Saturday 16 December 2017

Life's no joke when the only hot seat left is in a TV studio

Dion Fanning

When it was all going wrong at Sunderland, Roy Keane lashed out at Ellis Short, "the American fella".

They had wanted a manager to brighten up the dressing room, it was said. Keane had a view on that. "If they wanted them smiling all the time, they should have employed Roy Chubby Brown."

Keane was giving Sunderland a choice: it was either his way or Roy Chubby Brown's way.

Keane's failures in management can probably be explained by this straw man argument. If you think the alternative to your ferocious style is Roy Chubby Brown then you are likely to be hardened in your worldview.

If Pascal Chimbonda is providing the resistance then it would take a man of great imagination to consider that compromising is anything but a sop to the community calling for the populist appointment of Roy Chubby Brown.

Keane couldn't help but view compromise as weakness and the machinations of football as nothing less than betrayal.

Short didn't buy into his myth and Keane has always relied on the myth more than he let on. Ellis Short acted again last week and it was said that he was again removed from the swirl of football talk when the time came to sack Steve Bruce.

Sunderland stopped off at Ricky Sbragia along the way -- which can be dismissed now but at the time was viewed as another element in the betrayal -- before arriving at Bruce.

He was attractive to those who remembered Keane. One employee remarked that it was nice to be able to say the same things to a manager on different days and get more or less the same reaction. With Keane, anything was possible. Sunderland didn't employ Roy Chubby Brown (Keane never loses his attention to detail in the middle of invective; viz John Scales and his two England 'B' caps, Jamie Redknapp and his record number of under 21 caps) but they did turn to Bruce.

Last week a section of Sunderland fans abused Bruce, calling him a "fat Geordie bastard". Suddenly Roy Chubby Brown didn't seem too far away.

The idea that the Sunderland supporters had turned on Bruce because of his childhood support for Newcastle can probably be disproved by looking at the table. Sunderland have fewer points now than they had three years ago when Keane walked away.

In 2008, Sunderland had played more matches, were in the relegation zone and were trying to comprehend the meaning of Keane's beard, a physical manifestation of torment and terror. Short seems like a straightforward type who probably found it difficult to comprehend the idea that a man managing his business should be treated as if he were Lear out on the heath.

Steve Bruce, on the other hand, remained agreeable until the end, a man clubs can do business with which is often seen as more important than any of the business they do.

Bruce's dismissal last week and Paul Jewell's struggles at Ipswich have led to the suggestion that Keane's qualities as a manager need to be re-assessed.

Those who talked of him needing anger management courses would probably disagree and perhaps by being bland on television Keane is allowing clubs to view him as a personable sort rather than the kind of man whose mood can only be gauged by the length of his beard.

He will, however, always be a man apart while Bruce departs buttressed by the notion that he was a victim of his place of birth rather than a victim of placing his faith in Wes Brown. Alex Ferguson advanced this theme again on Friday, suggesting Bruce's support of Newcastle was a key factor in the supporters turning on him.

Journalists, in my experience, are far more interested in the idea of a player or manager supporting a club than supporters who understand, sometimes even when they are at their most mobbish, that they will tolerate anything if it benefits their team. Players and managers consider the notion of childhood support a complete irrelevance.

Ferguson will undoubtedly be keen for Bruce to return to football, aware that in 18 games against his former captain, Manchester United have never been beaten. In a week when the future of Manchester United was on display at Old Trafford, but unfortunately playing for Crystal Palace, Ferguson needs all the help he can get.

Yet he was also advancing the cause of a friend, demonstrating his loyalty which can sometimes be hard to distinguish from ruthless control of the situation.

His friends are always grateful. He stood up for Sam Allardyce when he was sacked by Blackburn, a stance that was correct in principle but which would have denied us the glorious reign of Steve Kean.

Kean has lasted longer than Bruce, which would have seemed remarkable at nearly any point in the last six months, and there is a chance he might last longer than the Euro, which says something about Kean, Venky's and the single currency.

The situation is, of course, fluid. Kean is dealing with an audience that may be as volatile as the markets, but perhaps not so temperamental. The markets, they tell us, don't like uncertainty -- although they should have got used to it by now -- while Blackburn fans don't mind uncertainty, they just don't like Steve Kean.

They were ready to protest again yesterday, refusing to be silenced by Kean's signing of a new and improved contract. In fact, it has only made things worse.

Kean had stated that the time was not right for a new deal before deciding a day later that the time was now right for a new deal.

He may be suited to management with his pragmatic approach to everything. He has now incorporated the fans' hostility (they began chanting 'Kean Out' after 12 seconds last weekend) into his matchday routine and I bet he would pin it up on the dressing room wall if he could.

Kean is on the outside and will find it hard to get another job. When Sunderland employed Roy Keane, they were being bankrolled by Anglo Irish and the Drumaville boys were whooping it up in the bar. Those days aren't coming back for anyone and Keane, too, might never get a chance like that again.

Sunderland wanted Martin O'Neill back then too. He will adapt and he won't be cowed. They can talk up his childhood adoration of Charlie Hurley all they like; he knows it won't make a difference.

Bruce will be okay. He's on the inside in football's closed world and he'll be back. The excuses won't be as convenient when it goes wrong next time.

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