Saturday, 15 November 2014

Roy Still Rages Against the Machine

Landing Philae on a comet might be an easier project than hoping for any changes in Roy Keane’s spots. During the same decade that Rosetta has been hurtling through space the Irish assistant manager has rapidly clocked up his post playing CV. But it is one littered with more question marks and results that attract the banner headlines. Most having little to with football. 

This past week has been no different.

An altercation at the team hotel outside Dublin midweek just cluttered the build-up to the vital 2016 European Qualifier at Celtic Park against Scotland. It also saw manager Martin O’Neill having to issue a statement on behalf of the Football Association of Ireland - backing his number 2. Not unlike build-up to a previous game when the manager had to fend off questions about his assistant joining Aston Villa. Or during the late summer when it was a rumoured the Celtic vacancy was Roy’s for the taking.

All the time intermingled with a constant stream of anecdotes from Keane’s second biography. Much of which was serialised and accompanied by launches and press days. The Second Half capturing headlines in Ireland and England making Keane ubiquitous for many weeks. At times leaving O’Neill appear as just the apprentice to Master Roy. All rather unedifying it has to be said

Then during the game one explosive moment on Friday night saw Keane stand up to the referee and engage in that now infamous glare. So provocative a lesser official would have banished him from the dugout just out of fear - if nothing else. With Aston Villa in freefall in the Premier League someone somewhere must be asking the question about Keane's ability as an assistant Manager. It is one thing to be box office. But not if it’s mostly disruptive. 

In all the Irish games thus far there is no evidence that Keane adds any new-fangled playing system to the cause. The battle at Park Head reinforces that evidence.

In fact the clash in Glasgow between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland was really a mirror of the managers differing personalities. The cheeky wisecracking character of Gordon Strachan very obvious in the play of Robert Naismith, Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew during the ninety minutes. Those daring runs around the box and the speed of movement with the ball along the turf. Reminiscent of some good years the manager enjoyed at Old Trafford. Or indeed at Elland Road no doubt when he won the League.

The Sean Maloney goal testimony to that credo of Strachan and his backroom.

In contrast the careful professorial approach of Martin O’Neill showed nothing but a cautious Ireland. And a manager reaffirming fondness for big men playing alone up front, rather than using deft, agile and technical players. Emile Heskey the classic example when O’Neill reigned at Leicester City. 

Posterity will record whether the decision to omit Robbie Keane from the starting line-up was the right one. 

On the result alone that decision has attracted some criticism. As has the failure to understand O’Neill’s playing philosophy longer term and beyond just the shape of the team itself. For neither the Georgian trip, the Gibraltar clash, nor the German draw explain anything about how the former Northern Ireland midfielder sees Ireland playing. Which at the moment it is just one step above a Trapattoni type system. 

An over reliance on Glen Whelan rather than favouring the flair of Wes Hoolihan the biggest worry. Or indeed using Robbie Brady more. Who, when he came on at Celtic Park, looked more than useful. 

But then the Scotland game was never one for the faint hearted. It was one of two fixtures which will just be hash dash English cup tie football. Where the hang time of the ball - throughout the match - should be measured, rather than possession or territory. Leaving Ireland team within their comfort zone. In fact it is only when Ireland travel further afield and play teams more technically comfortable and at ease stroking the ball around at their own tempo do they struggle. 

Thus far the O’Neill and Keane duo have done little to assuage the belief that this group of players can play any other way. With O’Neill shocked to have lost on Friday. Yet how he reached that conclusion is more worrying. Even more so for the FAI as they too must now wonder whether the blockbuster pairing will survive the duration of their contract given Keane’s sideshows. 

It cannot be acceptable for an international manager to record a video statement declaring his unwavering support for his assistant’s behaviour in the public domain of the team hotel. Under normal circumstances that would not be tolerated and it will no doubt test the depth of their friendship should it continue.

In terms of results Keane's three year stint at Sunderland ended when there were differences with the major shareholder at the time, Ellis Short. Complicated by some added discord with Keane’s pre-Saipan teammate, Niall Quinn, who was Chairman of the Club at the time. In truth the manager’s record at Sunderland was good, bad and ugly. As was Martin O’Neill’s as he was sacked in 2013 leaving the club languishing in the Premier League relegation zone. 

Gus Poyet the man chosen to pick up the pieces.

Keane’s subsequent arrival at Ipswich Town promised much and delivered little. Results wise at least and saw him sacked midway through his two year contract. A stint more famous for a viral You Tube video at one of Keane’s press conferences rather than any other contribution. The Corkman replaced by his nemesis Mick McCarthy. A manager who has since done more than an adequate job without half the fuss.

But then that is what Keane is all about. A lot of fuss. 

Box office is the euphemism.

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