Friday, June 21, 2024

Colin Sheridan: In passing over Robbie Keane, the FAI can finally do something right

Must read

In case you haven’t heard, the FAI are looking for a manager of the men’s senior football team. If you’ve ever coached your son’s under-10 street leagues squad, there’s a chance you’ve gotten a call. Been “sounded out”. Added to the bookmakers’ long-list of potential candidates. The fact you’ve not been unveiled means that you too have rejected the offer. Congratulations, you’re in fair-to-middling company.

Lee Carsley. Anthony Barry. Sam Allardyce. Gus Poyet. Neil Lennon. Chris Coleman. Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Some chap called Anthony Hudson. The manager of your local Lidl. They’ve all – at some stage or another since Stephen Kenny’s departure in November – been attached to the vacant job. Every underwhelming rumour has ended the exact same way: in disappointment, mixed with relief. Most of the ‘options’ posited have been so uninspiring, the inevitable failure in their landing comes with the rather bittersweet sense of a bullet dodged.

Speaking of bullets, waiting in the long grass, like the deadly-ish striker he once was, is Robbie Keane. On Friday, the Tallaght man left his role as Maccabi Tel Aviv manager after a year in charge. He did so after guiding the club to the Israeli Premier League title in May and the last-16 of the Europa Conference League. The Tel Aviv gig was Keane’s first managerial post, and, given he’s uttered nothing to the contrary, he will likely see it as an unqualified triumph.

In a statement published on Maccabi Tel Aviv’s website, Keane said his decision to leave the club was “difficult”.

“I want to thank the owners, all the players, the coaches, and the fans for making this season unforgettable,” said Keane.

“I am very proud of everything we achieved together as a team and especially proud of the hard work and the dedication that led to winning the championship and the Toto Cup.” 

When Keane was offered the role last June, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (not an Irish entity) immediately urged him not to take it, issuing a statement through their social media highlighting the potential complicity of high profile, non-Israeli sportspeople enabling and legitimising an apartheid regime by choosing to work in a country hellbent on the continued persecution of the Palestinian people. To make their point, the PACBI spoke of Omar Qatin, a 24-year-old Palestinian footballer shot dead days before by the IDF as he defended his village in the Occupied West Bank against a mob of armed Israeli settlers. 

Obviously, choosing the murder of a fellow footballer to amplify the moral delinquency of Keane’s ambivalence was strategic on the behalf of the PACBI. It was also ineffectual. We will never know how moved and conflicted Keane was by their plea. The only evidence we have are his actions. He took the job, and he stayed in it, despite everything that came before and since.

Whatever role Keane inevitably lands in the coming weeks, he will likely be asked about the “controversy” surrounding his time in Tel Aviv. When he is, he will offer some version of the “I’m just a football man” bullshit he proffered upon his appointment last summer. 

In the aftermath of the October 7th attacks, Keane ‘fled’ to Greece. When he returned, he did so as a hero to Tel Aviv fans, which is instructive, as it illustrates why celebrity endorsement is so crucial to the normalisation of evil. If Keane was not conflicted last June, but became so in October, or December, or February, or April as the death toll rose while he sunned himself from his perch inside his sunny Zone of Interest, or even last week when making his fond farewells, we have heard none of it. He flagrantly chose profit over principle.

And let’s be clear. Keane was not in Tel Aviv as an indentured servant, earning much needed income to send home to his hungry family. He is an incredibly wealthy man. There is no comparison between him and the plumber in Dubai or the teacher in Qatar. On the most basic, human level, he had a choice. And even after he made it, he had countless opportunities to qualify that choice. Defend it. Regret it. Reverse it. He did none of it. All he did was compound it.

If we all accept that every child born in the world – from Ballycastle to the Hindu Kush – at some point plays with a ball at their feet, then they – like the murdered Omar Qatin – are all “footballers,” then we have to accept that every single one of the 15,000 children killed in Gaza by Israel was – past tense, remember, because they are dead – a footballer. In that context, there is literally no scenario I want to see Robbie Keane as the next manager of our national soccer team. They were all killed 50 miles from Tel Aviv. 

