15 January 2006

Brough Scott sees only glimpses of the old fire as a football legend makes his first appearance in Celtic’s green and white hoops

THERE WAS not much raging but then with Celtic one up after three minutes and two ahead after 20 there was not much dying of the light. After a career symbolised by red mist as much as genius, Roy Keane’s first appearance in the green and white hoops of Celtic was a strangely subdued affair.

You suspect he wanted it thus. How else would the programme cover feature goalkeeper Arturo Boruc and Gordon Strachan’s notes fail even once to mention one of the most talismanic footballers of the last decade? Even getting off the bus was “ever so humble”.

The bobbing blond and ginger mop that is manager Strachan led the Celtic team into the stadium and it was at least 10 men in, well after John Hartson and Stilian Petrov and Neil Lennon, that Keane emerged. A cheer went up among the green-scarved faithful but there was no waving to the crowd. Just a lean figure with a hint of a grin hurrying up the steps, a tic working in the sculpted cheek bones which only come to the exceptionally fit or the very hungry.

After all those great years at Manchester United, Keane’s millionaire status has been long assured so you search for the drive as he trotted up and down alongside his team-mates an hour later in the warm-up. With loose white shorts and those slightly bowed, finely muscled legs, there was something of the Irish line dancer about him. He chewed gum. He chatted with Steve McManus. He concentrated on the exercises. He finally jogged head down back into the tunnel. He was every inch the professional football man.

Even the fanfare when his name was called was a muted one. Down one end a few hundred fans raised orange, white and green in a synchronised tricolour salute but it was hardly the stuff of St Patrick’s parades. He took his place centre right of the back four. He still had not touched the ball when Shunsuke Nakamura bent a beautiful left-footed free-kick into the top corner. He had needed only to contribute four or five coolly authoritative headers when Petrov got upended after unlocking the Kilmarnock defence and Shaun Maloney slotted home the penalty.

From then on Celtic played three at the back with Keane commanding things in the centre. There was one missed tackle, another that left Gary Wales biting the turf just as so many of Roy’s opponents have in the past. But mostly this was “Keane the Organiser” not “Roy the Enforcer”. True he may have been partly to blame for what looked a dubious, Steven Naismith-converted penalty but as he left the pitch at half-time the real surprise was how Celtic were leading only 2-1.

They got their shock soon after the re-start; Paul Telfer and Keane muddling over on the right and the consequent cross being converted by a Kilmarnock substitute answering to the magnificent name of Danny Invincibile. Time was when that was very much Roy’s tag. For a brief while he stoked some of the old fires and it was from a driving Keane shot that McManus notched home Celtic’s third goal. When Maciej Zurawski made up for a couple of earlier howlers to make if 4-2 we could fall back on watching how the back line general would put up with the manifold inadequacies of his new defence.

This was nothing like last week’s shambles against Clyde but there were some dreadful misunderstandings. Twice Boruc dropped the ball in front of goal. On one occasion it was Keane who stormed in to clear, on another he lingered dangerously in the penalty area before finding someone to pass to.

To see Roy Keane in the midst of this is, for the moment, to see a beast against his nature. If this were in the red shirts of United, Keane would surely have been a seething, gesticulating fury intent on imposing his own standards on the inadequacies of others. Instead there was a dip of the head, a biting of the lip and the sense that a lot is being logged down for experience. He has to live with his choice of Celtic.

He has well-documented ambitions as a manager but says: “I like to drive those around me.” He may be playing himself in and team-bonding in these first few matches, but the rage will be back.

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