As one of the best midfielders of his generation, Roy Keane was a legend on the pitch. As the last truly world class Irish footballer, he left his footprint – often literally – on the game he played. A commanding leader and a tremendous operator, Keane was known for being fierce, a perfectionist, and never one to let a teammate away with anything. Indeed, a story involving him dogging the ‘Spice Boys’ era of Liverpool players for their poor attitudes perfectly encapsulates the mentality of the man.
However, it is fair to also say that Keane has enjoyed a chequered coaching career. He enjoyed immediate success at Sunderland, before moving on when he had probably taken the club as far as he (or anyone at the time) could have. His next move, to Ipswich Town, was ill-fated and resulted in lots of wasted money, time, and effort. Since then, he has mostly enjoyed a career mixing punditry, where he is an acerbic delight to listen to, and assistant coaching with the Irish national side and some club teams.
That history, then, makes the links to a major job in British football – Glasgow Celtic – even more interesting. A lifelong Celtic supporter who briefly wore the Hoops at the end of his career, Keane is well-respected in Scottish football circles. Broadcasters, too, will be salivating over the concept of Keane coming up against another legend of the modern English game in Steven Gerrard.
With a long history connecting him to Celtic as player and fan, Keane has been mooted for the job in the past yet nothing has ever truly come of it. Could this be the time where Celtic, in a period of relative crisis given their nine-year dominance of the Scottish top-flight, finally decide to ‘bring him home’?
Would Roy Keane succeed at Celtic?
For one, he would be arriving at a dressing room that is set to go through a transformation. Club CEO Peter Lawwell has stepped down and will be replaced by Dominic McKay who works in Scottish Rugby. There is talk of a Director of Football being installed, and signings becoming more by the committee as opposed to by the coach. Some doubt that Keane would work in such a setup.
However, his closeness to Celtics largest minority shareholder, Dermott Desmond, makes the choice somewhat more appealing. In the last twenty-plus years, Celtic have opened the chequebook for two managers; Martin O’Neill and Brendan Rodgers, both Irish managers who were handpicked by Desmond.
Given his celebrity and iconic status within Irish football, it makes sense that Keane entrances Irish football fans. However, it would be fair to say that fan reception to the concept of a Keane appointment has been lukewarm.
Given he hasn’t held a top coaching job for a long time, could Keane be trusted to adapt?
And in a season where Scottish league winners will receive direct entry into the UEFA Champions League, can Celtic afford a gamble?
The upside could be impressive, sublime even, but there is more evidence pointing to an early exit than lasting success. One thing is for sure, though; Keane would bring an attitude and a swagger that Celtic have sorely lacked since Brendan Rodgers left for Leicester City.