Mark Jones and Ray O’Hanlon
DUBLIN — Roy Keane says he will not be flying to Japan to play for his country in the World Cup. A statement issued to RT+ News on Keane’s behalf late Tuesday said the player believed it was in everyone’s best interest if he did not rejoin the Republic of Ireland squad.
“Whilst I appreciate all the support which I have received and all the efforts which have been made by a number of people on behalf of all the parties involved in this unfortunate matter, I do not consider that the best interests of Irish football will be served by my returning to the World Cup,” Keane said.
“The damage has been done. I wish the team and the management all the best and they will have my full support throughout the competition. I urge all the people of Ireland to give their entire support to the team. I do not feel that any useful purpose will be served by my making any further comment.”
Question: Is this really Keane’s final answer?
Keane’s statement came just hours after his teammates said they did not want him back in the wake of his very public row with manager Mick McCarthy, a dispute that started ostensibly over the conditions at the Irish training camp on the Pacific Island of Saipan and quickly escalated to reveal what some believe is deep-seated between the men.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
The Irish team’s preparations for their opening game against Cameroon were soon overwhelmed by the Keane-McCarthy saga, which began unfolding last Wednesday morning in the Pacific. And indeed, as the Echo went to press, rumors continued to fly faster than a Roy Keane flying tackle: The Corkman was on a plane to Japan; he wasn’t on a plane to Japan.
One report was true. A Dublin radio station had chartered a plane to fly Keane to Japan at a moment’s notice.
Assuming, of course, that Keane and McCarthy managed to kiss and make up after one of the most sensational rows in Irish sporting history.
Another report was also true. A man in County Wexford claimed he had had a vision in which Pope John Paul II was in a room with McCarthy and Keane sorting out the entire mess.
But even the pope’s good offices would likely end up offside in the battle pitting manager against captain and star player.
By presstime, the pope was nowhere near Cork or Manchester. And Keane was nowhere near Japan. That would now appear to be a permanent state of affairs.
Meanwhile, Ireland, the island as opposed to the soccer team, has virtually divided down the middle as to which of the two men should bear the lion’s share of blame in a bust-up that could have severe ramifications for the Irish side’s prospects in the month-long tournament.
While Irish fans are clearly upset, Keane’s fellow Irish players, effectively a jury of his peers, had come out against any deal that would allow for a return to the squad by the unhappy Manchester United ace.
Veteran striker Niall Quinn revealed in a press conference that all 22 remaining members of the Republic’s World Cup squad had voted not to allow Keane to return for the imminent campaign in Japan and South Korea.
In a subsequent statement, McCarthy said that if he received an apology from Keane, he would discuss it with those same players.
At a news conference, McCarthy said many people had hoped Keane would apologize, but it had not been forthcoming in an interview given by Keane to Irish television Monday night.
He added that the right way to apologize was for Keane to pick up the phone and call the person who felt they needed the apology, but this hadn’t happened.
Keane has indicated that he would like to return to the Irish squad. But he had not paved his way with an apology to McCarthy.
“The people of Ireland deserve to know the truth,” Keane told RTE.
“I think I was forced into a corner — I really was, that’s my honest belief. There was only one way I was going to come and that was out fighting.
“There was only going to be one winner, and that was Mick of course, and I understand that he’s the manager.”
Keane said he had no regrets about his early trip home.
“There’s no doubt in my mind since I’ve come back, the family are glad to see me,” he said. “It was good to be home, it really was. I’ll probably go back to Cork for a few days. As I said my conscience is clear, it really is.
“If there was any doubt in my mind that Roy you were a little bit out of order, you should have held it back a little, I’d be back like a shot. But I won’t accept it, I can’t accept it.”
Over the weekend, Keane did appear to leave the door open for a possible return to an Ireland jersey.
“I would love to play in the World Cup. I’d love to be back — it’s up to other people,” he said.
Keane’s apparent, though halfhearted, peace offering, was, however, quickly rejected by the squad and parried by McCarthy.
