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Separation anxiety


Roy Keane

Roy Keane


Roy Keane

There was a mixed reaction to the news which emerged from the midlands of England yesterday morning when Aston Villa, a club which needs all the good PR it can get these days, announced that their assistant manager was leaving.

For many Villa fans, the fact that the word 'assistant' was included in that statement was the big regret. Supporters are frustrated at paying in to see the most shot-shy club in Britain.

With just six goals from 12 league games, Villa have the worst scoring record of any club in the eight professional divisions in England and Scotland. And the Conference. And the top divisions in France and Germany.

So those fed-up Villains had hoped to see Paul Lambert walk away, instead they watched as Roy Keane exited the assistant manager's role less than six months after his appointment.

The reaction in Ireland was not really one of jubilation, and the Irish assistant manager quitting his day job in England so he can spend even more of his Saturdays watching Hull v Stoke and Norwich v Cardiff didn't have them dancing in the streets last night.

But there is a glimmer of hope that Keane's exit from Aston Villa can work well for the Irish game. First off, Keane has exited on his own terms, of his own volition and walks away with praise from players and club officials in his ears.

With just one or two more defeats for Villa, Keane and Lambert could well have been heading for the exit door in a far more hurried and undignified fashion. Walk before you're pushed is a good way to go.

We'd like so say 'we told you so'. When it was announced back in July that Keane was taking up that post at Villa as Lambert's sidekick, The Herald was dubious about the arrangement working. 'There may be trouble ahead' was one headline on these pages at that time, the prediction being that Keane would struggle to fulfil both roles, though the fear was that the pull of full-time Premier League work in England would force Keane to throw in his lot with Villa and throw in the towel with Ireland.

He has decided that it's too hard to serve two masters and Ireland has won.

It takes a lot to floor, or over-excite Martin O'Neill, and the Ireland boss was calm when he spoke about Keane last night. In fact he would have spent most of his evening in Dublin thinking about cars, not coaches, as he was attending the Car of The Year awards in the city centre last night, though he did take time to speak about Keane - though not directly to the soccer media but, as is now the fashion, in a video message issued by the FAI.

"We had a big discussion about the issue at the last international get-together and he was more concerned about committing himself, or having that full commitment both to the Aston Villa club job than to ourselves," O'Neill said.

"I have said in the past and it's worth reiterating that I never had a problem whatsoever about his commitment to the Republic of Ireland. Everything that I was hoping he would bring to the table, I thought he did do, the commitment, enthusiasm and the strong desire that he possesses, all of those things have been no problem whatsoever.

"I think that what happened is that he didn't have any summer holiday, he went straight from international duty with us in America straight into a job at Aston Villa, and things catch up with you, either one side of Christmas or the other," added O'Neill.

"And maybe just a bit of family time now at the minute is perhaps something that's missing."

That seems a strange thing to comment on, given that Keane had been out of work for a long time before the Ireland job came up Keane had plenty of time for holidays.

But for O'Neill, it was the issue of distraction between the green of Ireland and the claret and blue of Villa.

"He himself was more concerned and worried about the commitment but I didn't have a problem with it. Roy, being the perfectionist that he is, I think he wanted to give everything to every single cause," O'Neill continued.

"The number of games that he was covering for us was still pretty decent. Matches that didn't concern Aston Villa, in midweek he would be there at games. He has always had that commitment and I didn't see that wavering.

"I am not party to his everyday involvement at Aston Villa but I can only imagine that Roy would be nothing else than 100% committed to it but his role here at the Republic of Ireland has been excellent. But he has decided to make a choice and I am delighted that the Republic of Ireland have been his first choice."

So for now Keane forgets about that relegation battle with Villa and will plan out his weekends around a fixture list where the fortunes of Hull, Stoke, Everton, and Derby will dictate where he spends his weekends.

A long, lonely Irish winter beckons before that battle against Poland in March. But for Roy, it makes sense.