No longer talk of the town
Conspicuous by his absence from the news, Ipswich boss Roy Keane is at a crossroads in his career, writes Daniel McDonnell
Published 07/08/2010 | 05:00
THERE'S something quiet in the state of Ipswich. A little too quiet, perhaps, by the standards of Roy Maurice Keane. His working campaign gets under way this afternoon in Middlesbrough, where the Corkman begins his second full season as Ipswich Town manager.
The low-key build-up sums up the levels of expectation relative to his highly anticipated and, ultimately, desperately disappointing first attempt, which included flirtation with the trapdoor and a bottom-half finish.
Save for a memorable player-by-player evisceration of England's underperforming World Cup stars, it's been a strangely uneventful summer for Roy, in the sense that he has been conspicuous by his absence from the Sky Sports News brain-drain. Events in South Africa dominated the first half, while the shenanigans of messrs Hodgson, Mancini and their Premier League counterparts hogged the attention subsequently.
Keane appears further away from the top table now than he's ever been: the novelty of his association with Ipswich and Championship football is developing into something approaching normality.
Right now, this is his level. It wasn't meant to be so.
What's been going on in Suffolk? Well, for all that Keane has spoken about the need to take new lessons on board, from appointing an experienced assistant to spreading the net wider in terms of player recruitment, little has changed really. His pre-season transfer activity has perpetuated the feeling that he is too loyal to a 'better the devil you know' approach when it comes to recruitment. They are new faces to Ipswich, yet familiar ones to Keane.
Thus far, he has signed young Irishman Conor Hourihane, who was coming through the ranks at Sunderland when Keane was in charge. He has splashed out €250,000 for 34-year-old Mark Kennedy, a 'real man' according to his former international colleague.
This week, he has completed the signature of goalkeeper of Martin Fulop from, you guessed it, Sunderland, and he is also trying to rush through the capture of Michael Chopra, an employee of Cardiff following an unremarkable stint under you know who at Sunderland. A move for Lee Carsley failed for personal reasons.
Given his reservations about the mentality of the modern professional, Keane is obviously determined to know the character of fresh entrants to his dressing-room. But while other managers use their contacts to snare new talent, the man in the East Anglia hotseat rigidly prefers the contents of his own black book.
The appointment of an experienced No 2 was supposed to make life easier and, in this regard, circumstances have worked against him.
Brendan Rodgers, the ex-Watford and Reading manager who is highly regarded within the game, was earmarked for the role. And then, the aforementioned positive reputation secured him the offer of the Swansea hot-seat, an opportunity which he grabbed with both hands.
Keane duly added ex-Liverpool defender Gary Ablett to his coaching staff, only for fate to make a cruel intervention.
Ablett has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is in hospital undergoing treatment. While he recuperates, Keane will be short of supportive experience on the sideline.
On the pitch, he has been hinting towards a blooding of youngsters due to circumstances. Connor Wickham, a target for numerous Premier League forces, was Ipswich's star last season and there is further pressure on their well-regarded academy to produce talent, with a lack of strength in depth in the first-team dressing-room.
There is a degree of bemusement in Suffolk that Keane's most expensive purchase this summer has been Fulop, a goalkeeper, when Brian Murphy performed so competently between the sticks after his January arrival from Bohemians.
In other areas of the pitch, there are glaring deficiencies. With Wickham injured and Daryl Murphy -- on loan last season -- now with Celtic, they are extremely short in the striking department.
Keane's hate-hate relationship with Owen Garvan is over, with the Irish U-21 international dispatched to Crystal Palace for a sum of €250,000 -- a '0' short of the price-tag that would have been placed on the Dubliner 18 months ago. It means that he is missing a bit of creativity in the engine-room.
So, in that context, it's hardly surprising that there's been a distinct lack of the bullish talk which filled the build-up 12 months ago, when Keane was sure of his ability to construct a side to steamroll the second tier in the manner which he did at Sunderland in his first season in the dug-out four years ago.
By now, he would have expected to be rubbing shoulders with the elite. Not receiving a vote of confidence from Dion Dublin.
"Roy Keane is a good friend of mine and we speak every so often," revealed Dublin this week, in an admission that will have come as a surprise to many people -- possibly even Keane himself.
"I was with Roy at Manchester United and Celtic so we spent a lot of meals out, just the two of us chatting over football and what he wanted to do. He will succeed. I can safely say, 100pc, that Roy Keane will do very well -- there is no question about that whatsoever.
"Roy doesn't realise it, but he is very similar to Alex Ferguson and it is going to go his way."
Alas, there is no guarantee that Ipswich's owner Marcus Evans shares the same certainty, with the feeling in Suffolk that a rocky start to the campaign will leave his finger hovering over the eject button.
The fact that nobody would be surprised is a damning indictment of Keane's current standing. That's why today is more than the dawn of another season. Instead, he has arrived at the crossroads.