WILL ROY KEANE be a decent assistant manager to Martin O’Neill? A lot of people, especially the gentlemen of the press, are having a guess.
All the speculation, analysis, informed forecasts; it’s all just guessing really. None of know what’s going to happen.
If we did, there are more lucrative means of earning a living. So we gamble with our reputations instead of our cash and hope that what we predict comes to pass.
Well, some make a living from straddling an uncomfortable fence, year after year.
This in itself is an impressive skill when you consider how long they can get away with the fact that they’ve expressed no view of substance on anything worthwhile.
But it’s no way to pay the rent. You have to make a call. My guess is that Roy Keane will be a qualified success in his new role.
By qualified success I think he will be part of a managerial team which will make the Ireland team more entertaining to watch and better at earning positive results.
Whether we’ll qualify for the Euros in 2016 is another matter. You’d have to wait until the groups are drawn before casting your guess on that.
Keane will do alright though. His character suggests he may quit amid a plume of red mist. Lots of people have pointed towards his combustible nature and previous form as evidence that he’ll not stay the course again this time.
The reason I think he will hang around draws more on the context of the situation rather than the character of the man.
In his 2000 bestseller The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell writes: “Character isn’t what we think it is or what we want it to be. It isn’t a stable, easily identifiable set of closely related traits…
“Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstances and context.”
Among several instructive anecdotes Gladwell uses, he writes about an academic study which was a modern twist on the Good Samaritan theme.
A bunch of seminarians were asked to write a speech and then walk a short distance to another building to present it.
Along the way, a groaning, desperate man in need of urgent help was planted. So, who would stop for him? Those who saw religion as a means of spiritual fulfilment? Those who were actually going to talk about the Good Samaritan parable? No.
Gladwell writes: “The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Of the group that was, 10 per cent stopped to help.
“Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63 per cent stopped.”
Before they set off, some of the guinea pigs were told to get a move on — they were late.
It was stressed to the others that there was no rush. Gladwell again: “What this study is suggesting is that the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behaviour.”
What context does Roy Keane find himself in now? Well, he’s tainted by his walkout from Sunderland, by his sacking from Ipswich, by the testimony many players who have told the press, on and off the record, that Keane is unapproachable, aggressive, detached and impossibly hard to please.
He is tainted by Alex Ferguson’s recent 15-page stream of spite. He is a manager who has not worked in almost three years.
When the phone rings, it’s a person booking him for ITV’s next live broadcast. For a man like Keane, a competitor down to his last red blood cell, sideline banter with Adrian Chiles and Lee Dixon is unlikely to fire him with a sense of purpose.
Keane needs a contest and, until the last few days, the prospect of one was remote. He was an outcast of the insular world of football management, off the merry-go-round, not even in the fairground.
And then along comes redemption from the least likely of sources: the FAI.
Martin O’Neill puts his name forward as the preferred No 2. O’Neill has the clout to ensure that no objection will be considered.
So Keane is offered a route back in. The result? He is as close to ecstatic as he gets.
Last week on ITV’s coverage of Real Sociedad versus Manchester United he cracked a smile. More than once.
This, remember, is the man who barely celebrated after playing a huge role in defeating Holland and qualifying Ireland for the 2002 World Cup.
In a different context Keane, an alpha male if ever there was one, would not countenance being an assistant to anybody, even somebody he respects like O’Neill.
In today’s context, he is champing at the bit to serve in somebody else’s project — and at the FAI’s behest.
In a different context, he would likely voice strongly his frustrations at the first matter he finds not to his exacting standards in his new role.
In today’s context he will bite his tongue. Twenty-two years ago a young Roy Keane under-hit a back pass while playing for Nottingham Forrest against Crystal Palace.
His manager Brian Clough punched him in the stomach afterwards. What did Keane do? He got up and said nothing.
Does that sound like the reaction of the Keane we have got to know so well in the decades since?
Thing was, Keane at the time was a young player, promising but largely unproven; dispensable, many willing to take his place. He knew it. He knows now his status as a manager is similar. So he’ll take the knocks, get up and keep going.
And that, I guess, is a good thing for Ireland.