of course, but he’s a good team player. He’s always available [and] shows courage looking for the ball when sometimes a lot of players don’t want to get on it. When people look at sitting midfielders they think they need to do more, but he plays an important role in the team, because playing in the middle of the park is not easy. He gets around the pitch. We like what he brings to the party for us.
“You have to have something about you to get that many caps . . . and to play regularly, whether it’s at Stoke, a decent Premiership team who have held their own the last couple of years. The beauty about Glenn Whelan is he’s here, he’s always here, here and available for selection.
“I think these players, they probably deserve a touch more credit that they are getting. But that’s all part of the game. Some of these lads – maybe Glenn – will get more plaudits maybe when they retire. That’s all part of the game as well.”
Robbie Keane’s true value, he goes on to suggest, might be more readily apparent now that he and his goals have gone. The assistant manager talks about the need for others to chip in with goals and laments the fact that there have been Ireland games in which a case might be made for Séamus Coleman having been the team’s most effective attacking player. “You don’t want that,” he says.
Almost inevitably, though, mention of Robbie leads to talk of the current attacking options with Shane Long, and how the striker’s full potential still seems to go unfulfilled.
“It doesn’t seem to be happening for Shane at Southampton at the moment, but I think sometimes we just put whatever is going on in their club careers on the back burner and just get on with it. We know if Shane starts on Saturday [in Ireland’s Fifa World Cup qualifying match against Georgia, in Tbilisi] he’ll do a good job, like he always has done. I’m sure if he was sitting here he’d say he’d like to have got a lot more games under his belt, and certainly more goals. I don’t know his stats at Southampton, but you ask any striker: it’s all about getting minutes on the pitch and putting the ball in the back of the net – and he’s not been doing that regularly enough.
It’s all about getting minutes on the pitch and putting the ball in the back of the net – and Shane’s not been doing that regularly enough
“Sometimes you can look at managers, and I’d love to know how many games he started and finished over the last five or six years, [but] as much as we look at managers I always say the player’s got to look at himself, look at the man in the mirror.
“Is he doing enough at club level in terms of training? I don’t know. I don’t work with him every day. But when we have him for the week he’s fine: he gets on with it. Sometimes players do turn up and they do look as if they are short of minutes under the belts. And maybe that can happen with Shane sometimes. But we kind of forget about that a little bit on Saturday, and if he starts I’m sure he’ll do well for us.”
Long has been linked over the summer with another move, of course, and Keane is staggered by the state of the transfer market, with single players suddenly changing hands for more than €100 million.
It’s mind-boggling the figures that are out there now. It’s not the players’ fault; it’s the market value. But it’s mind-boggling . . . especially for the average players
“It’s mind-boggling,” he says, “the figures that are out there now for players. It’s not the players’ fault; it’s the market value. But it’s mind-boggling . . . especially for the average players.”
For the less average ones, he jokes, the numbers might involve yet another zero.
Van Nistelrooy? “Ruud would certainly be worth, in the market now, probably a billion.”
Beckham? “A billion.”
Giggs? “Two billion.”
And Roy Keane? “£3.75 million” – the fee he moved from Nottingham Forest to United for in 1993 – “I think,” he says with a smile.