Prior to the incident, Keane was captain of the Irish national team; since his senior debut under Jack Charlton and then-captain McCarthy, Keane had perceived problems with the preparations of the Irish side. He regarded the Football Association of Ireland (FAI)'s preparations as unprofessional and challenged both Charlton and McCarthy in a number of notable incidents.
Among Keane's issues with Irish management were the conditions of the camp, travel arrangements (which made the players sit in second class seats on flights, while FAI officials sat in first class), strategy, expectations, diet, and McCarthy's competence. In his autobiography, Keane said that before a World Cup qualifier away versus the Netherlands, the Irish players were eating cheesy sandwiches because the more suitable pre-match meal of pasta was not available.
The island of Saipan was selected by an FAI delegation as an initial base. From management's perspective the time was considered a period of relative rest and recreation at the end of a long season before moving to Japan to up the preparation levels for the tournament. Keane, on the other hand, who is reputed to have told Alex Ferguson that he was going to the World Cup "to win it", viewed it as a period of preparation for the World Cup Finals. He therefore became dissatisfied when facilities and general preparation did not match his expectations.
Irish broadcaster RTÉ became aware of the developing row, as did several Irish newspapers. Because of its isolated location, there were certain stories circulating about the event which were all critical of Keane. The Daily Star newspaper had been a harsh critic of Keane for months in the run up to the competition. This included persistent allegations about Keane's commitment to the Irish team.