Paul Lambert backing lighter side of Roy Keane to lift air of doom and gloom at Villa Park
Alex Ferguson describes him in his autobiography as “an intimidating, ferocious individual” yet, according to Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert, Roy Keane is showing his lighter side as he helps to lift the grey clouds above Villa Park.
If Keane’s appointment last month as Lambert’s assistant manager was an intriguing development, photographs of the Irishman grinning as he was embraced by Villa’s lion mascot before the friendly with Parma last weekend raised even more eyebrows. Yet Lambert stressed that there was much more to Keane than his tough-guy image suggests, hailing his positive impact since replacing the sacked Ian Culverhouse.
“He has given everybody a boost, he has given the whole football club a good lift,” said the Villa manager. “People probably see Roy as this stern-faced guy who doesn’t really laugh, but you get to know him and he likes a good laugh. He is not like people portray him.”
Although Keane has been working as Martin O’Neill’s assistant with the Republic of Ireland since November, this is his first club role since his dismissal by Ipswich Town in January 2011. A view of Keane’s managerial career with Sunderland and Ipswich espoused in that Ferguson book is that he “needed to spend money to achieve results” yet Villa have little of that right now as owner Randy Lerner – now taking a more hands-on role after CEO Paul Faulkner’s departure – continues his search for a buyer.
Instead Keane’s coaching acumen will likely be tested to the full at a club whose summer transfer business had been underwhelming prior to the arrival of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez. He will add further experience along with Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson, Aly Cissokho and Joe Cole who have also been added – yet there remain doubts over the future of the Dutch centre-back Ron Vlaar, an impressive World Cup performer who is entering the final year of his contract.
Whatever happens with Vlaar, Lambert’s transfers mark a shift in strategy after two seasons of recruiting promising youngsters. “They’re not young any more so you can’t keep going for that excuse,” added the Scot, who has also recalled his so-called “Bomb squad” of Alan Hutton, Darren Bent and Charles N’Zogbia – the high-earners he inherited and tried to offload. “They haven’t been one ounce of bother,” said Lambert, who today is expected to give Hutton a first Villa start since May 2012.
Lambert hopes the positive atmosphere created on the pre-season trip to the States will help. It was in Texas that three players – Bent, Cole and midfielder Fabian Delph – attended a church service at George Foreman’s chapel, meeting the boxing great-turned-minister. That is a transformation to rival a certain Irishman’s conversion into thoughtful TV pundit and wisecracking assistant coach, though the question now is whether Keane can help Villa effect the transformation they so sorely need.