PARIS: Controversial, outspoken, passionate.
Say what you want about Roy Keane, but the Manchester United captain was the heartbeat behind the Republic of Ireland team for over 11 years despite injuries and controversy combining to prevent him from adding to his 58 caps.
Keane announced on Tuesday his retirement from international football after receiving “unequivocal medical advice” following hip surgery which kept him out from September until the end of last year.
His driving force came through in 1996 when he skippered Ireland for the first time against Russia and marked the occasion by getting sent off.
And if anyone was in any doubt at all about his commitment they would only have to remember his remarks after scoring twice in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win in Cyprus which helped propel them on their way to Korea and Japan in a match which represented his 50th cap.
A string of inspirational performances from Keane led Ireland to the 2002 World Cup at the expense of highly-rated Holland.
But his relationship with manager Mick McCarthy had never been an easy one and the tensions between the two of them exploded at a pre-World Cup camp on the Pacific island of Saipan.
Enraged at the qualilty of the training pitch and equipment, Keane unleashed a violent tirade against the manager in a team meeting which left McCarthy with little option but to send him home.
Nevertheless Keane made his mark on the national team when he was an ever-present in Jack Charlton's side that reached the second round of the 1994 World Cup, while his contribution to the cause during the 2002 qualifying campaign was mighty, weighing in with man-of-the-match performances against Portugal and Holland.
“He has been immense,” drooled McCarthy. “I would not change him for any player in the world and losing him would be a body-blow because he is our inspiration.”
The Cork-born, 31-year-old Manchester United skipper, who has nine international goals to his name, started his career at Cobh Ramblers before moving to Nottingham Forest in 1990 for £30,000 before making his debut for Ireland against Chile in Dublin in 1991.
From there he moved to Old Trafford for a then British record fee of £3.75-million and the list of honours has been awesome – six Premiership titles and three FA Cups.
Keane also played a major role in United's staggering Champions League triumph of 1999, but he was suspended for the final and United's defeat in the semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen last season meant that another chance at the big one went begging.
Success at club level has not stopped him from hitting out at teammates and fans when he believes the occasion merits it.
When United were facing the prospect of finishing their first season without a trophy for four years last season, he told fellow players it was time to “stand up and be counted”.
He applies the same philosophy to sections of the crowd at Old Trafford where over 65,000 people regularly watch Premiership and European matches.
Those numbers don't always equate to atmosphere and Keane once accused some fans of being more interested in their prawn sandwiches than their appetite for the fare on view on the pitch.
His teammates hold him in awe with Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy tipping the midfielder to succeed manager Sir Alex Ferguson who has another two-and-a-half years left on his current contract.
“He is already the boss of Manchester United in the dressing room. When he comes in, he is the main man in there,” said van Nistelrooy.
Proof of his commitment to United has been his heeding Ferguson's advice to resist the olive branch offered by new Ireland manager Brian Kerr and follow the example of former England captain Alan Shearer by retiring from the gruelling international scene.
“Shearer discovered that you can't please three parts of the football equation,” said Ferguson.
“Maybe Roy would be better just settling for two – Manchester United and himself.”
Ferguson will no doubt be pleased Keane has ignored the call of his home country to keep Manchester United on Arsenal's trail in the title race. – AFP