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'You always remember the idiots ... Some people have short memories'

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Roy Keane's is not the first manager to lambast his home fans following in the footsteps of his mentor Alex Ferguson

Roy Keane's is not the first manager to lambast his home fans following in the footsteps of his mentor Alex Ferguson

Roy Keane's is not the first manager to lambast his home fans following in the footsteps of his mentor Alex Ferguson

Two years ago, Roy Keane was probably out walking Triggs when Niall Quinn presided over carnage on one of the most embarrassing nights for Sunderland football club (and there have been a few).

After losing their first four matches in the Championship after relegation, Sunderland lost 2-0 in a Carling Cup tie to Bury, a team then propping up the entire Football League pyramid.

That Quinn honourably stepped aside having acknowledged that his management skills were about as adequate as David Brent's and identified his estranged mucker Roy Keane to take the reins propagated a remarkable two-year fairytale.

Lolling alongside the success story has been the presence of the engaging Keane, cracking jokes and publicly relating his avuncular turns as guidance counsellor to his assorted collection of gambling, drink and fame addicts. The odd nightmares still occur though. And even if their frequency is less pronounced, Keane's eruptions remind one at once of his still inchoate managerial capability and his inability to separate emotion from emotional intelligence.

Lambasting one's own supporters is never a clever tactic, however tempting, when one has suffered the wrath of a few invective-filled mouths for 120 minutes or more.

"I thought they were poor," Keane spat. "Towards the end, booing. Half-time, booing, when there was plenty time left in the game. I have no problems with fans expressing their opinions, that's all well and good."

Offensive

Supporters are entitled to vocalise their frustrations, albeit not to an offensive degree. Keane can't really have it both ways. At Old Trafford, Keane could afford to decry the prawn sandwich scoffers and those who couldn't spell football, never mind understand it.

In Sunderland, the landscape is markedly different. Of course, beckoned by cut-price tickets, there may have been some "idiots", as Keane colourfully called them, whose sole purpose was to pour personal scorn on the manager and players.

Yet how can he begin to distinguish between this gutless type of individual and the hard-pressed, utterly real example of, for instance, a single dad at Tuesday's game? After working the night shift this loyal fan rose in the afternoon, moved heaven and earth to organise a baby-sitter and crawled through traffic only to watch two hours of dirge before reversing the Odyssey, culminating with a warning after turning up late for work.

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When the salaries of the manager and players are multiples of ordinary fans, then there are only crocodile tears available for any post-match diatribes in these situations, especially if the latest version seems to form part of a theme.

Of course, Keane is not the first to lambast loyal supporters. His mentor, Alex Ferguson, infamously lashed the Old Trafford faithful earlier this year, comparing the attendance at a victory against Birmingham to that of a "funeral".

The public outcry from supporters was swiftly manifest in the aftermath of the Scot's outburst; a similarly vocal tide of outrage has already begun to flow as furiously as the Wear.

Their admiration of Keane is bountiful, but not boundless. Especially now that Keane has expressed his determination to eradicate the recidivism within his own make-up, quite apart from that of his players.

"I think I face my biggest challenge as a manager now, 100pc," he said last Friday. "I face my biggest challenge because I've got no excuses in terms of me saying constantly for the last couple of years that we have to improve.

"I think we have improved, we have brought in good players. But good players don't make a good team and that's what's hanging over my group of players now. Can we all gel? I've got no excuses now. There's no get out, I suppose."

Even on Tuesday, the absence of an escape from responsibility seared like a burning sun through all the clouded references to the fans and his players. "As a manager, I take responsibility for that," he said. "I keep talking. I talk the talk but I need to walk the walk."

And yet, just as surely as the distress will linger with some of his players who, when given the chance to shine on Tuesday, "threw it back in my face", Keane may now have to accept that there may exist an even more damning lack of respect beyond the dug-out.

"Our players were poor but so were the crowd. I heard enough of people complaining and I won't tolerate them abusing me. Some people were targeting me but that's something I've not come into the job to accept.

Criticism

"You must understand that I appreciate criticism, constructive criticism, which I'm clearly going to receive. Trust me, my biggest critic is myself and I got my team wrong against Northampton...

"There was one idiot here three or four weeks ago too and you remember those things. We have some bloody brilliant supporters but you always remember the idiots. People have short memories."

Keane's enduring presence is a welcome boon in an era when the old-fashioned role of manager appears on the verge of extinction.

As he contemplates signing a new contract with the club, the obscenities of a few will not deafen the acclamation of thousands. But the occasional voices of disapproval serve to underline that, for all he has achieved, Keane is not yet the finished product as a manager.

And, as he has himself admitted, his time for proffering excuses has ended. Although, amidst all the hyperbole, it must be remembered that Sunderland actually did win on Tuesday night, leaving them four games away from a European spot.

All of which causes one to muse how angry might the supporters have been had Sunderland lost? And how livid might Keane have become? As sure as the fans will cheer his name against Aston Villa this weekend, any of Keane's excess rage will be easily shed.

A fax from the Trinidad and Tobago FA -- a constituent of the FIFA vice-president (or "clown" as Keane called him) -- requesting Dwight Yorke's services should suffice.


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