There seemed to be an air of inevitability over the past weekend that Roy Keane was going to fly the Republic of Ireland nest to take over as manager of Celtic. Every pundit and journalist spoke in a past tense of Keane in the Irish set-up and speculated in advance on how he would cope with the rigours of a demanding Celtic job. However close Keane was to signing on the dotted line for the Glasgow club is a subject of debate, but to this observer it always felt slightly questionable as to why Keane would take on the Celtic job at this juncture.
First and foremost, one must look at Roy Keane’s reputation before accepting the assistant managerial position under Martin O’ Neill. Keane wasn’t “an animal needing to be tamed” as he himself alluded to in his first press conference but nevertheless he was prospective managerial material that chairmen across Britain considered toxic for a variety of reasons after ignominious ends to his spells at Sunderland and Ipswich.
The Republic of Ireland job rightly or wrongly offered him an opportunity to “rehabilitate” himself after getting a ringing endorsement off O’ Neill. Also if Keane could work with the FAI after all the less complimentary things that have been said by both he and John Delaney of each other down the years, he could surely work with anyone.
Having been given this second chance, the onus has been on Keane to show himself as a man willing to learn from mistakes, embrace new ideas and illustrate that he can be a team player who will not jump ship when the going gets tough as has been perceived to be case elsewhere.
So far all the soundings have been genuinely positive from both O’Neill and players alike (even if some question the extent to which Keane is offering value to a coaching ticket now including Steve Walford and Steve Guppy for the summer friendlies and possibly the Euro 2016 qualifiers). His reputation has enhanced considerably thus far, hence the Celtic opportunity springing up.
Nobody would have begrudged Keane taking the opportunity at Celtic but it inevitably would have left a sour taste in the mouth that he hadn’t stayed for the competitive games. Off the record displeasure would have been leaked to the media and if the Celtic job went disastrously, Keane would be back at square one with his reputation left in tatters.
That is before one considers what working with ITV has done for Keane. The connection formed with O’ Neill during these gigs presented him with the Irish opportunity but for a man who famously said that he would “rather go to the dentist” than be a pundit, it is this very platform that has made him palatable to the ordinary football fan rather than some angry brooding loner as his media depiction would have had many believe.
Taking the Celtic job also complicated this side of Keane’s professional life as having signed up with ITV to front their World Cup coverage up to the 13th July; he would then be required to take the reins at Celtic for the second qualifying round of the Champions League beginning on the 15th/16th July. Obviously he couldn’t be both a pundit in Brazil and take charge of Celtic’s very early pre-season – would it be worth the sacrifice to Keane at this stage?
What this comes down to is a very simple factor of potential risk and reward. Neil Lennon left Celtic on the basis that he felt he could not take them any further. If Keane had taken over, he would have faced with the following challenges:
- Failure to qualify for the Champions League would be disastrous financially. Players most likely would have to be sold to make up the shortfall and the fans would immediately become sceptical of the manager. If you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at the cases of Tony Mowbray and Gordon Strachan.
- Even qualifying for the Champions League would create potential problems; the aspiration is to be competing for a berth in the knockout stages as opposed to making up the numbers. Lennon achieved miracles in 2013 to reach the last 16 but this season, Celtic were hopelessly out of their depth in a group consisting of Milan, Barcelona and Ajax – given Celtic’s lowly seeding and failure to replace key players in past seasons, the challenge here is monumental.
- Winning the domestic league means little or nothing in the non-competitive environs of the Scottish Premier League. The league has become meaningless to the point that more people will probably be following the progress of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian in the first division than on Celtic’s progress.
- Even winning the domestic treble would be appreciated but quickly forgotten as all focus for the foreseeable would be aimed towards European progress.
On the flip side, if Keane qualified for the Champions League with Celtic this season and into the medium term, he could put together two or three more consecutive league titles in a convincing manner, he’d be in position to move to a decent job south of the border.
But here’s the crux of the matter. If Keane does a steady job with Ireland for the next two years aligned with keeping his profile up on ITV, he’ll almost certainly reach the very same goal of getting a relatively high-profile job in England. So going back to the risk and reward analogy – the risks of taking the Celtic job were needlessly huge for a professional reward that he can achieve in his current role.
The commitment of Keane to stay put for the immediate future – and one would hope for the duration of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign – ensures a feel good factor is retained going into the Boys In Green’s first competitive fixture in September.
Keane has seen the green grass on the other side but not for the first time has deviated from the narrative set down by pundits and journalists alike to make a decision that may yet prove to be his wisest yet.
Stephen Twomey, Pundit Arena.