‘FOOTBALL Man Gets Football Job’ — as screaming headlines go, it does admittedly lack the zing of ‘Keano’s Back’ or even ‘Tractor Roy’ but if ever the words “Roy Keane” and “routine appointment” could be said to co-exist peacefully in the same sentence, then his arrival at Portman Road provides the appropriate context.
Of course, they’ll hardly ever have seen the likes of it in East Anglia — “I didn’t know there were so many radio stations in Ireland” said a local newspaper man yesterday — but then, wherever Roy goes, the media follow in droves. That much we’ve known for almost as long as the Corkman has been in the game.
But Roy Keane’s second managerial appointment is still strikingly different to his first, altogether more business as usual than business unusual. After all, his entrance into management on Wearside was truly sensational involving, as it did, the burying of the hatchet with Niall Quinn and, at least as seen from these shores, the transformation of Sunderland into that novel entity, SundeIreland. Other much anticipated bridges were duly crossed — the handshake with Mick McCarthy, the return to Old Trafford to face Alex Ferguson, and his periodic dealings, even if threadbare, with another Saipan opponent, Steve Staunton, when the latter was manager of Ireland.
All ancient history now — for more relevant to his appointment as Ipswich Town manager is the recent past, that is to say the football past, and specifically Keane’s success in taking Sunderland from almost the foot of the Championship to the title and promotion in one season and then keeping them in the top-flight after that. Keane’s name will always be attractive to any ambitious club but his reputation would count for nought if his CV didn’t already include evidence he has what it takes to return Ipswich Town to the Premier League.
But that CV is also not without its stains, notably his under-whelming dealings on the transfer market, a mixed relationship with his players and the entirely abrupt manner of his departure. What Keane will have learned from his experience on Wearside, both the good and the bad, is bound to have an acute bearing on his time at Ipswich and, as much as his main job is to fashion a winning side, it will be no less fascinating to see how such an autonomous personality copes with the demands of billionaire owner Marcus Evans and new chief executive Simon Clegg as a new broom sweeps right through Portman Road.
Another big difference between this gig and his last one is that, while he went in at the deep end at Sunderland, at Ipswich he has a couple of games in which to take stock before the summer break allows him to formulate plans for the real test next season.
Of course, Keane also went out at the deep end — indeed, you might say, off the deep end — at Sunderland, a shock decision which inevitably trails him to his new job and raises valid questions about his staying power as a manager.
He has subsequently explained that a strained relationship with the new majority shareholder at Sunderland, Ellis Short, had been the main reason for his decision to leave Sunderland, citing the American’s demands that he move to Wearside on a permanent basis as a particular provocation in his eyes. However, his revelation yesterday that he would be basing himself and his family in the Ipswich area suggests a willingness to compromise which bodes rather better for his relationship with his new paymasters.
But what of his relationship with his new players? Only last week, Anthony Stokes had a little pop, as they say in the game, at some of his erstwhile Sunderland colleagues for voicing criticisms of Keane’s management style — even as the young Dubliner revealed that he’d been on the receiving end of the hair-dryer himself a few times.
And, reflecting on his departure from Sunderland, Keane has recalled how Niall Quinn has expressed concern about the mood in the squad near the end.
“He was talking to me about the players needing to come into work with a smile on their face. That really concerned me. The day I walked into Sunderland, putting a smile on the faces of well-paid players was the last thing anybody wanted me to do. Players had been taking the piss out of the club for years. If they wanted them smiling all the time they should have employed Roy Chubby Brown.”
As the Ipswich players are about to discover, he’s no joke, Roy Keane, even if he does do a neat line in deadpan humour and waspish one-liners. His time at Sunderland ultimately left us with as many questions as answers about his long-term prospects as a football manager. His time at Ipswich will tell us a lot more — including whether, at some point in the future, the odds are destined to lengthen or shorten on Keane becoming manager of Ireland.
Meantime, entire forests will be felled to facilitate coverage of this fresh new chapter in Roy Keane’s life story but, yesterday, it was his successor at Sunderland, Ricky Sbragia who, stripping away all the hype and hoopla, summed up the latest development best: “He needs football as much as football needs him.”
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