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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Mature Keane is back in the game

Club owners love success and Ireland's Euro 2016 joy will give Roy a platform

Roy Keane
Roy Keane
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill celebrates with assistant Roy Keane after qualification for the Euro 2016 finals in France

Roy Keane had good reason to smile after Ireland's success against Bosnia. He's back in the game and back on the agenda for football club owners in England and beyond.

More than most connected with the Ireland squad, he will benefit from the success Martin O'Neill has engineered and he has a great deal to be thankful for. More to the point, he said as much during the week.

It's one thing to be blessed by good fortune. It's another thing to recognise it when it comes your way. I do believe that Keane understands that very well and appreciates what O'Neill has done for him.

I must say, I was delighted to see Keane so happy after Ireland beat Bosnia and read his very well considered words. He's a few years older, more mature and I suspect, a good deal wiser.

Keane's gains from the last two years are many but the biggest is the fact that he has been out and about watching footballers of all shapes and sizes.

When he started on the management wheel with Sunderland, the only people he knew were ex-Manchester United players or Irish lads. He reached for what was familiar.

That will take you so far but ultimately, a manager will rise or fall depending on the players he chooses and I think Keane had a problem with that from the start and again at Ipswich.

Oddly enough, if Keane had succeeded Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, moving from training ground as a player to manager, I think he would have done well. All the players knew him and they all respected him as a footballer. That would have been a great place to start.

Reputation

But once he left Old Trafford, his reputation went before him and it was an image based on Keane the player, an uncompromising, ruthless and driven footballer who knew how to intimidate. Those players who didn't know him would have only seen the caricature.

Now, however, he has been travelling a great deal and visited grounds all over the country. He seemed to become disconnected after he left Ipswich and this was a way to rediscover the heartbeat of the game.

There is no better way to do that than to watch football matches, plenty of football matches. He will have been building a library in his head and when he does "get back in the ring" I think that will be a major plus for him.

I know his brief was to watch and report on Irish players but you can never watch a game like that and his eye will have been drawn to different individuals.

If Keane is the type of man I think he is, he would have been sizing them up, running through the 'what ifs' in his mind and fitting players into his own fantasy team.

This is a never-ending exercise for all managers. Even now, when Ferguson watches games, I'll bet he can't help himself. I'll bet he is mentally weighing up a player's worth. Could he play for me?

That kind of information is priceless and Keane has been building up a bank of it for the last two years.

I was worried when he took the Aston Villa job becau se I felt it was an interruption. Remember, he was involved in a lot of headlines around that time between his book, Celtic and then Villa when I felt he needed to be minding his own and Martin O'Neill's business. In the end, that's what he decided was his best option and it was a great choice.

There have been no blaring headlines since. He has gone about the business of Ireland quietly and from what O'Neill has been saying, very effectively.

I have no doubt that between now and the European finals in France, Keane will receive offers - perhaps even some significant ones.

But he need be in no hurry. A dozen Premier League and Championship clubs will change managers in the next 12 months and the 12 months after that. If he wanted to stick with it for the next World Cup qualifying series, I would say 'great idea'.

Some have pondered the possibility that O'Neill and not Keane will be the hot ticket now that he has pulled off such a great feat.

But my belief is that Roy and Martin will be with us for another two years at least. O'Neill has reached the point in his career where international management suits him perfectly.

But Keane wants to push on and that's fair enough. The difference this time is he will be much better equipped to do the job and he now has a network of contacts within the game which can be a foundation for everything he wants to do.

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