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Opinion: In defence of Roy Keane and the countless 'distractions'

The Ireland assistant boss is in the headlines again after a tense media showdown at the weekend.

Assistant manager Roy Keane has criticised Everton for their treatment of James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman
Assistant manager Roy Keane has criticised Everton for their treatment of James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

AFTER EVERY FAILURE in Irish football, it sometimes appears that there needs to be a scapegoat.

Giovanni Trapattoni and his dour tactics are no longer around to blame and Glenn Whelan is injured, so this time, the spotlight seems to have fallen under Roy Keane and the supposed “distractions” he’s been causing.

For the sake of clarity, let’s briefly recall each of the distractions in question. The first was when he was linked with jobs at both Villa and Celtic while Ireland were playing a series of summer matches. Secondly, there was the release of his much-publicised second autobiography, which coincided with the Germany and Gibraltar games. And finally, there was that “incident” at Portmarnock hotel in the lead up to the Scotland game.

As Keane pointed out the other day, he had no control over the Celtic and Villa links. It may have been a slight distraction, but it was not of his own doing.

The problems at the hotel were difficult to judge given that the full details have yet to emerge, but judging by most accounts, it was a relatively minor incident that was blown out of all proportion owing to speculation going into overdrive and fuelled by false rumours being spread on sites such as Twitter.

The autobiography, on the other hand, probably could have been handled better. It’s difficult to believe Keane didn’t have the clout to distance its date of release from Ireland’s crucial qualifiers. But even if the handling of the book’s dates was far from exemplary — like the Celtic link and ostensibly, the hotel incident — it was a minor issue.

The suggestion, therefore, that these issues distract the Ireland team substantially seems fanciful in the extreme. Yes, players undoubtedly have a laugh about it privately, but to imply that their performances on the pitch are unduly affected by these supposed disturbances is far fetched and essentially baseless.

After the team’s magnificent performance in Germany, no one was foolish enough to suggest that Keane’s book release had an impact on the team. The only difference between then and now, is that on this occasion, the Irish team have failed to gain a positive result. Hence, there is sudden, illogical credence given to the theory that the Boys in Green were ‘distracted’ by Keane’s antics during their match on Friday night.

The fact that Keane and another man had a dispute in a hotel shortly before the Scotland game was completely irrelevant to the result. As Keane suggested himself, players are professionals and highly unlikely to let such incidents influence their performances.

Shane Long reacts to a missed chance Source: James Crombie/INPHO

(Ireland suffered a disappointing result against Scotland on Friday night)

To suggest otherwise is to endorse a type of old-fashioned magical thinking that’s in stark contrast with the encouraging strides that football analysis has made in recent years in terms of its increasingly technical, scientific basis.

Granted, Keane’s remarks about Everton may have been ill-advised and are unlikely to improve what is conceivably an already tenuous relationship between club and country, but such comments are commonplace among other managers too. However, the fact that Roy Keane has uttered these points makes it more headline-worthy than, for example, when Roy Hodgson complains about Liverpool’s treatment of Daniel Sturridge, or when Jose Mourinho asks Spain to let Diego Costa rest. Nonetheless, there is nothing especially unusual about about the Corkonian’s concerns, nor are they much different to the above examples.

Consequently, it is no secret that everything tends to be inflated and exaggerated when Roy Keane comes into the equation, and this latest saga is no exception.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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