Sunday 20 January 2019

James Lawton: The two clubs who can benefit from Roy Keane's undoubted managerial qualities

Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill are plotting a course for Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill are plotting a course for Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign. Photo: Sportsfile

James Lawton

So it's official. Roy Keane yearns to reinvent himself as a football manager capable of reproducing some of his impact as one of the most dominant players the game has ever known.

Some of what he has to do to make the ambition work after his loss of credibility first at Sunderland, then Ipswich, is surely relatively easy, starting with a visit to his local barber's shop and the removal of the beard that makes him look rather more like Rip Van Winkle than a serious rival to the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp. Most importantly, of course, he has to acknowledge that at 44 he has some vital ground to make up.

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It is on the terrain of human relations, which in football like the rest of life today make rather more subtle demands than in that time when his stormy brow-beating of his Manchester United team-mates - not to mention opponents and officials - was such a powerful factor in the success of the equally dogmatic Alex Ferguson.

In the last days of his failed regime at Ipswich it was plain that for Keane such unfettered self-belief was a time-expired asset.

Roy Keane wasn't averse to a tough tackle

Back in the day at Old Trafford, his raging against the imperfect psychology of some of his team-mates was commonplace. He railed against their complacency, their devotion to the good things that new wealth had brought. They had been distracted from their central purpose of winning football matches.

But of course, he eventually pushed it too far and even Ferguson felt he had reach out for the bowl of water and the towel to wipe his hands of a turbulent disciple.

Now the new challenge is to re-represent himself to clubs - Everton and Aston Villa inevitably spring to mind - so desperately in need of genuine and rigorous leadership.

That Keane still carries such potential is evident enough in his contribution to the Irish national team under the more worldly command of Martin O'Neill. Keane, it is indeed clear, still knows better than most of his professional colleagues how to identify a crucial defect in a team or a player.

Roy Keane with Niall Quinn in 2006

But then of course the trick is to put it right. It is one he signally failed to produce in his decline at Sunderland and his hapless retreat from Ipswich.

His complaints at United had become worn out in an age when even the most modestly talented pros had lifestyles he could only have dreamt about when he wrote letters of application to leading English clubs as a boy in Cork.

Keane may still carry some of the formidable qualities that made him such a ferocious and successful leader on the field but such inspiring character does not inevitably, we have seen often enough, translate into a similarly persuasive influence on the touchline. Yet Keane's desire to win, his enduring anger at signs of questionable resolve, might still surely create at least an echo or two in clubs currently bereft of such qualities.

Given the necessary refinement, it might have created a little thunder in the hearts and minds of an Everton team which this week surrendered so meekly to Klopp's Liverpool that the face of their shattered manager Roberto Martinez resembled a professional death mask long before the finish.

The visible steel and the defiance of a Keane might certainly have done something to ease an overwhelming sense of desolation.

Keane's greatest challenge has for long time been to dress his rage to succeed in more acceptable - and fashionable - clothes.

Plainly he will never be a Klopp, never be the expansive, amiable messiah who more than any other contemporary coach, with the possible exception of the eccentric Claudio Ranieri, has the knack of mixing high ambition with a genuine rapport with his players.

Jurgen Klopp has suffered a number of injury blows in recent games

When Klopp made Borussia Dortmund such a force in the German and European game, his affection for his men was as tangible and convincing as it was tactile. He was said to have wept over Manchester United's failure to properly exploit the fighting instincts of his former player, Japanese international Shinji Kagawa.

It is not easy to imagine similar evidence of compassion in the eyes of Roy Keane. But, an understanding of a particular player's potential, and best way of developing it, is almost certainly another matter.

Keane doesn't have the reach of Klopp's nature, or the impressive control of the brilliant architect of the Tottenham surge, Pochettino. But what he retains, you have to suspect, is the desire that so often galvanised him in the cause of both United and Ireland.

It means that his biggest remaining challenge is to convince any club showing even passing interest in his surviving aura that he does have the capacity to find another dimension, most crucially one that might just carry him into the hearts rather than merely the fears of new charges.

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Such a promise would, you have to believe, have engaged the interest of the Everton director who stalked out of the surrender at Anfield before it had run its full and shocking course. There was a time before the hard and bitter rupture of his relationship with Ferguson when many saw his natural destiny as the manager's office at Old Trafford, but that particular bridge was burned beyond repair. Still, it is worth remembering that no-one could have done more to implant some of the most competitive values at England's most successful club.

This certainly gave weight to his declaration this week that he didn't see himself as a number two for the rest of his football life. Perhaps more significantly still, he also said that a man had to duty to learn from his own mistakes. In Keane's case there is a substantial check list, starting with overweening arrogance and a failure to understand that the art of managing men is painted in varying shades this side of dark anger and disbelief at their inadequacies.

Yet he is plainly right to wonder what might have been - and what could still be. Van Winkle's beard, of course, grew through a 20-year-sleep. Keane may have had a more urgent wake-up call. Certainly it provides time enough for a smooth shave and, who knows, a chance to remake what was once one of football's most formidable names.

It is perhaps the least he owes himself.

Irish Independent

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