According to Niall Quinn, McCarthy had called a team meeting.
“He left the meeting and asked us to chat amongst ourselves,” Quinn said.
The chat turned into a vote and, according to Quinn, “all 22 voted unanimously” to back McCarthy.
“There was no lobbying,” he said. “Every single player was asked for their opinion and we came out of the meeting with the statement as you see it.”
Quinn admitted that the statement had come out too early and should have followed a press conference by McCarthy.
Either way it didn’t matter. McCarthy and his remaining 22 players were reading off the same script anyway. Keane needed to apologize, big time.
The ballot by the players – minus Keane, Ireland will play with a one-man-short 22-player panel — followed an extraordinary week in which Keane, apparently frustrated over conditions, quit the Republic’s training camp on the Pacific island of Saipan in the U.S. Marshal Islands.
There was always going to be a lot of interest in the World Cup in Ireland, but, in truth, no one has been prepared for the 24-7 explosion of opinion regarding the Roy Keane affair.
The general election, the formation of the next government, and the possibility of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India have been forgotten in a blizzard of newsprint and airwave coverage from Balleybofey to Buttevant.
If you’re not a soccer fan, or if you’ve been inhabiting another planet for the past week, then here goes with an attempt to explain what is arguably the biggest row in Irish soccer history.
It erupted into full public view when Keane was sacked by McCarthy and sent home in disgrace following a bitter row between the two men.
The subsequent arguments regarding who was right and who was wrong have preoccupied almost everyone in Ireland ever since.
Keane is the finest player ever to represent Ireland. He is the team captain and was almost single-handedly responsible for guiding the squad to the finals in Japan. He is also captain of one of the biggest and most famous clubs in the world,
If you had a situation where Michael Jordan had been sacked by the Chicago Bulls on the eve of the final game of the WBA playoffs, then this would be of a similar magnitude.
So what happened? To precis a complex tangle of opinion, spin, backstabbing, invective and rage, Keane was unhappy with the organization and facilities on Saipan, where the Ireland squad was preparing for the cup campaign, which starts this weekend with a game against Cameroon.
Keane revealed his reservations last week to McCarthy, and, according to Keane, nothing was done.
Then Keane had a training ground spat with a number of teammates. He then told McCarthy that he wanted to go home. A flight was organized, a replacement player was contacted, but at the last minute, Keane agreed to stay.
However, in the meantime he had given an interview to the Irish Times in which he criticized the organization, the facilities and the attitude of several of the players.
A team meeting was called, at which Keane alleges, McCarthy accused him of being a liar.
Keane responded by calling McCarthy among other things a “crap player” and a “crap manager.”
It is also alleged that Keane said McCarthy wasn’t even Irish, although Keane has denied this.
The outcome was that Keane was sent home, and a row has ensued that has absorbed the opinions of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Irish soccer fans and even Irish people who might not have even known the World Cup was taking place.
Not exaggerating, it has divided a nation with one side sympathizing with a great player who they feel has been victimized by shoddy management, while the other has praised McCarthy for his strong handling of a disruptive, one-man element.
To understand the background to this extraordinary row, it is necessary to
understand the personal dynamic that exists between McCarthy and Keane. The two have never been friends, never been close, though since one was appointed captain and the other manager, an uneasy truce has existed.
McCarthy is bluff straight-talking man with a Waterford father who was brought up in the Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. He was regarded as a hard-working, loyal player who was a captain himself under Jack Charlton’s stewardship. Never a successful club manager, he struggled in his early years in charge of Ireland, but his standing as a coach rose when Ireland qualified for the finals from a group that included world soccer powers Holland and Portugal.
However, Keane’s role in Ireland’s qualification has been regarded as critical, and by many as more important than McCarthy’s.
Keane’s obsessive drive and his ruthless commitment dragged an average team to soccer’s showpiece, but all the time his relations with the manager were cool.
