Azerbaijan link a sign of the times for Roy Keane

Azerbaijan link a sign of the times for Roy Keane
Reports claim that Roy Keane is Azerbaijan's first choice to succeed the Croatian Nikola Jurcevic.

It's nine years since Roy Keane last managed a side.

Nine years and change.

'Game over for Roy' read the headline on the Irish Examiner masthead on January 8, 2011. This was after Keane had taken a phone call from Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans the afternoon before to inform him that his time at Portman Road was done. He had been in charge for just 20 months. Nearly a decade later and that take reads as something of an obituary to his ambitions as a gaffer as much as his time in East Anglia.

In a way, 20 months wasn't the worst run. The average term for a Championship manager at the time was five fewer but Keane's tenure had been marked by a regular rumble of discontent and results which left the side 19th in the table and three points off the relegation zone.

Keane himself felt that the side was making progress and pointed to their presence in a League Cup semi-final against Arsenal as proof. Some players spoke to chief executive Simon Clegg about how they had benefited from Keane's time in charge but a terrible run of form that started in November ultimately proved too much of a weight to carry.

The former Manchester United skipper has not been idle since. There was a five-year stint as lieutenant to Martin O'Neill with the Republic of Ireland, two brief spells as an assistant at Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, and his regular appearances as an analyst on TV, but the longer he goes without being top dog in a dressing room, the less likely another such role becomes.

He admitted as much himself in a recent interview with the Sunday Independent when suggesting that it would “very difficult” to get back into the cockpit, accepting that his reputation and his inability to play football politics wouldn't exactly lubricate the path back into any manager's office.

The desire, he insisted, was still there even if the phone wasn't red-hot with offers. There was mention too about a “funny feeling” that there could be something out there for him in the coming months and that he would be ready for an opportunity when it arose.

Who could have known that one such chance might wing its way from Azerbaijan? Reports in The Sun on Tuesday morning claim that Keane is their first choice to succeed the Croatian Nikola Jurcevic whose own spell there lasted just ten months after a Euro 2020 qualifying campaign that delivered a solitary point in Group E.

Jurcevic submitted a comprehensive report to the Azerbaijan FA when they opted against renewing his contract last December and, whatever about his lamentations on refereeing decisions that cost his team a number of points, there were other areas of interest for anyone who might think about following in his footsteps.

The 53-year-old pointed out the fact that there are only eight teams in the domestic league, he lamented the lack of players playing at a higher standard abroad, and there were notes made about others who simply weren't getting enough game time. A habit of conceding goals at set-pieces hadn't helped matters either.

The positives? Some new players were blooded during their European Championship campaign in 2019, not least because of injuries. A 5-1 loss at home to Slovakia aside, they were competitive in every game in a group also containing Croatia, Wales, Hungary. Three of their seven defeats were by a solitary goal.

Money is no object in oil-rich Azerbaijan which, incidentally, the Human Rights Watch group describes as having an "appalling" record in that regard. The capital city of Baku boasts an Olympic stadia with a capacity of close to 70,000 and another that can cater for over 30,000 yet the football team has been playing at the Bakcell Arena with a limit of 11,000 seats that wasn't close to stretched at any point in the last year.

Crowds are unlikely to swell when the national side faces Montenegro, Cyprus, and Luxembourg in Group C of the Uefa Nations League later this year but there is at least the possibility of promotion to the second tier and progress of sorts from an admittedly low base.

All in all, then, not the most glamorous of prospective postings for a man who dominated centre stage with one of the world's biggest clubs and his country for so long as a player but who, at 48 years of age, finds himself at a crossroads.

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