Sunday 18 August 2019

Comment: Pundit role won't help Roy Keane back to the Premier League pantomime

Roy Keane’s role as Martin O’Neill’s assistant has put him back in the managerial spotlight
Roy Keane’s role as Martin O’Neill’s assistant has put him back in the managerial spotlight
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Tomorrow will mark the eight-year anniversary of Anthony Stokes coming off the bench to score an injury-time winner for Sunderland in a season that ultimately proved to be a successful battle against relegation.

It's not an anniversary that will be noted, or even noticed, by those who were involved although Roy Keane may be wondering where that time has gone.

"To score so late in the game was a great bonus for us," said Keane after the game. "We have scored a lot of late goals but our priority was to keep a clean sheet because at home we'll always create chances and we got that bit of luck today."

Like the game itself, there's nothing particularly remarkable about Keane's quotes although the absence of self-praise is notable given that they had been hammered 7-1 the previous week by Everton and the manager had introduced centre-forward Stokes for right-winger Carlos Edwards with 12 minutes remaining to win the game.

Contrast that with the current Sunderland manager who last week saw his team keep two clean sheets and pick up six points to move them up to 17th in the Premier League, one place higher than they were when Keane resigned. (The pointless anniversary of which is seven years next Friday).

Their victory against Crystal Palace, according to Sam Allardyce, wasn't a "bonus" or any "bit of luck". It came courtesy of a "classic counter-attack goal" in which they won possession high up the pitch - but if Allardyce had planned a counter-attack in which the opposition goalkeeper and centre-back make a complete mess of things allowing the striker to tap into an empty net, he really is a greater genius than we - or even he - thought.

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane

There was also some elaboration about how well the system of three centre-backs had worked, a tactic which he liked when he previously tried it against Everton, despite the fact that Everton won 6-2. The reason it didn't work that day, Allardyce explained, was that the players had been too gung-ho in going for victory when they equalised to make it 2-2 after 50 minutes.

The translation being that conceding three goals in the next 12 minutes had nothing to do with the manager's tactics.

On Match of the Day, Alan Shearer revealed that he spoke to Allardyce on Tuesday about their plans to beat Palace and Allardyce told him that they planned to stop Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, which Shearer contrasted to the lack of ideas shown by Newcastle in their defeat to Palace this weekend. For a mundane, albeit crucial victory, Allardyce has got some mileage out of it.


That Allardyce is prone to self-praise is not a revelation but, while Keane as a player was always sure of his own worth, he almost seems apologetic about praising his own managerial career which boils down to promotion with Sunderland, keeping them in the Premier League for a season, then an unsuccessful stint with Ipswich.

It's not a stunning CV but, when a successful role as assistant manager with Ireland is factored into the mix, it's one that should at least get him a fair hearing next summer, or whenever he decides he wants to return to club management. He uses the phrase "half-decent" to describe his record but, on results alone, it's probably better than that.

And yet, the caricature of the angry man who cuts down players at the knees with pointed criticism, often about irrelevant and petty things, is never far away.

After seeing - or staying awake long enough to see - Manchester United draw with PSV in the Champions League, Keane picked out Wayne Rooney's performance and the "nonsense" of his appearance at a wrestling event. "I always question certain players what are they doing off the field," said Keane.

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"Last week I saw him slapping a wrestler and I'm thinking, 'Why is he getting involved in all that nonsense?' There's no benefit to him. I'd have a look at that side of it.

"It's certainly not helping him. I wouldn't begrudge him going out and enjoying himself, but if you're not at it yourself, you've got to have a look and lead by example. He doesn't look sharp, he looks awful."

As is often the case with Keane, he has a valid point but it's a little like having right of way while driving a car when a truck is coming towards you. It's not much comfort being right if your car ends up under the truck.

Keane has noticeably turned down the controversy dial in his press conferences with Ireland but being a pundit - albeit a perceptive one - isn't doing much to persuade the British audience, including chairmen and players within the game, that the caricature is wrong.

Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were in Keane's crosshairs last year while Arsenal have been targeted for taking selfies and being happy with finishing fourth.

The word "nonsense" appears 10 times in Keane's latest book while "bullshit" only features three times, but it's no secret that he has little time for either.

Keane's success as a player came under Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson while his partnership with O'Neill has reignited his managerial fire. All three were of similar character with traditional football values as the cornerstone of their philosophy.

At times, Keane sounds like a 64-year-old trapped in the body of somebody 20 years younger and if he has no desire to engage with bullshit and nonsense, managing in the Premier League might not be for him.

Dressing room selfies immediately after matches, the cult of the manager, Snapchat controversies, WhatsApp groups, subs throwing their bibs away when they don't get on and England captains slapping wrestlers are all part of the pantomime.

It might be nonsense, but constantly criticising it won't get Keane an invite back.

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