SO THERE is a seat with Roy Keane’s name on it after all. It is just not at Celtic. It is 30 or so thousand feet above the Atlantic.
Rather than fixing his dead-eye stare on Scottish reporters at a press conference to announce his appointment as manager, as was expected, he will tomorrow fly out from Dublin with the rest of the Republic of Ireland squad to the United States, for friendly matches against Costa Rica and Portugal.
Predictably, Celtic are now hurriedly pointing out that he was never in fact offered the post in any case. It does seem unusual that Celtic would be so public in their pursuit of him, or at least would not feel it was necessary to make any comment when Martin O’Neill recently spoke so openly about there having been an approach from the club for Keane’s services.
The Republic of Ireland manager conceded it was likely that he would be required to look for a new assistant manager in the near future. Were it in any way in question that Keane would turn down the chance to take over at Celtic, you might have expected the club to provide some quick comment to the effect that he was only one of a number of prospective candidates. It did eventually come as discussions clearly dragged on longer than majority shareholder Dermot Desmond expected. It seemed that Celtic were confident that Keane would answer the call. But that is the thing about Keane. He is contrary to the end. One reason why it was so widely reported that he was on the verge of taking the job – and why he was being so heavily backed – is that few could explain why he wouldn’t want to agree to become the new Celtic manager.
Although reports last night of a possible return to the Premier League with Aston Villa – in a coaching role which would allow him to continue coaching Ireland – might have something to do with it. Celtic was, on the face of it, an attractive route back into management with a club that he clearly has affection for.
Still, this current opportunity was different. This was not someone winding-up a career in a comparative backwater to what he had known at Manchester United. This was a chance to re-establish himself in frontline management. He couldn’t pass this up, surely? However, such thinking is not taking into account Keane’s capacity for making decisions that, even years later, seem hard to comprehend. For example, there is the episode that, such is the renown, even has its own Wikipedia entry, under the heading: Saipan incident.
This was just over 12 years ago, just prior to a World Cup which, at the age of 30, was always likely to prove Keane’s last. The rows with manager Mick McCarthy that eventually led him to storm home from Ireland’s pre-World Cup base in the South Pacific were described as “the week that tore Ireland apart”. Perhaps the ripples are still being felt.
Taking into account how other people may react isn’t perhaps how we would expect Keane to reach decisions, but he did appear genuinely thrilled to be offered the opportunity to return to the Ireland set-up as a member of the coaching staff. On his appointment, he used words such as “honoured” and sounded extremely grateful to be considered, particularly given his often difficult relationship with the Football Association of Ireland.
There has been some comment in Irish newspapers to the effect that a walk-out now, so soon after taking the role, would go down as “Saipan Two”. Forgiveness by the fans would be even harder to obtain. Remember, also, Keane’s withering assessment of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most recent autobiography, in which his former manager criticised Keane for rounding on his team-mates. “I think I do remember having a conversation with the manager when I was at the club about loyalty,” said Keane, on television. “In my opinion I don’t think he knows the meaning of the word.”
There is also the issue of his ITV commitments, ahead of the World Cup, which kicks off next week. Keane doesn’t tend to shirk from a challenge, but perhaps the choice between preparing for three tough Champions League qualifying ties and casting his cold, analytical eye over a series of World Cup games in Brazil was really no choice at all.
Possibly Keane has finally learned how to enjoy feeling comfortable. As an Irish assistant manager and TV pundit, he does not have to ponder such decisions as where to live to avoid the risk of aggro, a subject former Celtic team-mate Aiden McGeady revealed at the weekend he had already broached with Keane while on international duty last week. Edinburgh was the apparent answer to this potential problem.
What this latest drama will do is make another compelling chapter in Keane’s forthcoming autobiography, which has been trailed by publishers Orion as being a blend of “memoir and motivational writing in a manner which both disquiets and reassures, in Roy Keane’s own original voice”. Why I Said No To Celtic will be one of the first sections many will turn to.
Getting inside Keane’s mind is the greatest challenge for anyone charged with writing his memoirs. Even Eamon Dunphy, who teamed up with Keane to write the first volume, later admitted, to the Irish sports writer Paul Kimmage, that he “got nothing” from him. There were still enough revelations to send the title to the top of the charts, including the distasteful episode when Keane admitted intentionally hurting an opposition player. The sentence employed to describe Keane’s thought process can still provoke a chill, even now: “The ball was there [I think]. Take that you c***.”
His new ghostwriter, Roddy Doyle, is the one who is currently teasing such bon mots from Keane, ahead of what has been slated for an autumn publication. But not even this decorated Irish writer can be sure to get into his subject’s head; maybe no-one can.