Belfast Telegraph

Keane quits Villa to stay with Irish

Rumours fly as Roy leaves premier club to stick with Martin and the Republic

By Daniel McDonnell

It was early on a Friday morning in November 2005 that Roy Keane's stunning exit from Manchester United was agreed at the club's training ground.

Nine years later, the Corkman is at the centre of another bombshell after his abrupt departure from Aston Villa.

Similar to his Old Trafford demise, however, the writing had been on the wall for some time, albeit without the same rancour.

Two months ago, a former playing colleague of the 43-year-old was privately expressing the opinion that Keane would step away from the Villa role before Christmas because of strong murmurs that the dual commitment with the Irish job was proving too much of a strain.

That prediction was borne out yesterday and, while the divisive nature of Keane's character always lends itself to a range of conspiracy theories, the burden of two roles and the impact on family life lay at the heart of his decision.

"We had a brief discussion about the issue just at the last international get-together," said Martin O'Neill on a visit to Dublin as the news broke. "I think he was concerned about having that full-time commitment to the Aston Villa job and ourselves.

"He has decided to make the choice and, naturally, I am delighted the Republic of Ireland have been his first choice."

With a substantial break until Ireland's March date with Poland, the timing has raised eyebrows but with Aston Villa going through a turbulent period at the moment there was no perfect moment to head for the hills.

If Villa's struggles continue to a point where Lambert was under grave 'one match from the sack' pressure, an escape from Keane would be interpreted as an attempt to desert a sinking ship.

The genuine feeling in Irish football circles that he would have relinquished his role earlier if Villa were in a healthier position. What his actions have demonstrated is that the theory he was hovering around Lambert in the hope of assuming control were completely unfounded. That was never part of the plan.

The motivation of accepting Lambert's offer was involvement on a daily basis, and developing as a coach on the Premier League scene.

In theory, it would function as the best of both worlds in tandem with his Irish commitments. In practice, the demands ensured that the cons outweighed the pros.

Keane was leaving home for the 90 minute commute to Villa's Bodymoor Heath base around the 6am mark to ensure he was in situ to lay the plans in place for the morning training session.

Observers of his Irish work have noted that he obsesses about being there ahead of schedule to fulfil his duties. In the club sphere, that need to be at work by 8am was draining. Midweek, he was travelling afterwards to take in Championship games for Irish scouting duties.

After a relentless six months with little respite - the release of his autobiography and associated promotional commitments was a self-inflicted increase of his workload - Keane decided enough was enough.

"I think what happened is that he didn't have any summer holiday. He went straight from international duty with us in America to the job at Aston Villa," said O'Neill,

"I think eventually those things catch up with you one side of Christmas or other.

"Roy being the perfectionist he is, I think he wanted to give everything to every single cause. I think maybe just a little bit of family time is perhaps something he was missing."

Keane enjoys the Irish brief and has relished the challenge of working alongside Martin O'Neill and seeking to revive the country's fortunes on the pitch. Last month, he acknowledged that his personality is suited to the international sphere.

The box office appointment was close to leaving for Celtic in the summer and has indicated he will listen to interesting proposals, but he's always inferred that he is committed to seeing out the Euro 2016 campaign.

Villa strongly refuted a Sky-driven tale that a bust-up with a senior player on Thursday had accelerated his decision. There are reasons for tension right now as a promising start to the campaign was quickly replaced by familiar doom and gloom.

Keane believed he could do both gigs and it is a climbdown from that stance to admit that it was too much of an ask.

He is only human though and, when push came to shove, he opted to be honest with himself.

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