Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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The most unpopular man in Ireland
Well the World Cup hasn't even started yet, and
already we've got controversy.
If you were to ask a professional footballer - any
professional footballer - what would be his dream,
chances are he would say one thing: to lead my country
at a World Cup. Very, very few players ever get to do
that, and even in these days of ever-spiralling wages
and personal fame, being captain of your country is a
special thing. Ask David Beckham, or Marcel Desailly
- you can have all the millions of dollars you want
sat in your bank account, but true adoration is
something that only comes to those held up as the best
their country has to offer.
Take Michael Owen as an example. He is the current
European Footballer of the Year, is a millionaire
several times over, and has won numerous trophies with
Liverpool. What is his proudest achievement to date?
Captaining his country in a meaningless friendly
against Paraguay. So why on earth - no, how dare -
Roy Keane walk out on Ireland just eight days before
the World Cup starts, when he had been selected to
captain his country at the biggest football event
Keane is undoubtedly a tremendous player, but his
scurrilous actions over the past few days will be his
epitaph of shame for years to come. How can a man who
sells himself as a committed, proud, cultured
midfielder simply up sticks and walk out of the World
Cup just because he has had a disagreement with a
goalkeeping coach? How can this be the same man who
had the temerity to criticise his own fans (and the
people who pay his colossal wages) for failing to show
passion and commitment? How can he ever look them in
the face again, now he has shown just how much
commitment he really has?
Why has Keane done this? Well he is unhappy with the
way the Irish team is run. He was first unhappy last
year because he was asked to sit in economy class on
the way to an international match. Then he was
unhappy because of the way Ireland were playing -
regardless of the fact that they were winning, beating
Holland into the bargain. Then he had to travel to
Ireland for a pre-World Cup get-together. 'Why should
I do that?' he said. Then he missed Niall Quinn's
testimonial match where all the profits were going to
charity. 'He might get injured,' mumbled his
Next he caught the plane to Saipan for Ireland's last
training camp before the World Cup started. 'I'm not
playing on that training pitch' he complained, 'it
looks like a car park'. This was the final straw for
the increasingly exasperated Irish coaching staff.
Regardless if Keane was one of the few world-class
players they had, Packie Bonner and Mick McCarthy were
not going to take any more primaddona antics from him.
'Do your talking on the pitch' he was told, 'stop
complaining and stop destroying the morale of the
squad'. 'I'm going home if you're going to talk to me
like that' cried Keane, and with that he was on the
first flight back to Europe.
So Ireland are going to have to play at the World Cup
without their most important player. From being a
team with a strong chance of winning their group, and
hopes of playing Italy in another World Cup quarter
final, Ireland have suddenly become a ragbag of
conflict and argument. They still have some amazing
talent - Robbie Keane and Damien Duff springing to
mind straight away - but the loss of a player of Roy
Keane's ability, experience at the highest level and
stature would be a big blow for even France to cover,
let alone Ireland.
Following a dreamlike run of success in the
qualifiers, Ireland were preparing to shock the world
this summer. Lots of commentators were predicting
that Cameroon and Germany would be fighting for top
spot in the group when the draw was made in Busan last
December. But, more perceptive thinkers were pointing
out something else - that Ireland had the spirit and
gameplan to beat anyone in Japan and Korea, and while
few people seriously thought they could win the whole
competition, lots of people were putting sizable bets
on Ireland being in the last 16 or even the last 8.
Now you have to think that optimism is over. Keane
has single-handedly decimated Ireland's morale and
That has been the key to Ireland's recent success:
team spirit. Ireland fully expected to win every game
they played, no matter who it was against, be it the
USA, Czech Republic, Russia or Holland. And when they
failed to beat someone (like when Portugal were 'only'
held to a draw) Irish fans wanted to know why.
Ireland had a strong, safe defence, searing pace and
skill down the flanks, clinical finishing up front,
and Keane working away in midfield. Now they have to
rely on Matt Holland of newly relegated Ipswich Town
to drive the midfield. It's not quite the same option
It is a quite shocking, inexcusable move by Keane,
that has defeated his country before a ball is kicked,
shamed the world of football, and has left a black
cloud hanging over the tournament just days before it
starts. Keane has already pre-empted any disciplinary
action by saying he will never play for Ireland again.
But that is the easy way out, giving him the option
to 'apologise' in a couple of year's time when he is
renegotiating his mammoth contract and would like to
be an international player again. Ireland should ban
him for life, and FIFA should consider taking some
action to censure him as well. How about if they give
him a worldwide playing ban for bringing the game into
disrepute? I cannot think of anyone who has done
anything quite so disreputable as this for a very long
But deep down you know that will never happen. It
won't take much time, but eventually someone will come
out and say Keane has done the right thing. He will
be called a 'brave' man for taking such 'action'. He
will again be fêted as 'Europe's best midfielder' -
something he never was and never will be. He might
even be rewarded by his club, Manchester United,
because after all he will now be fit and fresh when
they start the qualification process for next year's
Champions League in early August.
You just know that Keane is going to get away with
this, that his treachery is going to be dismissed,
then condoned. He has too much weight, too much
influence. He is too important to his club. But
then again he used to be that important to his country
as well, and all respect to Mick McCarthy, he decided
he could do without Keane's peculiar brand of loyalty
and commitment. Maybe that is a lead Alex Ferguson
Let Keane 'retire', let him sulk off to his mansion
and count his money. Once in a while he will take out
his medals and polish them. One thing is for sure.
He is never going to have a World Cup winners' medal
in that collection. Even though he had little chance
of winning one this summer, he will never have had a
better chance of success at the highest level.
But you get the idea Keane could not care less. He is
successful, and must be happy enough in his decision.
He can also rest assured that he is going to go down
in World Cup history, but not quite in the way he had
Keane has joined a pretty exclusive club - the club of
the greatest villains in World Cup history. Where
once stood the names of Harald Schumacher, and the
Peruvian players who took a bribe to lose to
Argentina, now stands Roy Keane. In 1998 David
Beckham came back from France a villain, in disgrace
after his sending off. He had let down his team and
his country. What Keane has done is a hundred or a
thousand times worse. If he has any sense left, may I
suggest he does not go back to Dublin anytime soon? I
don't think he is going to be too popular.
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