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Maybe he failed to prepare

Had a couple of results been different last week, it would have been Mick McCarthy rather than his old nemesis Roy Keane who got sacked.

And we all know what would have happened then, don't we? Keane would have been out of the traps like a greyhound after a hare to dance on McCarthy's grave. There'd have been a few digs at the Wolves boss and perhaps the statement that Mick had proved he'd always be a failure.

Keane's surprisingly durable corps of camp followers would have greeted these comments with the usual pseudo-sombre prose they reserve for relaying statements from the Mayfield Prophet, the kind of stuff which ends, "Mick wasn't good enough. Roy saw that. In Saipan. So he did."

But it's Mick who has survived and Roy who's bitten the dust. After walking out on Ireland, being slung out of Old Trafford and fleeing from Sunderland, his sacking by Ipswich is the latest in a series of ignominious departures. This one, though, is different. Even Keane can't pretend that his time at Portman Road has been anything other than the most unmitigated of failures.

In the past there has always been a scapegoat to hide behind. With Ireland, the FAI was to blame. Manchester United were at fault because The Great Man's team-mates failed to live up to his uniquely high standards. Even at Sunderland, where he hastily jumped before he was pushed, Keane peddled the line that what really upset him was not the team's poor form but the relationship between club chairman Niall Quinn and owner Ellis Short. This time round, however, it will be more difficult to create a smokescreen.

Or perhaps not. Because, increasingly, Roy Keane makes me think of the great American investigative journalist Jack Anderson's comment, in relation to General Douglas MacArthur, that anyone can glory in a triumph but it takes real talent to portray a defeat as a victory. We will no doubt be hearing about how his latest departure reflects the shortcomings of the club rather than the manager.

The truth is that Ipswich Town will do better once Roy Keane is gone. That's what happened at Sunderland where Steve Bruce has proven able to ignore potential problems in the boardroom and steered the club into the top six. And at Manchester United who, since Keane got the tar for his rant about a lack of competitive spirit among his team-mates, have won the Champions League and three Premier League titles with players he criticised, Rio Ferdinand and Darren Fletcher, playing key roles. The rights and wrongs of those cases have, you would think, been proved pretty conclusively by now. Come to think of it, Ireland played a lot better without Keane in the 2002 World Cup than they did when he returned to the team under Brian Kerr. Things improve when Keane moves on.

Yet we're sure to be treated this week to more blather about how Keane's latest failure has resulted from the inability of his players to display the kind of competitive spirit which their manager alone possesses. We might even get a little sermon about how this kind of footballer is not to be found anymore in the pampered contemporary era. But that will be just Premium Grade A Bullshit. The 18 managers whose teams sit above Ipswich in the Championship table were able to find players who could do the job well enough.

For that matter, the notion of Keane as the ne plus ultra of determination makes no sense when you look at his old team-mates Ryan Giggs, two years younger than Keane, and Paul Scholes, three years younger, still excelling at the top six years after their old comrade called time on his Old Trafford career. That Giggs and Scholes have never felt the need to mouth about the supposed shortcomings of their team-mates does not render them any less ferocious as competitors. It is this ability to avoid unnecessary distractions which has enabled them to survive for so long at United.

Keane, on the other hand, has sought distraction with the single-minded intensity of an alcoholic seeking an early house. Because what is most striking about his ubiquitous media contributions is not just how mean they've been but how gratuitous. Was there any need for all those swipes at John Delaney and the FAI? Any purpose in sneering about Liam Brady's role with Giovanni Trapattoni? Did he really need to slag off Shay Given and the Irish team after their loss to France? Or rub it in to the English players after their World Cup debacle? Especially when he had enough footballing problems of his own to keep him busy.

The irony is that, despite his purported disdain for the media, Keane in recent times had become a younger version of those old windbag pros, the likes of Alan Mullery and Rodney Marsh, who function as quote factories for journalists short of something to fill out a page. He was a tabloid columnist without a column, a bullying curate eager to read people from the altar while remaining utterly ignorant of the beam in his own eye. Ipswich fans can be excused for detecting a lamentable lack of focus from the man they'd welcomed with open arms and high hopes.

Yet the cult of Roy Keane is a hardy one. And perhaps that's because it is rooted not in the undeniably wonderful things he did on the pitch but in that Saipan tantrum, an act of petulance elevated by his apologists into a noble gesture.

Why does the myth have such legs that it will likely survive the latest proof that Roy Keane is in no position to scoff from on high at the shortcomings of other managers and players? Perhaps because Saipan was one of the emblematic incidents of the Celtic Tiger era. It struck a chord with people who liked to talk about pushing the envelope while going the extra mile and thinking outside the box going forward. The asshole in every office who vacillates between putting down 'I don't suffer fools gladly' and 'perfectionism' when asked to name a weakness idolised Keane as he worshipped the likes of Seanie FitzPatrick when they talked about the size of their balls and their hatred of the old 'ah sure it'll do' attitude.'

In the end, just as Seanie and the boys did more damage than any 'ah sure it'll do' merchant could ever have done, Roy Keane proved to be a lesser manager than Mick McCarthy. That his managerial reputation plummeted in sync with the Tiger seems oddly fitting. A man who thought, or affected to think, that anything other than a World Cup victory for Ireland was a failure ended up struggling to keep his team out of the Championship relegation zone. If there was a NAMA for football managers, he'd be in it.

Then again, maybe he just failed to prepare.


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