Tuesday 17 October 2017

Keane face to face with failure

Roy Keane: Photo: PA
Roy Keane: Photo: PA

Roy Keane wakes up this morning beside a disconcerting bedfellow. Failure. This being Roy Keane, of course, the word will be writ large. FAILURE.

The needle and the damage done. Roy Keane's addiction to football has been summarily withdrawn; only this time, it is not he who has withdrawn the energy that courses through his bloodstream.

"What will be, will be," he said earlier this week. He said the same thing to this newspaper last summer. He was no longer worrying about things he couldn't control. Yet the inescapable truth that will hammer home to him this morning as he wakes up to failure is that even being in control wasn't enough to save his skin. Que sera, sera.

And so he must accept failure and all of its grim consequences. Yet in the often oxymoronic world of football management, doors always remain slightly ajar. Even if you're Phil Brown.

And so Keane will have noticed with no little sense of irony that just as he was being escorted from the premises yesterday morning, his name was immediately installed somewhere towards the middle of a usual list of suspects being touted for the Barnsley job.

Meanwhile, a not dissimilar list of usual suspects were being herded into the pen of contenders for Keane's still warm managerial seat in Ipswich.

spinning

His bête noire Eamon Dunphy insists he'll never manage again but then Keane's erstwhile Boswell also declared that Paul Jewell -- now favourite to replace Keane -- was the man for Ireland. The world turns. The revolving door keeps spinning. But you sense Keane isn't too anxious to get dizzy too many times.

"It's unusual in management," he told us last summer. "I'm open-minded. If we have to move house and schools, we will. I don't want to do it every two or three years. I like being in a house, having dinner with the family."

After discovering that he hated the commute to Sunderland so much that he walked away at the first sign of frustration, he now finds himself pitched up in familial comfort, having bought a pad in Ipswich. And he discovers that he need not have bothered.

Was it really nine years ago that Keane spoke of Jaap Stam and how players were merely pieces of meat? Turning from player into manager has not prevented his carcass becoming dispensable flesh.

"The owner and I are absolutely joined at the hip regarding Roy," said the suave Simon Clegg less than seven days ago. "If we weren't supporting Roy he wouldn't be here now."

Keane has learned over the years not to place too much trust in people because, predominantly, it has been spat back in his face.

"The people at Ipswich are good to me," he said last summer. "They treat me with respect and that's all I ask."

Add Clegg and the curiously hermetical Marcus Evans to the lengthening list of people in whom Keane has lost trust.

But their decision, however duplicitously arrived at, hardly represents a betrayal of trust when the cold, hard logic of results are analysed. Keane had declared confidently upon arriving at the club that he would secure promotion to the top flight, as he did with previous club Sunderland, but he managed just 28 wins from his 81 games in charge.

Ipswich's start to last season, when they failed to win any of their first 14 league games, was the worst in their history. Better portents arrived this season when they were undefeated after five games but they slid down the table after suffering six straight defeats.

Keane spent £8m in an attempt to assemble a side capable of winning promotion but few of his buys paid off. Tamas Priskin is just one of a lengthy list of names to attach themselves ingloriously to Keane's managerial CV.

In an interview last May, I asked him what his strengths were. "What are my strengths? I can tell you my weaknesses," he laughed. "Nah, there's loads of things I need to improve upon, spotting players, getting the right people around me..."

flaws

Keane himself hinted at the ellipsis; he knew his flaws were many and admitted to learning on the job. He knew even Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough had made mistakes, that Ferguson still does. Their records inured them; Keane's is not at all formidable enough to offer such comforting cladding.

Harnessing coaching talent around him has proved another intractable difficulty in this nascent managerial career. Few outside Ipswich knew of Bryan Klug when Keane arrived. Keane probably didn't himself. Yet what happened to Klug is instructive in analysing Keane's recidivist fallibility.

Klug is one of the most highly qualified coaches in British football, with an unrivalled record in bringing through young talent. His team won the 2005 FA Youth Cup. Generally regarded as a decent fellow and popular with the players, he had retained a 20-year link with the club. Keane sacked him.

This morning, Klug will head off to his new day job at the Spurs academy. Keane will be walking his dogs.

Turning on his own supporters was another familiar failing. His distrust of ball-playing talent another.

His past must inform the future. Will he get another job in football? Certainly his belief must be rocked, his reputation now further tarnished, his stellar achievements at Sunderland now sullied by the repeated managerial flaws that mocked his time in Suffolk.

He insists on being his own man but echoes of the past still haunt his present. The ghost of Clough still stalks him, the shadow of Ferguson still looms large. Keane's baby steps in the management game, refracted through the prism of proverbially demanding personal expectations, are Lilliputian in contrast.

It was another grim irony that the end should come with defeat against Nottingham Forest, the club that kickstarted his extraordinary career in English football, that first provided an abstract mould for the great Clough to shape.

And Keane can't have helped but notice that Ferguson, while offering a generic pouring of crocodile tears, failed to emit the similar gushing sympathy reserved for Sam Allardyce's latest demise last month.

Three years ago, Keane was being spoken about reverentially as a putative successor for Ferguson. This morning, his career prospects are struggling to match those of Ferguson's hapless son Darren.

How Keane reacts to this failure will define his future. Does he believe he can get another job? Can he address his self-inflicted weaknesses? Can he accept his failings? "You haven't made a success of this management thing yet", we suggested to him last May.

"You're right," he said. As he realises this morning, waking up to failure, there is no other possible answer.

Dealing with success has been difficult enough for Roy Keane. How he deals with failure will be fascinating to behold.

Irish Independent

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