May 25, 2024

Like many physically tough men, there is a fragile streak that runs strong through Keane’s psyche. He’s football’s Tony Soprano

Rob Shepherd – News of the World – 25 April 2009

Saipan Incident – Conclusions

All of the available evidence on the Saipan incident points to one very clear conclusion:

There is only reason that Roy Keane did not play for the Republic of Ireland in the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan and Korea. That reason is Roy Keane. Not Mick McCarthy, not the FAI, not the poor training pitch in Saipan, not the missing soccer gear, not the lack of goalkeepers in the training match, and not injury. It was simply down to Keane’s personality. When Keane first decided to quit Saipan he told McCarthy to tell the press that the reason he was quitting was because of ‘personal reasons’. This is as close to the truth as it gets.

There is no doubt that the Irish soccer manager, Mick McCarthy, could have handled things differently but equally there was absolutely nothing that he could have done to keep Roy Keane of Manchester United with the Irish squad for the World Cup.

The pro-Keane lobby, that argue that McCarthy should have dealt with the Tom Humphries and Paul Kimmage interviews issue on a one-to-one basis with Keane, are wrong and they are missing the point.

Also, those that argue that McCarthy should not have accused Keane of faking injury are misguided. In fairness, they have been misguided by Keane himself. He is the only one that was in the Saipan Hyatt Regency hotel room that evening that appears to have heard McCarthy make such an accusation.

McCarthy’s Lack of Awareness

In his World Cup diary McCarthy said that he was not aware that there were any problems between them before the eruption in Saipan. This astonishing lack of awareness by McCarthy certainly contributed to events in the Northern Mariana Islands, but it was not pivotal. Surely McCarthy must have recognised that Keane did not want any direct contact between the two of them. Keane used the Irish physio Mick Byrne as a go-between to relay messages to McCarthy. An unorthodox situation between the manager and his captain and a sure sign that all was not right between them. McCarthy should have recognised this situation as a problem and taken steps to address it at an early stage in his time as Irish manager.

Keane’s Deception

“A lot’s been said over the last few days but I’m not here to get anybody on my side. I think it’s important that people know the truth. The final straw was when I was accused of being disloyal, faking injury and going against my team-mates, in front of everybody, and I wouldn’t accept it.”

These were Roy Keane’s first public TV utterances about the infamous Saipan incident. After checking out RTE’s Tommie Gorman’s suitability with Eamon Dunphy, Keane agreed to give an interview to the Irish broadcaster. Like a seasoned politician Keane ignored the opening question posed by Gorman as he, Keane, set the agenda for the interview. In much the same as he began most of his football matches, Keane got his retaliation in early. In fact the only reason that Keane gave the interview was to appeal to the Irish public for support and, like a good magician, to misdirect the attention of his audience. Keane has constantly repeated this sleight of hand ever since. Some people choose to overlook the fact that two days before that squad meeting and the supposed ‘faking injury’ accusation Roy Keane had already decided to go home. He clearly outlined the reasons why he wanted to go in his autobiography.

Keane Carried Many Frustrations with Him to Saipan

Just before the departure for Saipan Roy Keane had been angered by the press coverage surrounding his non-appearance at Niall Quinn’s testimonial match, the proceeds of which were to go to charity. The suggestions that Keane had snubbed sick children had really irked him. It is clear from his autobiography that he was upset at such suggestions and he carried this with him on the journey to Saipan. The chaos in Dublin airport as the Irish squad began the trip to Saipan, the missing training gear, the poor state of the soccer pitch in Saipan, and finally, the lack of goalkeepers for a training match were all cited. Were things really so bad that Keane would give up his last opportunity to play in the finals of the World Cup?

None of the other players, including other very experienced professionals, were so upset by the Irish preparations. Matt Holland described Keane’s complaints as “petty” and that he had been moaning right from the start of the trip. The Genesis report subsequently confirmed that the training facilities and conditions in Saipan did not have an adverse impact on the team’s performances. Nevertheless Keane wanted out.

