Ipswich only a stepping stone for Keane

BEFORE the events of this week, the last time I had written about Roy Keane was in the immediate aftermath of his shock departure from the Stadium of Light when, amid the general air of gloom and doom on Wearside, I asked that people spare a thought for the owners of a public house in Sunderland who had just been forced to put their business up for sale.

The name of the pub? (Hankies at the ready, please). ‘Keano’s’.

Now, I note that, according to a newspaper in East Anglia, Keane’s equally sudden arrival in Ipswich is expected to do wonders for the property market there. Said David Bedford of a Bury St Edmunds-based estate agents and an Ipswich Town season ticket holder for more than 30 years: “It is a question of confidence in the housing market. I think the appointment of Roy Keane will probably do more for the property market than Alastair Darling did in his budget.”

So here’s Keano, barely a wet day in the new job and already there are folk unsure as to whether to address him as ‘Gaffer’ or ‘Chancellor’. But then that’s the Keane effect – in the eyes of the impressionable every little thing he does is magic and every little thing he says is received as though handed down on tablets of stone.

The coverage of his inaugural press conference at Portman Road has been a case in point. Ignore, if you can, the verbal fisticuffs which have erupted with Tony Cascarino – although I have to note in passing that, when Roy hints darkly that he knows things about Cas that would “shock”, I find it hard to believe that the information could be any more explosive than the already well-publicised contents of Cascarino’s uncommonly candid autobiography ‘Full Time’.

But that’s all undercard stuff — the knockout headlines from Thursday were reserved for his observations about the success or otherwise of his old United team-mates turned managers. ‘Blast’, ‘Lash’ and, always my favourite, ‘Pop’ featured prominently in coverage of Keane’s comments, even though the actual content of what he had to say strikes me as being, if certainly not sugar-coated, then still eminently reasonable and accurate.

Nor was it a case of Keane simply engineering a rant. In fact, in asking him a question about his former United colleagues, it was a well-known national journalist who used the phrase “great managers” — and who got a little ribbing of his own for his pains.

Read again what Keane actually said: “Who are the good managers you are talking about? Sparky (Mark Hughes) and Brucey (Steve Bruce) have not won a trophy, have they? They have potential but you have the potential to be a top journalist (ouch!). Steve Bruce has had a good season but Steve Bruce has been a manager for how many years? Sparky has done a brilliant job at Blackburn but is facing different challenges at Manchester City. We are all facing different challenges. But until an ex-team mate of mine from the 1994 team goes on and really achieves something, I would not agree with you about being a successful manager. You need a bit more than some of those managers have achieved yet.”

And if this was a lash, Keane went on to show that he wasn’t above flagellating himself in similar terms: “I believe I can potentially be a good football manager. I have done nothing in the game yet. I did ok at Sunderland but I want to do better than okay.”

WHILE we await the appearance of the shock-horror headline, ‘Keano Slams Self’ we could do worse than take note of Steve Bruce’s equanimity in responding yesterday to Keane’s supposed attack. But after allowing himself a hearty chuckle (“It’s fantastic, isn’t it? We’ve missed him. Football is a better place now”), the Wigan boss went on to make a serious philosophical point – and one which will hardly have been lost on Keane as he makes his second stab at management in the relative backwaters of the Championship.

“What is an achievement though?” Bruce asked. “The big clubs win the trophies. It’s tough to be outside the top four or five and win a tournament. The only one in my memory from the past 10 years is Portsmouth winning the FA Cup”.

And that’s only the FA Cup, sez you.

The point being that the definition of success in football has been wholly transformed in England by the supremacy of the Big Four and the huge shadow cast by the Champions League. For Roy Keane, such giddy heights are still as far away and out of reach as they were when he took over at Sunderland. Taking the Black Cats from the relegation zone to the Championship title in one campaign might have been an admirable achievement but it still left him a much bigger mountain to climb over the next two seasons — and, as we know, he finally opted to abandon that task while still very close to base camp.

Can it be different at Ipswich? He has already set himself the target of going up in one season but beyond that, and unless owner reclusive Marcus Evans has even more billions to his name than we imagine, it’s hard to see how, in the modern era, Keane could ever hope to emulate his old mentor Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, by taking a small town club to the highest summits in England and Europe. Those days, sadly, are gone.

In other words, for Keane to achieve the kind of success in management he feels continues to elude his old team mates, Portman Road can be nothing more than a fresh jumping-off point on an always fascinating personal and professional journey which, depending to a large extent on how he fares this time around, could one day point him back in the direction of a certain stadium in Manchester.

And until we see how things pan out at Middle Eastlands, it might be wiser to be no more specific than that.

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