Unless he breaks down on the podium, utterly bereft with grief and shame and regret, he is worthy of nothing more than our scorn. He is certainly not worthy of the support of a footballing public, many of whom brought their sons and daughters to Dalymount Park last month to witness an occasion so profound in its significance it transcended sport.

Stephen Kenny may not have been the most brilliant manager, but he was certainly a principled leader in a position of power. Cynics will point out that football is not a popularity contest. Nor is it a political one. But there is nothing “political” in ignoring the massacre of innocents while cashing in your pieces of silver. That, simply, is moral abdication. The FAI have done plenty wrong. In passing over Robbie Keane, they can finally do something right.

RTÉ relay blackout hard to stomach

Thank God for Cathal Denenhy. And Greg Allen. And social media. And shaky handheld footage shot from the back of stadium stands. For, if it was not for Cathal and co, the magnitude and magnificence of Ireland’s mixed 4x400m relay team’s gold medal run would be undoubtedly diminished. Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley produced one of the most compelling moments in contemporary Irish sport on Friday night in Rome. Just about the only negative surrounding their heroics was that so few people saw it live, as it was not broadcast by RTÉ, despite almost unprecedented public interest and the team’s very realistic medal prospects. 

It’s a hard one to stomach, not least because if we are to truly believe “if you can’t see it you can’t be it,” then obscuring such formative viewing experiences from our children, especially, deprives them of the opportunities to drop everything and go run, just like their heroes on television. 

Because that’s how it works, right? A generation of Irish kids dislocated shoulders trying to emulate Ronnie Whelan’s volley against Russia in 1998. Similarly, how many of us raced bikes up country hills, the vision of an oxygen-deprived Stephen Roche emerging through the mist on Mount Ventoux etched on our puny little brains. 

The pictures that (eventually) reached home from Rome had an added significance. The diversity of the team – from the imperious Rhasidat Adeleke, to the gray haired Thomas Barr – was indicative of an Ireland in adolescence, and a counterpoint to the vile underbelly of far-right hate that seems adamant on forcing its way to the surface of society. 

We shouldn’t need Adeleke to be great to prove such an obvious point. Sadly, it helps. What would also help is such monumental occasions being shown on Irish television. Accepting it’s not an “either/or,” are we to assume that the cost and benefit of showing the Eurovision Song Contest is greater than that of broadcasting the European Athletics Championships – from Rome – in an Olympic year?

One of the toughest Burrow fondly recalled 

Poignant scenes at Saturday’s Challenge Cup Final in Wembley Stadium, as the death of former Leeds Rhino legend Rob Burrow was mourned and his life celebrated in equal measure. Burrow’s No 7 was draped on the halfway line above the message #OneRobBurrow, which was also on the Rhinos shirts, as he was honoured in a competition he won twice as a player for Leeds where he spent 17 years, playing 492 matches. 

It was not only his ability on the pitch that made Burrow, who died last weekend at the age of 41, a hero but also his determination to raise awareness of motor neurone disease and money to help prevent others suffering as he did after being diagnosed with the condition in 2019, two years after retiring. Rugby League is a sport dominated by hard men, Burrow was one of the hardest of them all.

Ta’ra Chuck?

As a Boston sports fan, I obviously hope the Celtics beat the Dallas Mavericks and win their 11th NBA championship this week, but, as a fan of the sport generally, you’d have to hope Kyrie Irving and Luca Doncic can do enough to inspire Dallas into bringing the best-of-seven series to at least six games.

Otherwise, the biggest stories to emerge from these finals will be the future of the uber-popular Inside the NBA show on TNT. Its stars – the larger than life Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley – are central to the success of easily one of the most bizarre, unscripted, irreverent sports programmes to ever be conceived or broadcast. As with all the best things on live TV, the drama happens by accident. Here’s hoping the good folk at Turner Sports do the right thing, and don’t break up the band.

Latest article