When you think of Ireland and Holland, you don't really think of too many similarities. Aside from their clashes on the football pitch, the big one in 1988, the game in Anfield in 1995 and the one in Landsdowne Road that Jason McAteer scored to put Ireland through to the World Cup in 2001 is about the height of it but they are two countries with similar pasts and seemingly similar paths. Having recently read David Winner's book "Brilliant Orange" as an Irishman, there is a lot to relate to.
The book starts by saying that Holland was the most backwards country in Europe in the 1950's (aside from Ireland). The "aside from Ireland" part is thrown in as an afterthought as if to say it is almost so obvious that we forgot to mention it.
Then, what happened in Holland and subsequently Dutch football is the same thing that has been threatening to happen in Ireland since then but has never quite materialized. There was a revolution. They marched in the streets and started thinking outside the box they had been put into. Given the fact that Holland had a hidden guilt in relation to the Second World War and has been trying to prove their progressive thinking ever since is poignant. Although we don't share a sense of guilt, we do hold a sense of persecution. There is a saying that goes something like this, "If I can't come to terms with the past, then I have no control over the future". Never has a case been more true than in Ireland, as it was in Holland.
Ireland's collaboration with the Catholic Church is quickly becoming a thing of the past as was Holland's ties to its Calvinistic roots. The whole feeling that when something good happens, you must be humble but if something bad happens it is your fault is still alive and well in Ireland but has been dead for a long time in Holland and as soon as people started taking both blame for their failings and credit for their fortunes was when the Dutch football revolution started to kick in. It may not come as a surprise that this leads to quite an elitist view but it gets results. It must also be noted that Holland's misfortunes in World Cups et al have been blamed by this elitist, artistic point of view, but at least it is a start.
When it all began to go down, as they say, Johan Cruyff was the man enlisted as the saviour. He thought for the people, he thought outside the box and he was never swayed in his thinking. He had many a fight with the KNVB and prior to the revolution would have been seen as a pariah. Instead he was looked upon as the philosophical figure that was necessary.
Ireland has their own Cruyff, believe it or not. Roy Keane is Ireland's equivalent to Johan Cruyff. He didn't invent his own "turn" and didn't have the free flowing locks that were a trademark of Cruyff's appearance but what he lacks in grace and elegance, he makes up with his vision. His utter refusal to accept "the way things are" and his constant questioning of why Ireland do not succeed in World Football.
In 2002, the same year that Ireland beat Holland in a World Cup qualification playoff through Jason McAteer's stunning goal, he was sent home following an outburst that would set Ireland back from a footballing point of view but would bring us on leaps and bounds where professionalism is concerned. The team rallied and made it to a quarter final only to be beaten by Spain after extra time and penalties but the impact of what happened would have implications that made us question the very purpose of the Football Association of Ireland. Granted, the enquiry into their existence wasn't as long lasting as it might have been, Keane got the ball rolling and his recent appointment as Assistant Manager to Martin O'Neill might mean that finally Keane will get to put into practice the kind of professionalism and the system that he foresaw when he walked out on Ireland in 2002.
Keane questioned the system. He demanded the best, just like Cruyff. He is not loved by everybody but he doesn't need to be. Despite what the Cork accent might say and the people in Mick McCarthy's corner might argue, Keane had a vision of where he thought Ireland should be and unlike in Holland where people rallied behind Cruyff and joined in his revolution, they turned their back on the saviour. They rejected Keane's input as troublemaking. They scorned him for forward thinking.
Keane was a well known critic of the F.A.I and his time as a pundit really signified how deeply he felt about the whole thing.
We are the backwards, paddy, Irish drinking lads who sing songs while we are getting beaten 4-0 in a European Championship. We applaud a defeatist attitude and we embrace the losers tag.
Cruyff didn't. Keane Doesn't. And the sooner people start treating Keane with the kind of respect that Cruyff is garnered with the better for Irish football and everyone involved.