Keane can learn from old foe McCarthy's survival instincts
Published 10/01/2011 | 05:00
THE remarkable thing about football management is that it has driven Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy closer together. At last, they have found something in common.
Both entered the New Year under immense pressure, with supporters calling for their heads.
Once more, it's the man from Barnsley who is hanging in there. Keane spent the weekend unemployed. McCarthy brought his team to Doncaster and avoided falling victim to a cup shock. He's better at the business of survival.
Over the weekend, it was suggested that if McCarthy had received the bullet, his old foe from Cork would have emerged to put the boot in. It would have been an accurate assessment in 2003. Not now, though.
Keane has grown to hate the idiosyncrasies of the modern footballer so much that McCarthy is tolerable in comparison. Whisper it, but perhaps he now appreciates the difficulty for a manager in dealing with a rabble rouser in the dressing-room. In fairness, he's hinted at that in the recent past.
Sure, it would be far-fetched to suggest that the duo are pals now, or anything approaching it. But on Friday, McCarthy expressed disappointment at the news from Ipswich, explaining that he spoke with the Corkman regularly about players. They were often in the market for the same calibre of individuals. Principally, Irish ones, but also scouting around the game for reasonably priced players with the ability to ascend to a higher plane.
McCarthy, who brought Wolves to the Premier League with a squad largely made up of bargain-basement purchases, has proved superior in that regard. Smarter. A better judge of character.
As a player accustomed to the highest standards at Manchester United, Keane felt he knew better than his international manager. Now, the tables have turned, and the Yorkshireman is the more knowledgeable member of the pair when it comes to the practicalities of their now shared profession.
Of course, McCarthy, who turns 52 in February, has the clear edge in experience. Critics would point out that, after his stint with Millwall, he was given plenty of time to learn on the job with Ireland.
Nevertheless, his reputation is such that he has remained consistently in work for the past seven years, save for a short spell between his stints at Sunderland and Wolves. Despite keeping the English midlands club up last term, concerns remain about his effectiveness at Premier League level, and his ability to turn a team of honest grafters into a classier entity.
Still, he steers a happy ship; a contrast to the treading-on-eggshells atmosphere that was commonplace in East Anglia and Wearside during Keane regimes.
Stephen Hunt was partially sold on the prospect of moving to Wolves by the manner in which his pals spoke about the content environment.
Holiday-period wins over Liverpool and Chelsea demonstrate that the spirit in the dressing-room has remained strong.
McCarthy thrives in the role of underdog. Whatever he achieves from now, he'll never be linked with a top job. Unfortunately, he is typecast. Only Harry Redknapp has emerged from that peloton into the front rank in the past couple of years.
If Keane comes back to the game with a bang and repeats the feat of his first campaign at Sunderland, then his name will be thrown into the mix for high-profile gigs, maybe even the succession stakes at Old Trafford. His name sits more comfortably in the box-office charts. It's a distant dream now, though.
Where next for Keane? With talk of the Ireland job frankly laughable -- the Corkman and FAI CEO John Delaney retain a healthy disrespect for each other -- he may be forced to sink further down the ladder again, to another level where he'd never actually plied his trade as a player.
Friends of Keane feel that he would be perfectly suited to the task of taking over a club established at the right end of the top flight. The logic is that he would feel more comfortable there, with the ambition of the players around him more in tune with his thinking.
Alas, the reality is that if the 39-year-old is to reach that level, he will have to scrap it out away from the top table -- the sphere where McCarthy is the master.