Tuesday 12 December 2017

Keane must learn to compromise

Corkman will have to accept fickle nature of modern game if he’s to end two-year management exile

THE two-year anniversary of Roy Keane's sacking from Ipswich is approaching and, with Nottingham Forest opting for Alex McLeish and Blackburn focusing on other candidates, his wait for employment is set to continue.

When the Tractor Boys presented Irish football's love/hate figure with a P45 on January 7, 2011, his natural instinct was to take a break and prepare for the next move.

That hiatus has lasted for longer than expected, reaching the point where long-time associates of the 41-year-old are beginning to wonder if management still holds the attraction that it once did.

The suspicion is born from the tragi-comic nature of the clubs that tend to be looking for a new man on a regular basis. Keane would recognise the potential of Blackburn and, particularly, Forest but their preference for alternative options at this juncture hardly represents a major setback to his ambition.

Their erratic behaviour in this festive period sets them out as exactly the kind of entity that he would try to avoid in an ideal world. In football, the out-of-work have to weigh up the merits of a job against the level of their desperation.

Keane has received offers during his exile, with the red carpet treatment from Turkish Super League club Kasimpasa the highest-profile flirtation. Ultimately, he decided that the cap didn't fit and that the percentage call would be to wait for the right opportunity to come around. In other words, a challenge that ticks all the boxes.

Realistically, though, a club which ticks every box will rarely indulge in the traditional post-Christmas sacking frenzy. The treatment of Sean O'Driscoll and Henning Berg this week has demonstrated, yet again, that the profession can be deeply unfair.

To get work, a manager with a question mark over his head must accept the madness which comes with the territory. The managers who live perpetually on the merry-go-round have long since accepted the uncertain terms and conditions.

Some are adept at finding a home. McLeish, Forest's chosen successor to O'Driscoll, has a strong negotiating team in his corner. He shares the same agent as Steve Bruce, another boss who rarely stays out of work for too long.

Bruce is doing a fine job with Hull at the moment, yet Forest fans are less than enthused about McLeish's arrival, especially as the perception of his approach to the game would appear at odds with O'Driscoll's expansive philosophy, which allowed creative talents like Andy Reid to flourish.

Mark Hughes, ably assisted by his resourceful agent Kia Joorabachian – he of Carlos Tevez fame – is a front-runner for the Blackburn gig, although Kevin MacDonald replaced him at the head of the market last night. The positive view of Hughes' leadership credentials is built on his previous exploits at Blackburn, but his subsequent trials and tribulations don't appear to have weakened his stock.

After receiving a handsome pay-off from QPR for leaving them bottom of the table with some ludicrously overpaid misfits, his reward could be a hasty return to a seven-figure salary.

Keane, on the other hand, has been out of work for so long that people have forgotten what brand of play he favours and focus on his failure at Ipswich as opposed to his early impact at Sunderland. Sadly, the legacy of his time in management is a series of highly entertaining 'Sky Sports News' soundbites rather than the football itself.

The paradox here is that while the Corkman's name and aura is a magnet for publicity, he is reluctant to engage in the self-promotion that is sometimes necessary to stay in the inner circle.

That's not to say that his advisors have been shy about making potential suitors aware of his interest; he was keen on the Forest job last summer and the Blackburn vacancy in October and while the respective parties were aware, they went with O'Driscoll and Berg.

Keane's principled approach to the courtship process puts him in the minority. He is opposed to speaking to clubs when they have a man in place, and doesn't want to be one of those opportunists who turns up to watch a side whose manager is under pressure.


His visit to the City Ground on St Stephen's Day was planned weeks ago, and there was no sense either before the game or in the immediate aftermath that O'Driscoll's position was up for grabs.

After all, the 4-2 win over Leeds moved them into eighth spot in the table, just one point off the play-offs. Rather than being a sign of his intentions, Keane's presence was pure coincidence and reports that he attended Forest's meeting with Watford last Saturday are incorrect; he took in Wigan's meeting with Arsenal.

The Corkman's adherence to his beliefs might be admirable, yet the fear is that it makes him less employable in an era where owners want managers who indulge them.

When he reflected on his time at Ipswich, Keane pinpointed his differences with chief executive Simon Clegg as a key factor and stressed that he wouldn't take another challenge before meeting the relevant hierarchy to ascertain if they could have an amicable relationship.

It's hard to imagine him being too enamoured with the Venky's regime at Blackburn, especially their chief football adviser Shebby Singh, an ex-Malaysian footballer who came to the attention of the Blackburn owners through his work as a controversial television pundit in his homeland.

His penchant for eccentric behaviour is such that few eyebrows were raised when Singh himself entered the bookies' list as a possible replacement for Berg.

Down the road at Forest, the Kuwaiti top brass opened themselves to ridicule by admitting in an official club statement that the popular O'Driscoll was "unlucky" to be relieved of his duties.

Faced with a barrage of Twitter abuse, chairman Fawaz al-Hasawi tried to placate the masses by revealing that he had made contact with a Premier League manager and would be meeting them within 24 hours.

The hapless populist attempts merely exacerbated the public anger, especially when the net result was McLeish, although it must be acknowledged that the arrival of the Al Hasawi family was greeted with excitement because it offered a sleeping giant the chance for investment to bring them back to the top table.

They are, of course, entitled to do what they want when they are pumping in large sums, but that's a debate for another day.

What is apparent is that these people operate under a different heading to the good 'football people' that Keane would prefer to work alongside. He once raged about the corporate Old Trafford clientele who couldn't even spell football, yet the reality is that the modern boardroom is packed with the kind of character that he scathingly dismissed in his pomp.

If he wishes to hop on board the carousel, Keane will have to compromise his principles and take a crash course in grinning and bearing it. Otherwise, his future lies on the couch.

Irish Independent

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