Keane’s Flip Flopping in Saipan

On the evening that Keane had first decided to leave Saipan he met with McCarthy on three separate occasions and despite queries and urgings by the Irish soccer manager Keane declined to take the opportunity to tell McCarthy the ‘real’ reasons for his unhappiness. He repeatedly insisted that it was “personal problems” and it had nothing to do with the state of the pitch, with the training, or indeed with McCarthy. In fact when he cited ‘personal reasons’ he was telling the truth.

When Keane changed his mind at literally the last minute and decided to stay with Irish World Cup squad, McCarthy asked him did he want to talk to the press. When Keane declined McCarthy asked him what should he tell the press, who by now knew something was amiss with Keane. Roy told McCarthy to say it had been, “personal problems”. Yet later that day he gave two interviews to newspaper journalists in which he catalogued all of his grievances with the Irish World Cup set up including stating that he didn’t believe that his Irish soccer team mates had the same ambition as he had and that they settled for second best.

Keane’s Undermining of Mick McCarthy

Any manager in similar circumstances would have been justifiably angry at this turn of events. Keane had been given every opportunity to vent his frustrations privately yet chose to use the national media to do so. Keane is an intelligent man. He had to know that his team manager and his team mates would by deeply upset and angry at this turn of events. He had seriously undermined McCarthy’s authority be telling his manager to tell the press that his problems were “personal” yet a short while later he was telling journalists that all his problems were football-related. Keane was acting as a law unto himself with scant regard for his manager, his team mates, or the Irish soccer fans. It defies belief that Keane was not aware of the likely consequences of giving those interviews. Despite the apparent change of heart about leaving Saipan Keane still needed to get away from the Republic of Ireland set up. Ireland’s soccer samurai knew he was committing hara-kiri on his international career when he gave those interviews to Tom Humphries and Paul Kimmage in Saipan. That was his exit mechanism.

Following his last minute decision to stay, Keane made no effort to contact the Irish manager to explain or apologise for his I’m going-I’m staying routine the previous evening. Keane’s decision to stay came about following a night of phone calls back west to, amongst others, his club manager Alex Ferguson, his solicitor Michael Kennedy, and his autobiography ghost-writer Eamon Dunphy. It would have been a PR disaster for Keane to follow his instincts and to leave the Irish 2002 World Cup football squad for personal reasons. Far better to leave the squad by making a ‘principled’ stand about the lack of professionalism in the Irish set up. It is conjecture of course, but this might have been impressed upon Keane during one or more of his calls back to the UK and Ireland. Keane has always insisted that the fateful team meeting in the Hyatt Regency was set up to bait him into an outburst. It seems far more plausible that Keane’s interviews with Tom Humphries and Paul Kimmage were intended to create a bear trap for McCarthy. By publicly undermining his Irish manager and by questioning the ambitions of his team mates he may have been attempting to force McCarthy in to a confrontation.

McCarthy was Totally Justified in Calling a Team Meeting

The manager was perfectly within his rights to call a private squad meeting to thrash out the issues that arose from the interviews that Keane gave. Having opened up the can of worms in the most public of ways, and in a way that pejoratively implicated everyone connected with the Republic of Ireland World Cup camp, Keane said that he wanted to deal with the issue of the newspaper interviews one-on-one with McCarthy. The most benign interpretation of this is that it was naive – but Roy Keane doesn’t do naive. As his autobiography clearly demonstrates Roy Keane is very cold and calculated in almost everything he does.

McCarthy Did Not Accuse Keane of Faking Injury

Getting back to the RTE interview, Tommie Gorman had started off by asking Roy Keane to give to some context to the row between Keane and McCarthy but the former Irish soccer captain answered by outlining his outrage at being accused of faking injury. A similar accusation in the past had led to an appalling assault on Alf-Inge Haaland by Keane so we were all aware that accusing Keane of faking injury was the ultimate insult to this warrior footballer. By raising this, Keane was throwing up a smoke screen to deflect attention away from the real reasons that he wanted out of the Irish World Cup squad. Despite the fact that no one else present at the squad meeting appears to have heard the accusation Keane wanted to move the focus to an area where he could engender some public sympathy for himself. He succeeded in his objective and to this day the pro-Keane lobby constantly cling to the fanciful notion that if McCarthy hadn’t accused Keane of faking injury and had dealt with the Humphries and Kimmage interview issue in private, Roy Keane would have played in the World Cup. This is simply not the case.

