Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Roy Keane: I'm not an animal, I don't need tamed

Do as I say: Roy Keane dishes out the orders at Republic training in Dublin

The working day began in 'Dicey's Diner', a tiny, green, metal cabin by the training-pitch, out of which Roy Keane emerged just after 9.30am.

With a clipboard in one hand, bottle of water in the other, he moved to the field in conversation with fitness coach Dan Horan.

For half an hour they tended to the banal duties of preparation – positioning cones, setting down rope-ladders – before striding across the car park accompanied by goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh to check the gym.

New Republic assistant boss Keane stopped for every request, posing for pictures, signing autographs, returning a breezy 'good morning' to anyone who tossed the greeting in his direction. He looked comfortable.

This man whose life story gets presented to the world in a blizzard of metaphors – and who would, before the day was out, summon two remarkably stark ones of his own – seemed tranquil. He could be overheard discussing coaching licences with McDonagh and the career experiences of old colleagues.

Watching him, you couldn't help but wonder what life must be like being Roy Keane.

Would Ulsterman Martin O'Neill, perhaps, prioritise trying to "tame" him?

"I hope not," he sighed to a great throng gathered between the mirrored walls of The Grand Hotel in Dublin.

"There's nothing to tame, you know. I'm not some sort of animal, you know what I mean? I'm a footballing man, I like to work hard and push people and I suppose that I have got that slightly wrong on one or two occasions over the years.

"But, generally speaking, I look back and think I got a lot of it right. The day I lose any passion for football, I will keep well out of the game.

"When you're talking about having passion for the game, being demanding, if that's a problem for people there's something wrong, you know."

Keane has a depth that nobody ever quite gets to explore. Just about his entire adult life has been spent in the narrow, shallow world of professional football, so he recognises all the phoney intimacies that pass for normality here.

The exaggerated friendliness of back-room staff; the surface earnestness of media, their tone feigning personal interest as distinct from hunger for a story; the tremulous awe of fans. Roy looks out at a largely artificial world and feels little apparent fondness for it.

Yesterday wasn't about the Republic or football. It certainly wasn't about tomorrow night's friendly against Latvia, for which the radio ads rather pointedly declare "Be there, it's all about to kick off!"

Yesterday was about obsession and voyeurism, about the circus-animal distance that still prevails between Keane and an Irish audience.

He would do three separate media sittings, each one punctuated by questions arcing towards his dark side, his short fuse.

He wilfully salts these briefings with black humour. As O'Neill's number two, did he maybe see himself in the role of friendly uncle to the players? "Yeah, I could be, if things go well," he shrugged with that alligator grin.

"I know people can believe what they hear and read and if they're thinking that some monster's going to turn up and, all of a sudden, I'm quite placid...."

His own two words then. Animal. Monster.

He continued: "We've had a lovely few days, the hotel's been lovely (smiling), the food has been excellent, the training ground is lovely... no pot-holes, we've had footballs, it's been great, bibs, everything. Major progress!"

Yesterday, Keane made clear the improbability of any rapproachment with Sir Alex Ferguson, delivering some veiled reference to "lies" and remarking pointedly "that's for another day."

He spoke of his "massive respect" for O'Neill, yet was quick to assert that their relationship would be defined only by the sharp imperatives of business.

"We're certainly not buddies," he stressed.

On O'Neill's view that Keane had been ill-advised in Saipan? "Martin is entitled to be wrong!"

And on the manager's ITV joke that Keane could now play the "bad, bad cop" to his "bad cop", Keane observed "I think Martin got it wrong! I'm going to be good cop. You don't know Martin as well as you think you do – he makes me look like Mother Theresa.

"It goes to show how strong Martin is as, unfortunately, people might see me as a threat, or some sort of trouble maker," he said.

"People think I'm a little bit crazy but I would have been crazy to turn it down."

The prodigal was home. Sleeves rolled up and ready to go.

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