I only dealt with Roy Keane once, on the Wembley pitch after a Cup final victory. Not exactly the ideal environment to make a judgement call on someone and certainly not enough time to decide whether I liked him or not, writes Vernon Grant.
Others, seasoned reporters among them, alleged he was a good sort really. The football equivalent of John McEnroe in his heyday, He was, privately, a much calmer individual than he portrayed on the tennis court.
Mick McCarthy knows Roy Keane much better than I. Who can ever forget their confrontation in Saipan when Keane walked out on the Republic of Ireland squad? Ever since then it seems you are either in the Keane camp or you side with Mick McCarthy, whose job it was to manage the Irish team in 2002.
For the record, if I were forced to take sides, I would always be with Big Mick. I first dealt with him in the early eighties when he was a towering figure at the heart of the Barnsley defence. Decades later, I would still be greeting him prior to producing shows he appeared on at Sky. I like Mick McCarthy and make no secret about that. I’d happily have him managing the club I support.
I have spent season after season telling disgruntled Ipswich Town supporters to be careful what they wished for. They spent years hounding him out of his job at Portman Road. Despite little or no financial support from his bosses, he kept the Tractor Boys safe in the ever competitive Championship. The season after the fans got their way, and McCarthy left Ipswich, where are they now? Joint bottom of the league.
McCarthy has been interviewed by Eamon Dunphy for the Paddy Power blog. Here are some highlights from that interview.
Dunphy: What do you make of the Roy Keane reports from the Irish training camp?
Mick McCarthy: Me and Roy have had our issues, of course, but I’m not in there with him, I don’t see what’s going on. All I will say is this: he’s the only assistant manager in the whole of the world who gets this much publicity, nobody else.
It’s like Roy Keane’s Ireland. It’s bonkers, in my view. He should be assistant Martin O’Neill. It shouldn’t be Martin having to mop up anything else that’s going on.
Dunphy: What was your relationship like with Keane from the start?
Mick: Pretty shite, to be quite honest. I had a run in with him on the bus coming back from the USA tour. All the lads had been out, not just Roy. We were all waiting for them to come back, they’d only had a beer and were late getting on the bus.
I’d had to go and fetch Stan’s passport, I packed his bag and put it on. They all come on and I’m having a dig at them. I’m the captain, I’m the manager of Millwall at the time, so I’m saying ‘the bus is going, we need to go, we’ve a plane to catch’.
Then, of course, yours truly gives me a mouthful, so I’ve gone to have a dig at him back. And we had to be split up. I was never intimidated by him. But that was it.
We played in Hungary. Roy was amazing that game, you could see how could a player he was going to be. Without a doubt, he was one of the best players I’ve played with or managed.
Dunphy: Before Saipan, how were you getting on with Roy?
Mick: I got on fine with him. There was some suggestion, that Roy made, that I couldn’t manage the team or players.
I’d managed him for five years, I fucking spun his plate, I kept him going.
‘Roy, don’t come in on Monday. We played Saturday, you come in Tuesday’, so he’d come in on the Tuesday and then just go home. I don’t think he particularly liked being in, to be honest with you.
I managed that situation, particularly well, managed all of them. It was all different characters, it’s not just about him and not just about me, there were a lot of other people in that squad, who should be respected for what they contributed to it, along with the two main protagonists.
When it happened, 16 years ago, I said at the time, one day I’ll be walking down the street in Barnsley, a flat cap on, ferret in my pocket, Jack Russel dog by the side of me, and someone will say “There’s that bollocks who sent Roy Keane home.” And it’s pretty much turning out to be true, that, 16 years on.
All the people who paid their money and wanted to go to the World Cup and wanted to see Roy there, as one of the best players – and, by the way, I wanted him there as much as anyone else did – but that relationship got broken.
I’m not going to put blame on people, everybody has made their mind up, rightly or wrongly, I think it fluctuates. Having sent him home, I had to – because of us being a better team if he’s in it, playing well, and everything’s OK and the atmosphere’s alright, but it wasn’t – I offered the olive branch and asked him if to come back, and he refused.
Dunphy: Do you have a desire to become Ireland manager again?
Mick: If their contracts come to an end, in two years’ time, and the job is available, and I’m out of work, I would love it again.
For my part, adds Vernon Grant, I confess to being surprised by how Martin O’Neill has allowed the situation to arise whereby Roy Keane has hosted so many press conferences. An outsider could be forgiven for thinking Keane is the manager and O’Neill his assistant. The press go to Roy because they know they are more likely to get good copy. Martin tends to be more diplomatic. Keane is liable to say something outrageous.
Perhaps Martin O’Neill has lost interest in the job. In January he was in talks with the Stoke City owners about becoming their new manager. Talks broke down and O’Neill chose to stay where he was. The Football Association of Ireland were daft to offer the pair a new contract prior to the Republic of Ireland failing to qualify for the last World Cup. Now, unless the FAI decide to pay them off, O’Neill and Keane will remain in charge until at least 2020.
I’m not sure it is fair to Marmite to suggest that Roy Keane is the footballing equivalent of the spread made from yeast extract. Perhaps Bovril would be a better comparison – “a concentrated essence of beef diluted with hot water.”
In his various jobs as coach or manager, Roy Keane has always fallen foul of expecting players to be as good as he was. To want it as much as he did. To try as hard as he did for Manchester United.
I recall the former Everton and England player Alan Ball – the unofficial Man of the Match for the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany – having the same attitude when he himself became a football manager. Even back then, before footballers were millionaires, he was dismayed that players he coached didn’t care as much as he did when he was playing.
It is clear that several of the Republic of Ireland players resent how Keane talks to them. If that way of dealing with footballers ever did produce better performances, it doesn’t work in the modern age of the game.
Mick McCarthy, a man who is no stranger to calling a spade a shovel, knows that.
Roy Keane knows it. But he won’t change. He can’t.