Keane Could Never Have Stayed the Course for the World Cup Campaign

The simple fact of the matter is; that Roy Keane could never have stayed for the duration of Ireland’s participation in the World Cup. His fragile psyche was in such turmoil that it would have been an impossibility. There was nothing that Mick McCarthy, or indeed anyone, could have said or done to make it so. Quite simply there was no way Keane could stand being away from his home and family for so long, especially since the time would be spent half way around the World with Mick McCarthy and the Republic of Ireland squad. For Keane, who routinely turned up late for international matches, and left earlier than the other players, the prospect of spending more than a month with the Irish squad was too much for him to bear. This was especially so as it came quickly on the heals of Roy Keane’s most frustrating season with Manchester United.

Roy Keane’s Frustrating Season

The 2001/02 season that had just finished prior to the World Cup was hugely frustrating and very trying for the Manchester United captain. United had ended up trophy-less having finished in third place in the Premiership behind Arsenal and Liverpool FC. United had narrowly missed out on a Champions League final place on the way goals rule. Following his disappointment of missing out on the final in Barcelona in 1999 Keane dearly craved the opportunity to play in a Champions League final. This made the loss to weakest of the semi-finalists by such a narrow margin all the harder to take for Keane.

Earlier in the season Keane had decided to quit football following yet another red card after an altercation with Newcastle’s Alan Shearer. Keane was unhappy and frustrated about the prospect of Alex Ferguson’s imminent retirement. The Manchester United manager had announced that he would retire at the end of the 2001/2002 season. This created a malaise within the club that spread into performances on the pitch. Uncharacteristically United lost nine matches in the Premiership, an unprecedented total during Keane’s career with United. Uncertainty about Keane’s future with United was also in the air as he stalled over negotiations on a new contract. His season was also blighted by injuries and he had real concerns about his reconstructed knee which had been giving him trouble. Overall it had been an angst-ridden season for the Corkman but there was more than this behind the torture that the brittle Keane was experiencing.

Keane’s Lack of Commitment to the Republic of Ireland

Keane is a deeply proud Corkman. For him being Irish is a poor second in terms of importance to his sense of Corkness. This is why he was not unduly upset by walking away from the Irish team in Saipan. It is why he was prepared to walk away from his Irish international career even before it began to play for Nottingham Forest in a relatively meaningless Zenith Data Systems Cup tie. It is also why he was able to state boldly, on the occasion of his 50th Irish cap, that it meant absolutely nothing to him to win that many international caps. Keane was never comfortable with the Republic of Ireland soccer set up.

Roy Keane is a born winner. He wants to win, not because winning is fantastic but, because by winning it validates him as a sporting warrior. The parting of the ways with his beloved Manchester United in 2005 came about because of a combination of his diminishing powers on the soccer pitch and his perception of diminished ambition within the club. He simply could not be a part of something that he believed was not 100% focused on, and dedicated to, victory.

From a young age Keane recognised that the Republic of Ireland would never win any major soccer competitions and this was reflected in his commitment to the Irish cause. Of course no-one could ever question his commitment when he was on the pitch. His performances during the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign were sometimes breathtaking, and always outstanding. His performance against the Dutch in Lansdowne Road (now renamed the Aviva Stadium) in September 2001 was truly magnificent. As he admits in his autobiography he loved playing in the matches but hated almost everything else to do with the Irish soccer set up. Roy Keane’s relationship with Mick McCarthy was a major obstacle also. Keane appears to have never liked his Irish soccer manager. This antipathy stretched back to the row between the two in Boston in 1992 and Keane carried this grudge with him to Saipan.

Keane’s deep dislike of McCarthy was rooted in the period when Jack Charlton was manager of the Irish football team. Keane was introduced to the Irish set up when Charlton was the manager and Keane admits to being indifferent to his Irish career. He was far from impressed when Charlton threatened Keane that he would never play for Ireland when the young Nottingham Forest player chose to play in the Zenith Data Systems Cup tie rather than join the Irish squad. Keane believed that Jack Charlton was a bully and he couldn’t relate to him as a person. Added to this Keane detested the crude style of play employed by Charlton. While Keane had an excellent tournament on the football pitch during the 1994 World Cup finals he did not enjoy the experience in general. The fact that McCarthy inherited Charlton’s mantle did not rest easily with Roy Keane.

