Daniel McDonnell: 'Roy Keane's Sky cameo shines light on the obstacles to a working return to football'
It was hard not to be drawn in by the Sky Sports coverage of Liverpool and Manchester United on Sunday. Roy Keane's presence on the panel was the selling point.
This was the perfect occasion for his punditry. It's a game and rivalry he can speak with authority about. And in the company of Graeme Souness, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, he was comfortable. Four men who had spent the bulk of their playing careers at the right end of the table, conditioned to the demands of matches of this magnitude.
Keane's response to the outcome wasn't surprising. He's had a few digs at Jose Mourinho in the past and he was critical of the under-fire boss towards the end of the broadcast, but the main source of his ire was the United players. The individuals who, in his opinion, were not good enough to wear the shirt.
He stopped short of singling certain performers out, with a very general tone to his comments rather than a personalised slant, yet we were offered an insight into the frustration that the Corkman feels watching those who fail to meet the standards.
Keane stressed that he had no issues with their commitment; he believed that they were trying his best. Ultimately, his conclusion was that they just weren't up to it, and that management needed the support to go out and find better ones. It was as simple as that.
This would tally with everything we've heard about Keane's view of the Irish squad he has left behind; the obvious difference being that Martin O'Neill and himself had no power to recruit.
The limitations of the group frustrated the 47-year-old and he found it hard to disguise his disdain. He was frustrated in his last club job at Ipswich too, with their spending levels limited compared to the freedom he was given at Sunderland.
Keane was sympathetic to Mourinho, believing he was hamstrung by the options at his disposal whereas the obvious counterpoint is to query if he should be doing more with them. Sounds familiar again.
Read more here:
- Keane insists Pogba is ‘letting manager down’ in withering Sky attack
- Roy Keane slams Man United: 'If you came down from the moon today, you'd be saying they're an average team'
Great players can find it hard to relate to triers that can only do so much. It's fair to say that Souness and Keane would have a lot in common. Two accomplished midfielders with a fiery streak that went straight into management and found it a tougher gig; on the pitch they were always in control. On the sideline, it's no longer as straightforward.
There was a moment of unintentional humour on Sunday. In the context of discussing the unhappy United dressing-room, he turned to Keane and made reference to how falling out with one or two players can easily have a negative impact on the rest of the group. The unwitting WhatsApp star of 2018 didn't really embrace the point.
Souness has been out of management for 12 years now, and is now impressively comfortable in the TV studio. The travails of his days in the dugout has largely been forgotten; he recently spoke openly about the mistakes he made at Liverpool. His status within the industry has been restored.
Overall, it must be said that he fared better in management than Keane has to date, but he does appear to be at ease with himself. By contrast, Keane is at a crossroads.
He has spoken of a desire to get back into the game as a number one, yet it's unlikely that he will receive an offer to work at the highest level. In reality, his most likely avenue is a gig in the Championship or a quirky opportunity overseas where his name still has major pulling power.
Either way, it will bring him into everyday contact with players who are nowhere near the level of the current Manchester United squad - and we know what Keane thinks of them. There's a lot of interest in what he has to say about them too.
Which brings us back to the crossroads. Keane is strong currency in the media world at the moment. He was the star of ITV's World Cup coverage, even if he was the grouchy figure that riled sections of the English public. Sky shelled out to bring him in for a marquee match, and the traction he generated makes the case for greater involvement.
There is a theory that Keane would be a more effective manager the higher he worked up the food chain. The logic being that the better the player, the less likely they were to test his patience. It's a view that can be chipped away at.
After all, his scathing view of Jesse Lingard's clothing chain, and Paul Pogba's Instagram persona, suggest that it's the idiosyncrasies of the modern footballer at all levels which wears him down.
The reality for Keane now is that he will have to adapt if he wants to work in the game again. Punditry might just be the one remaining area within football where he really does have the freedom to be himself.