Keane’s first year at Portman Road went poorly, with the Suffolk club making their worst ever start before finally climbing to 15th in the Championship, still well below the promotion challenge which had been anticipated.
Keane says that despite a very difficult beginning to the new season, which sees the Tractor Boys face much-fancied Middlesbrough and newly-relegated Burnley in the first week, only a finish in the play-off places will be acceptable: “My own expectation of the players and the staff is that we have to be competing in the top six and we have to start the season better than we did last year.
“But you look at the first few fixtures and I think they are the toughest we could have picked, but I’ve never shied away from that side of it.
“I’m looking forward to it, I know the players are and we want to give the fans something to shout about. Whichever way you look at it, we let them down last year,” admitted the 38-year-old. “And we want to make up for that.”
The former Ireland skipper acknowledges that his squad isn’t as strong as several others in the Championship, but feels his players are more equipped than they were a year ago: “I think we’re better prepared, we haven’t got the got the strongest squad in the league, far from it.
“There were high expectations last summer, but this year has been very, very quiet and that might suit the group of players that I’ve got.”
Keane continues to enjoy life in Suffolk and will soon move into the new home in the market town of Woodbridge a couple of miles from the club’s training ground, which has been under refurbishment for much of the last year: “I’m very happy here, my family are settled, but in this business it doesn’t matter about that, it’s results.
“I think football is about learning on a daily basis but ultimately if you want to stay around for a long time you’ve got to get results, and we didn’t do that last year.”
Despite regular speculation regarding his future, the Manchester United legend says he is unconcerned that his contract with Ipswich is up at the end of the season: “I signed a two-year deal and I’ve got another year left, let’s see what happens.
“But my contract’s not really that important. I’ve always been like that. It doesn’t keep me awake, I don’t ring my agent every day and ask him what’s happening.”
He says he has spoken to club owner and chairman Marcus Evans about the season ahead, but believes the multimillionaire is well aware of his own high aims: “We’ve had a chat but he knows I’ve got my own high standards anyway and I don’t need to be reminded of what’s success and what’s not.”
Evans has given Keane money for new signings – so far former Ireland team-mate Mark Kennedy, Sunderland keeper Márton Fulop and Cork-born youngster Conor Hourihane – although less cash than a year ago and on the proviso that fringe players, such as Republic of Ireland U21 skipper Owen Garvan, move on. Cardiff striker Michael Chopra remains his number one target, while Wigan’s Jason Scotland is also understood to be a potential recruit.
The role of agents has been a frustration for Keane throughout his time as management and this summer has been no exception: “I’ve had one or two players lined up here but we didn’t do the deals and one player turned me down. I think that was due to his bloody agent, because his agent wanted to get his few bob. Unbelievable. I’ve never worked like that, but some players do.”
The Ipswich boss feels his squad will be competitive once he’s added two or three more players with today’s opponents amongst those very much in line for one of the top six places he himself covets: “I think they’ve invested well. They got decent money for Adam Johnson when he went to Manchester City last year and Gordon Strachan’s brought in experienced players.
“He’s got goalscorers in his team and just as importantly he knows their character; they’ve played for big clubs, they’ve played in big Champions League games. They’re one of the favourites and rightly so.
“For us to get anything out of the game, we have to be at our best, but we’ll be giving it a right go.”
With Keane, you’d never expect anything less.