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Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Keane-McCarthy antipathy makes for intriguing matchup


LONDON -- Circle the date in your diary -- Nov. 25, Wolves vs. Sunderland.

Christopher Davies

Two weeks ago it was little more than a meeting between two of English football's sleeping giants. Now it promises to be one of the nastiest, most bitter matchups of the season, not because of any animosity between the clubs or players, but because it will be the first time since 2002 that Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy will have met.

Many managers do not get on, but the Sir Alex Ferguson-Jose Mourinho-Arsene Wenger-Rafa Benitez bustups are mainly because their clubs are challenging for the Premiership. The mind games that go with life at the top inevitably spill over into animosity, but with Keane and his former Republic of Ireland manager McCarthy it is personal and nasty. While hatred is a strong word it is probably apt in their case.

Keane was appointed Sunderland manager this week -- ironically in succession to McCarthy -- with chairman Niall Quinn keeping the seat warm for a few losing games, and though it was obvious from his press conference the former Manchester United captain had mellowed a little, hell will freeze over before he apologizes to the man who joined Wolves during the summer.

"I would have thought I would shake his hand, but it's a long way away," said Keane. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We'll see."

The last recorded handshake between the pair was after a Keane-inspired Ireland beat Holland 1-0 in Dublin to secure 2002 World Cup qualification. But though the pair shook hands Keane did not look at McCarthy, a man he clearly despises.

McCarthy sent Keane home on the eve of the 2002 World Cup after the midfielder had ripped into the manager and the Football Association of Ireland in a newspaper interview. Keane was (and still is) upset that he believes McCarthy (whom he does not refer to by name) accused him of feigning injury to miss internationals, though the former captain did not play in a significant number of friendlies.

At a squad meeting called by McCarthy in the wake of the newspaper article Keane said to the manager: "I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager and I don't rate you as a person. You're a f****** w*****. You can stick your World Cup up your b*******."

And they were some of the nicer things he said.

Why Keane chose the pre-World Cup training camp in Saipan to air his grievances rather than waiting until the finals had finished has never been explained. What did he hope to achieve or change in a few days before the finals? It was almost as if he was looking for a way to send himself home.

McCarthy is a decent, honest man with strong family values. He is old school, a belt-and-braces manager, whereas Keane has been a ticking time-bomb, exploding regularly even if he says "as you get older and wiser you handle situations differently."

It will be fascinating to see how Keane works with his chairman as he has called Quinn "a Muppet and a coward" in the past.

But he said all the right things during his hour and 40 minutes media duties when being unveiled as manager, and despite the leopards not changing their spots theory, there were encouraging signs of a born-again Keane.

He wiped the slate clean with some journalists who had not been members of his fan club, but McCarthy remains the exception.

"I have played under some great managers, some good managers and maybe not so good managers," said Keane, an obvious reference to McCarthy.

"I've had my disagreements with thousands of people, but I'm humble enough to apologize if I have done something wrong. But what happened at the World Cup I would do again tomorrow. The Saipan thing was completely different in terms of disagreement with managers. The bottom line is if a manager accuses me of faking injury I won't accept it. And I won't accept it till the day I die."

The fall-out between Keane and McCarthy began in 1993 during an end of season tour of the United States. Ireland was ready to leave for the airport, but there was no sign of Keane. Manager Jack Charlton asked McCarthy, as senior professional, to search for the AWOL midfielder.

Keane was still asleep in his room and when McCarthy finally awakened the sleeping not-so-beauty he found a young player clearly the worse for wear.

"Look at you," said McCarthy. "Call yourself a professional?"

"And look at you," said Keane with no respect for a captain who led his team to the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup. "Call yourself a footballer?"

"Get your stuff together. We need to leave," said McCarthy.

"I didn't ask you to wait," replied Keane.

And that is the family version of their exchange.

Keane was not a player to forgive or forget a perceived injustice, and when McCarthy was appointed Ireland manager in 1996, his relationship with his captain could politely be described as distant.

Players usually double-up in rooms on trips, but Keane invariably roomed alone. One day at breakfast he joined a few Ireland teammates and Jason McAteer, one of the most likeable players around, said: "Hello Roy mate." Keane's response was along the lines of: "Don't call me your f****** mate. I'm not. I play with you, but you aren't my f******* mate."

The atmosphere over the Frosties was indeed frosty after that outburst, but the ice man appears to be melting. Keane the manager said: "I always saw games like a war [as a player]. That was part of my image. It was like an acting job. I turned into this mad machine, and that's the way I felt. I probably didn't help myself. It would be hard managing 11 Roy Keanes.

"To me it was win at all costs. As a manager it's a balancing act. I cannot be going off the handle as much as I did as a player. If I feel something isn't right I'll nail it. I'll just have to be a bit more subtle."

New Roy had the most positive of press coverage after being presented as Sunderland manager, but Old Keane will return in November when he takes his team to enemy territory to play Wolves.

IT IS SAID there are no easy games in international football, but England vs. Andorra at Old Trafford on Saturday is sure to disprove this. A five-goal defeat would probably be a moral victory for Andorra, which has lost 53 of 63 matches in its 10-year history, scoring just 11 goals with one competitive win.

"It's 11 versus 11," said Andorra captain Oscar Sonejee, a statistic that cannot be disputed. The problem is England's XI comes mainly from Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, while Andorra's players are part-timers from more modest clubs.

Steve McClaren could hardly have an easier first competitive game as England manager as it opens its Euro 2008 qualifiers against the country ranked 131st in the world.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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