Sport Soccer

Saturday 25 November 2017

Aloof, intimidating approach doesn't impress players

Keane's dressing room alienation has stifled his managerial career, writes Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

A fter one of my many comeback attempts while in training at Sunderland, the physio called myself and one of the other lads into his office. He had a message from the manager for us both.

We had just completed our first few days of full squad training, and it was the first time Roy Keane had seen us back in action. Eagerly awaiting his input, we were a little surprised with the feedback we were given. The message was simple. "No more fucking leggings at this club. It's no coincidence the lads who wear them are always injured."

It seemed he had focused on our choice of attire and cared little for anything else we had done. That my performance didn't register was understandable. I was there as an unsigned outsider on a personal crusade to defy medical science and prove I could cope with the demands of full training once again. I found it amusing, if anything.

The other player reacted differently. He was club captain at the time and felt he deserved more. Keane made no effort to interact in any way with him and offered no words of encouragement on his return. He hadn't been in management long at the time, but his manner in dealing with players varied little after that.

It may amuse or impress people to learn of such idiosyncrasies, but the view from the dressing room of Keane was often one of bemusement, and frustration. When instruction or direction was needed one day, he opted instead to aim a karate-style kick at the tactics board. During one half-time break when the team was trailing 3-0, his decision to sit arms-folded in a chair in total silence contributed nothing to the chance of an improved second-half performance.

When one player questioned his style of management in public, he fined him heavily straight away. When another showed his disgust at not being included in a practice game, he put him up against the wall in his office and challenged him. "Go on son, be the first to take me on."

Such anecdotes feed into Keane's legend, but the players whose performances would make or break him as a manager remained unimpressed. Managers rely completely on the players' input to survive, or succeed, in their role. Keane never gave the impression he acknowledged this notion, and has paid the ultimate price as a result.

The performance of the majority of players improves if there is a belief they are appreciated by the manager. When he arrived first at Sunderland, the players wondered how they could ever impress a man so frustrated by the limits of some of his former team-mates at Manchester United. Some saw that as a challenge and trained with greater intensity than ever before. Others, reluctant to work under a man so intolerant of imperfections, set their hearts on a move at the earliest opportunity. I have no doubt the dressing room at Ipswich reacted similarly. The Ipswich CEO was diplomatic in his reply to questions about Keane's inability to manage players on a personal level. "Every manager has their own approach." That's true, but very few are as aloof, intimidating and critical.

He's one of seven managers to have lost their jobs since New Year's Day -- 24 have gone since the start of the season. Most have attributed their dismissal to poor results, and Keane did the same. It's as if they see no other measure of their talents. It may be that simple in their eyes, but the complexities of the role can reveal limitations long before a ball is kicked each weekend. For all of his flaws as a manager, I believe it is wrong to say he will struggle to find work again. After all, this is a business in which Steve Staunton can get offered roles, so you would assume he has little to fear there.

He has been roundly criticised for using Ipswich press conferences to voice his feelings on a variety of issues which in no way

relate to his role there. I don't agree with that. Sharing your views on a wide range of topics doesn't get people the sack (okay, except Glenn Hoddle) and in no way reflects on their commitment to their own job. He was sacked because the board at Ipswich no longer believed he could improve their standing as a club. All things considered, it's hard to disagree.

Yet to reveal his immediate plans, it is unclear whether he wishes to pursue his career in management or take an alternative route, even temporarily. However, an interest in developing and nurturing the talents of youth players in academies or analysing games from television studios would seem unlikely. In addition, he will never get work in the FAI as long as his relationship with John Delaney remains as it is, so talk of succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni is ridiculous.

I would be amazed if this is the last we see of him in management, but the standard of club that will approach him may not be of a level he would expect. This is the second job he has left in less than ideal circumstances, so the next role he takes on needs to work out. Even in football management, there's a limit to the amount of times you can fail.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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