The tension between the two dates back to 1992 when Keane and a number of players were drinking after a game during the U.S. Cup. McCarthy, then a player, criticized Keane and Keane responded by telling McCarthy he was a bad player.
Keane later said that McCarthy vowed he would get him back for his remarks, which were made in front of several teammates.
Keane then failed to turn up for McCarthy’s testimonial game. Keane would also would turn up a day late to prepare for games, which caused McCarthy some embarrassment.
Keane complained that the Football Association of Ireland, the game’s governing body, was not allowing the players to prepare properly for important games because of poor training facilities and travel arrangements.
Keane famously took a different view than McCarthy following Ireland’s 2-2 draw with Holland in Amsterdam in 2000.
McCarthy said it was an impressive performance and praised the players. Keane, however, explained it was typical of Ireland’s lack of ambition and that they should have been able to win the game than being merely satisfied with a draw.
It was as if McCarthy looked at his team and at sport in one way, while his captain took a different view of the world.
With the World Cup approaching, the relationship between the two men was an accident waiting to happen.
Keane’s foul mood took clear form when he refused to play in Niall Quinn’s testimonial game a few days before the Irish squad was due to depart for Saipan.
Keane did inform the team’s physical trainer, Mick Byrne, that he was suffering from an injury, but there is still some confusion over whether he spoke to McCarthy about his absence.
Whatever transpired, Keane was furious when he arrived in Dublin at some of the media stories that he had been disrespectful to Quinn.
On reflection, it is now likely that he also blamed McCarthy for not publicly outlining the reasons why his captain had to stay away.
On the way to the Far East, Keane approached a number of journalists who had written what he believed to be inaccurate articles about his no-show and called them “scum.”
The facilities in Saipan, training kit, balls, and special drinks still hadn’t arrived by the time the squad had touched down this further raised Keane’s ire.
Keane then complained about the state of the training pitch, which he said was “dangerous.”
On the island, he cut an isolated figure, irritated that the few days seemed to be more of a rest and relaxation period than a genuine training camp. A row ensured with goalkeeping coach Packie Bonner, and one of the goalkeepers, Alan Kelly, and Keane decided he’d had enough and wanted to go home.
He insisted on this, so McCarthy agreed that this was the best solution. However, within hours, Keane had been prevailed upon to stay. It was then that the situation really began to deteriorate.
Keane had agreed to give an interview to the Irish Times and when McCarthy read the piece, which contained criticism of the facilities and of the players, it was the last straw.
He called a team meeting, and began by brandishing the article, and, according to Keane, calling his captain a liar by saying that he had faked an injury in order to miss the recent playoff game in Iran.
In front of all the players, Keane exploded and launched a tirade of
abuse at McCarthy. “You were a crap player, you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and you’re not even Irish, you’re English,” was the gist of the attack.
Feeling he had been backed into a corner, and certainly there has since been intense criticism of McCarthy for not discussing the issues with Keane in private, Keane stormed out, and within minutes McCarthy had called a press conference to announce that he was sending Keane home.
“I cannot and will not tolerate being spoken to with that level of abuse being thrown at me, so I sent him home,” was McCarthy’s spin on the affair.
While he gave an emotional interview with RTE television back at home in Manchester, during which he indicated that he wanted to play for Ireland, Keane called players such as Niall Quinn, the newly appointed captain Steve Staunton, and Alan Kelly “cowards” for not backing him during the now infamous team meeting.
McCarthy said he was refusing to talk any more about Keane and that he and the players are now preparing for the games ahead.
However, behind the scenes there were moves by the FAI, Keane’s agent, Michael Kennedy, and even McCarthy to try to broker a peace agreement.
Still, there has been no formal apology from Keane, and then came the statement from the players that they don’t want their former captain back.
Now there was a new controversy. Who is running the team in Japan, the manager or the players?
Suddenly, McCarthy is now more sinner than sinned for not being more adept at conflict resolution. A battle of wills between manager and captain has now spilled over into an issue of player power.