Another relevant fact is that Keane has never had any regard for the Football Association of Ireland. He makes it clear from his autobiography that he believed that a pro-Dublin (and by extension an anti-Cork) bias by the FAI retarded his breakthrough into English soccer.


Keane likes to promote that idea that he is a proud Irishman but unfortunately for him reality tends to get in the way of how he would like the rest of us to see him. The reality is that Keane’s sense of being Irish is not as strong as he would have us believe. All the years of perceived slights perpetrated on him by the FAI, Jack Charlton, and Mick McCarthy could not be masked long enough let him endure being away from his home and family, and with the Republic of Ireland set up, for a month.

Roy Keane’s actions during the entire Saipan affair are indicative of a man that answers only to his own capriciousness and humours. He is a man that, within the confines of his own head, can see an honesty and righteousness where most of the rest of us can only see shocking impulsiveness and ruthless self-obsession. No-one could have persuaded Roy Keane to play for Ireland in the 2002 World Cup. The only question that remains unanswered is; what on earth made Roy Keane believe that he could stay with the Republic of Ireland World Cup squad in the Far East for a month?

Saipan Bibliography – Roy Keane’s View Seven Years On

Back to Saipan Affair Table of Contents – Irish Football

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Saipan Table of Contents Roy Keane & Eamon Dunphy
Saipan Introduction Roy Keane & Cork
Methodology Keane’s Aversion to Being Away From Home
Saipan Conclusions Roy Keane’s Relationship with Ireland
Roy Keane – Mick McCarthy Relationship Roy Keane – Zenith Data Systems Cup
Roy Keane Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Jack Charlton Relationship
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 1 Roy Keane’s Flawed Character
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 2 Roy Keane’s Good Character
Niall Quinn Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Footballer
Jason McAteer Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Team Captain
Matt Holland Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Family Man
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Backdrop Roy Keane & Faking Injury
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Issues Roy Keane – Bad Boy
Keane / McCarthy Boston Row 1992 Roy Keane – Career Lows
Keane Misses Iran Playoff Game Roy Keane – Red Cards etc
Keane Misses Niall Quinn Testimonial Roy Keane – Cruciate Injury
Countdown to Saipan Incident Roy Keane & Alf-Inge Haaland
Roy Keane Saipan Tirade at Mick McCarthy Roy Keane & Gareth Southgate Red Card
Roy Keane / Tom Humphries Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Alan Shearer Red Card
Keane / Humphries Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane / Alex Ferguson Relationship 1
Roy Keane / Irish Times Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Sir Alex Ferguson 2
Roy Keane / Paul Kimmage Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Charity
Keane / Kimmage Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane & Autobiography Contradictions 1
Roy Keane / Sunday Independent Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Contradictions 2
Roy Keane / Tommie Gorman Interview 1 Roy Keane – Integrity
Roy Keane / Tommy Gorman Interview 2 Roy Keane – International Matches
Roy Keane / RTE Interview 3 Roy Keane – Football Record
FAI Involvement in Saipan Affair Roy Keane & Sandwiches
Saipan Reaction of Irish Players Roy Keane – Walker
Mick McCarthy – ‘crap player, crap manager’ Saipan – Pacific Island
Roy Keane / Mick McCarthy Playing Record I Keano – The Musical
Colin Healy – Forgotten Man of Saipan Roy Keane – Football Manager
Saipan Ten Years Later Roy Keane’s Dog Triggs
Roy Keane’s Autobiography Saipan Bibiliography


Roy Keane – View Seven Years After Saipan
Football Quotes about Saipan


Triggs – The Autobiography of Roy Keane’s Dog
Ireland at 2002 World Cup Finals – Irish 2002 World Cup Squad – Irish Group Matches
Ireland V Cameroon – Ireland V Germany – Ireland V Saudi Arabia – Ireland V Spain