Keane's recall may lead to conflict

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The Independent Online

Roy Keane's return to international football was last night plunged into confusion after Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the midfielder would only be available for certain matches.

Roy Keane's return to international football was last night plunged into confusion after Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the midfielder would only be available for certain matches.

His statement ran contrary to the insistence of the Republic of Ireland's manager, Brian Kerr, that Keane had made himself available with "immediate effect" and with no strings attached almost two years after he stormed out of the World Cup.

Ferguson's comments highlight the rift between the Manchester United manager and his captain ­ 33 in August and with a savage history of injuries ­ over the issue. The manager is said, according to sources, to have had "heated discussions" with Keane and intimated that a return would severely curtail his Old Trafford career.

Last night Ferguson was conciliatory. He said: "I am pleased for Roy because it was important for him and his family to put to bed something that has been simmering away for a long time.

"There has been dialogue between Roy and Brian Kerr for a little while which I was party to. Roy then spoke to me and I am happy with his decision.

"It may be the thing that will drive him on for the next two years. I think he will only play the five competitive games each season and Ireland will obviously get the benefit of that."

That is clearly not Kerr's understanding. He has held an open dialogue with Keane for months but has insisted that he cannot pick and choose matches. "Since our initial meeting following my appointment 15 months ago, when the player had clearly indicated his desire to play for Ireland, we have been in occasional contact," Kerr said yesterday. "The issue for him was establishing a basis by which his club, Manchester United, would facilitate that desire. Roy Keane had to resolve that problem himself. It cannot have been an easy decision for him but his desire to represent his country is immense. We met last week and discussed everything about his decision in great detail. He had addressed the issue with his club before that meeting and they are aware of his decision to make himself available for international duty with immediate effect."

Indeed Ferguson vetoed a return soon after Kerr was appointed last year insisting that Keane was not physically able to play so many games. He had continued to oppose the move despite Keane's insistence that he has "unfinished business".

The issue will soon be tested. The Irish are due to play a friendly against Poland in the town of Bydgoszcz, 150 miles north of Warsaw on 28 April. The meaningless fixture is sandwiched between United's league games with Liverpool and Blackburn. Kerr is due to announce his squad next week and, possibly, the only way to save Keane the journey would be to choose an experimental squad and leave out other leading names, such as Damien Duff, out as well.

Keane is said to be impressed with Kerr's professionalism and meticulous preparations and is also enthusiastic about a World Cup qualifying campaign in a group which includes France, Switzerland and Cyprus.

Kerr, aware of the sensitivity of the decision, has also held talks with other members of the squad. Most, it is thought, are enthusiastic, and Keane has also used his club-mate John O'Shea as an envoy, although some senior players have voiced their concern. That many explain the rumours of discontent which emanated from the camp after the recent friendly against the Czech Republic and the decision by Everton's Lee Carsley to quit international football.

Fran Rooney, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, conceded that some of Keane's criticism of the Irish set-up, during his row with Mick McCarthy, the former manager, had been warranted.

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