Roy Keane has admitted he would have kicked any team-mate who repeatedly spoke of leaving his club in training after questioning Belgium star Eden Hazard’s attitude.
The Republic of Ireland assistant, in his role as a Champions League TV pundit, branded the Chelsea star “a spoilt child” and said he would “kick him up and down the training pitch” if he were one of his team-mates earlier this season.
Ireland face Hazard’s Belgium in their second Group E fixture at the Euro 2016 finals in Bordeaux on Saturday, and while the 44-year-old former Manchester United skipper believes the midfielder is a talented player, he did not appreciate his willingness to link himself with Paris St Germain in February.
Speaking at the Republic’s Versailles training base on Thursday, he said: “That’s nothing personal, I would do that to anybody if I was playing with them who was talking about possibly wanting to leave all the time.
“It’s nothing against the lad – I think he’s a talented boy. I’d like him to be in our group, he’s a really, really top player.
“He’s had a difficult season, I suppose, but that’s because maybe he set his standards so high the previous season.
“Don’t get me the wrong way, I think he’s an outstanding player, but if you’d asked me if I was playing with anybody, whether I was at Forest, Rockmount, Cobh Ramblers, and they were constantly talking – if it was true – that they wanted to leave and they had a poor attitude to training, then I would kick them in training, yes.
“But I have kind of done that with most players, I suppose, even lads who didn’t want to leave.”
Keane was in relaxed, but determined, mood as he and manager Martin O’Neill prepared their players for a tough test against the Belgians, who slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Italy in their opening fixture and currently prop up the group.
They have effectively ruled Jonathan Walters out of the game with his Achilles injury, while goalkeeper Keiren Westwood did not train on Thursday because of a back problem.
Ireland have taken plenty of positives from their 1-1 draw with Sweden on Monday night, despite feeling they should have emerged with three points rather than one, but know they will have to produce just as good a performance, if not better, to get anything against the side currently ranked second in the world by FIFA.
Keane is well aware of the talent available to manager Marc Wilmots, but does not necessarily subscribe to the theory that they do not make the most of that as a team.
He said: “Well, there are not that many great teams out there at the moment. But they’re a good team, a really good team. They have got some fantastic players.
“I don’t know if they’ve got much criticism from their first game, but it was always going to be difficult against Italy. But they still created lots and lots of chances and we’ll have to be at our very, very best to try to get a decent result.
“But I think it’s a bit harsh to be saying they’re not a great team because again, there are not too many great teams out there.
“But they have the potential to be a great team. They came in as one of the favourites and you still fancy them to do well in the tournament.”
Keane’s response when a Belgian journalist suggested Ireland might be favourites met with a blunt response.
He said: “I think you have been drinking.”
O’Neill’s number two was equally dismissive when asked about his trip on goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh during the pre-amble to training.
He said with a smile: “I never touched him, he dived. You know what goalkeepers are like. I never touched him.”