McAteer 'bored' with spat stories
AS A CV to sum up a career in football, it's not that bad. Played in two World Cups, scored one of his country's most memorable goals, a long career in England's top flight.
But even now, six years after he retired from playing, Jason McAteer's life story is often bound up with one matter, his relationship with long-time international team-mate and occasional enemy Roy Keane.
A while back McAteer was the one in employment – assistant manager at Tranmere Rovers – while Keane was out of work, but now it's Keane who is back in the game, while McAteer keeps himself busy with media and PR work, appearing in Dublin yesterday to plug Setanta Sports' Premier League coverage next month.
Much of the conversation was taken up with the topic of McAteer's relationship with Keane, a one-time friendship which reached rock bottom when Keane was sent-off for the way he reacted to McAteer's "write it in your next book" gesture when Sunderland and Manchester United clashed in the aftermath of Saipan.
Since then, there have been occasional barbs and spats – McAteer says Keane once called him a "clown" on TV and McAteer joked that he didn't get around to inviting Keane to his wedding last month. But McAteer – now 42, the same age as Keane – says he does believe that the No 2 role with Ireland under Martin O'Neill is "perfect" for Keane.
There remain bridges to be crossed and old wounds to be healed, but McAteer reckons Keane can put the past behind him and do what's needed to help the Ireland team develop.
"I didn't really see it happening. Certainly with John Delaney's experiences with Roy, I didn't envisage it would ever come off, but it did and since then it's been my most-asked question," McAteer says of Keane's decision to go on the FAI payroll under O'Neill.
"As long as it's good for Irish football and it produces results, then why not? I think the thing with Roy Keane, apart from Richard Dunne, John O'Shea and Robbie Keane, is that the next generation of footballers will look at him as being an iconic figure and a bit of a hero.
"And that's good because they will respond to what he has to say and if that produces results for Irish football and puts us back where we belong, having good times and reaching tournaments, then it's good," says McAteer.
"Roy is mellowing with experience, not age. He's not daft, he reads the papers. I don't think he has too many friends but the ones he has, he listens to. I'm bored with this Roy Keane-Jason McAteer argument. There was an article on Sunday where I was supposed to have called him something, which is just boring now.
"He is a pain in the arse at times, but I don't say it in a horrible, disrespectful way – he is. I'm a pain in the arse at times and I'm sure he's said that about you, but it gets boring when you see it on the front of a newspaper.
"It's a fresh start for everybody and he's used the words 'let bygones be bygones'. I'm bored of being involved in stories with Roy, where I've called him this and he's called me a clown. I really hope he does well for Ireland and I think an assistant manager's role is perfect for him."
Later on, McAteer speaks with fondness about the time he spent in Keane's company in the few days before events blew up in Saipan, the duo going for night-time walks together when they were unable to sleep due to jet-lag.
And McAteer can still recall the force that Keane had on the team, reminiscing about the famous 2-2 draw away to Holland at the start of the 2002 World Cup campaign.
"The standout moment was Holland away and we were winning 2-0. We went into the dressing room in a positive note having started the campaign, gone to Amsterdam and managed to get a 2-2 draw," McAteer says.
"But as Roy pointed out quickly in the dressing room as we were hugging and high-fiving each other that we threw away a 2-0 lead and we had nothing to celebrate. I know we joke about my relationship with Roy, but 90 per cent of the time I do agree with things he has to say.
"What I don't agree with is the times he chooses to express his disappointments, whether that's leaving a World Cup or having a go at a player in public, when it should be behind closed doors or waited until after the World Cup.
"There is a time and a place. Sometimes he got those decisions wrong. What he said about the FAI and training facilities were right. He was right, but at the end of the day you just have to get on with it and put up with it and let it roll sometimes but Roy is not that character to let it go.
"But that incident in the dressing room, that's the time we all looked at Roy and said 'Yes, you're right, we did throw away a 2-0 lead'. We soon stopped hugging and high-fiving each other and put our heads between our knees and got onto the bus and stopped smiling. He was right," McAteer added.
"His managerial record is not great, it's there for everybody to see but he's going into unknown territory as assistant manager. You look at things that have happened and you see Martin O'Neill in a suit and Roy in a tracksuit and I think he's trying to make that statement that it's not about him, 'it's about Martin O'Neill and I'm just here to be his assistant'. And I think he's doing a decent job at that."