“Roy is seldom out of the news, and given his prodigious talent, that is not surprising altogether,”
Jack Charlton certainly understood how to spot a player that was worthy of pulling on the green jersey. And when ‘Big Jack’ saw Roy Keane play, he knew that the midfielder was a special talent.
Keane’s debut for Ireland.
As Ireland came towards the end of their ultimately unsuccessful Euro 92 qualifying campaign, Charlton had one eye on the future and on May 22, 1991, he selected a 19-year-old Nottingham Forest midfielder in an end-of-season friendly at Lansdowne Road against Chile.
That player was Roy Keane, a man who would go on to become one of Ireland’s most influential and controversial players of all time.
Keane only joined Brian Clough’s side from Cobh Ramblers for a reported fee of £47,000 a year previously. But the fact that he was now a fully-fledged international was indicative of his prodigious talent.
In typical fashion, the Corkonian was blunt about his Ireland debut. Remarking on the fixture in his first autobiography, he said: “I was pleased to be selected but it wasn’t a particularly memorable occasion.”
While Keane’s memory of the match against Chile wasn’t spectacular, Jack Charlton knew that he had one hell of a player on his hands, especially since Maurice Setters was keeping an eye on Keane’s progress at Forest for quite some time.
Charlton on Keane.
In an extract from ‘Jack Charlton’s America World Cup Diary,’ the former Irish manager openly discusses his plans to rebuild the Irish team following their failure to reach Euro ’92 and to begin with, his first impression of Keane as a person might give you a chuckle.
“I began to rebuild the Ireland side in the second half of the eighties. I’m impressed with Irwin’s performances at full-back. Ever since his Oldham days, I’ve liked this player and his move to Manchester United has given him the chance to express his talent on a bigger stage. He’s quick and he crosses the ball well.
“The other newcomer, Roy Keane, is also a Cork man. But unlike Dennis, he’s a shy man who just gets on with his job quietly and efficiently. Roy is seldom out of the news, and given his prodigious talent, that is not surprising altogether,” said Charlton.
The next paragraph is incredibly striking because the beloved Ireland manager regarded Keane so highly that we would have included him in his Italia ’90 team.
“I said earlier that I felt we could have been stronger in one or two positions for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and one of the people we could have done with was Roy Keane.
“Unfortunately, he was still only in youth football at the time and it would be another two or three years before he would graduate fully into senior competition,” noted Charlton.
“He is a manager’s dream inasmuch as he can slot into three or four different roles.”
While Keane had his run-ins with the legendary manager – both men didn’t exactly agree in their footballing philosophies and even as a youngster, Keane was critical about how the professionalism of the FAI and how they treated their players – it’s obvious that Charlton knew he had a special player on his hands, even when Keane was a teenager.
“So many superlatives have been used to describe the lad, that it’s difficult to know where to start. He’s strong; he reads the game well for one so young; and even at 21, he is a manager’s dream inasmuch as he can slot into three or four different roles. But the thing I admire most about him is his engine.
“Even on the heaviest of grounds, he looks to be capable of running all day. That’s a priceless asset in any youngster, and when you marry that with the superb skills Roy has, you come up with a very special player,” noted Charlton.
Jack Charlton wasn’t wrong about Roy Keane.
The Corkonian went on to become the joint-most successful Irish footballer in history, a record he shares with fellow Manchester United stalwart Dennis Irwin, having won 19 trophies in his career.
As for Ireland, well, there’s a reason why he’s still regarded as the one of – if not the – greatest player to represent this country.