Jonathan Walters is one of the few people Shane Supple is still in contact with from his time as a professional footballer in England.
The former Ipswich Town goalkeeper spent five years at Portman Road before asking to be released from his contract because he felt disillusioned by the unscrupulous nature of the environment.
Walters was a teammate and former housemate, while Roy Keane was the manager in charge who helped ensure he could return to Dublin.
There is an element of loyalty to both but, following Keane’s acerbic performance on last week’s
Off The Ball
roadshow — during which he derided Walters for crying about family issues on television — Supple was quick to show his support for his old team-mate.
“I’d be close enough, as you can be in soccer, with him. He’s the only guy I’d always have said was a decent guy, he’d do anything for you, run through a brick wall for you. There’s no bullshit with Johnny. A really good decent guy, and there are not many over there,” Supple, speaking at the launch of the new eir Sport pack, said.
“I spoke to him this week about what went on [with Keane]. I couldn’t believe what was said. A low blow? Yeah, too low, really. It’s not right. Why would you go there? But he did. The environment he was in, he felt that’s what people wanted. I don’t know why he’d do that.
“Johnny has done a lot of good for a lot of people because of what he’s come out and spoken about (mental health). And I know it doesn’t bother Johnny. He laughed about it. It’s sad really that someone of Roy’s stature feels he has to say something like that. Johnny has done great for himself since he retired, he seems happy.
“I don’t know if he’s going into coaching or not. He seems comfortable in the media. I think he’s signed up to do a degree — with managing football clubs. He’s a clever fella, I can’t see him going coaching. He’ll do well whatever he does.”
Walters’ openness about his struggles with grief and his mental health is just one example of the way in which the culture around football is slowly beginning to change. While Keane stated on that same stage for
Off The Ball
that he was hoping for a return to management sooner rather than later, Supple feels his day has passed unless he can alter his own way of dealing with players and their personal situations.
“Johnny has done a lot of good for a lot of people. The world is changing, society is changing, managing is changing, it’s about understanding players and how to get the best out of managing them,” said Supple.
“Some are not interested in that sort of stuff (players with mental health issues) or are just ignorant to it. They won’t last long in the game these days.
“Look at Klopp, Guardiola, Southgate — they’re really getting to understand players how they’ve been brought up. What they’re dealing with is a lot different to what their managers would have dealt with when they were playing.
“The social media stuff. I listened to Declan Rice last night and the social abuse he’s getting from switching over to England and that, understanding that and managing that, the expectations and the money, at the high level.
“If you’re not adapting to that, then certain managers aren’t going to last too long.
“Ruling with an iron fist doesn’t work anymore. The game has changed so much tactically, you need to be able to see things on the pitch, adapt things on the pitch.
“I don’t know if they’re the right people to go forward… not because they haven’t had success at clubs they were at. They may have had it 15-20 years ago, but as time goes on, a different approach needed nowadays. Not just in soccer.”