Monday 23 April 2018

Roy Keane: Vulnerable, naive and wrong

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS is the week where the cult of Roy Keane has taken an unprecedented battering. Never before has the Corkman seemed so naive, so vulnerable, so wrong.

Here is a man who has spent the majority of his working life in control. People jumped to his beat. Through all the dramas, the tumult of Saipan, the removal from Manchester United and the exit from Sunderland, he managed to retain his aura.

This is a whole new level, a particular kind of humiliation. Spending a week preparing for an FA Cup tie, apparently unaware that his employers were getting ready to push the eject button and call in Paul Jewell. Paul Jewell? Has it come to this?

Keane lost control at Ipswich because he never really had it. Mistakenly, he appears to have clung to the notion that his reputation would allow him to abide by a code that is impractical in that sphere. He refused to change, and naively believed that he didn't need to.

There's something horribly ironic about someone who decries the Irish fondness for moral victory leaving a club with only his honour intact.

In time, he might rock the boat and expand on the frustrations that were hinted at before Christmas. But you can't imagine Keane pulling a Sam Allardyce and joining Sky Sports News for a fireside chat.

Let's not get drawn away from the facts. Keane was shown the door because of a miserable run of results. A record of 10 defeats in 14 league games speaks for itself. Nevertheless, the suspicion remains that he could have made things an awful lot easier for himself if he'd properly addressed some of the issues which also blighted his time at Sunderland.


Down in the Championship, there's a greater need to cajole the best out of flawed individuals. Keane, being Keane, went for the 'rule by fear' option. It was never going to remain in-house. He even lived up to the stereotype by donning military gear and bringing his squad on an assault course as a getting -to-know-you exercise.

The little details, like banning high fives between players, transformed the comfort zone shattering into a source of mirth when his back was turned. He inspired fear without gaining respect.

Some will say it's a sad reflection on the modern player and, again, it's an argument with moral foundation. Keane doesn't ply his trade in a moralistic world, though. Considering he acutely remembered his own grudges, he can hardly be too surprised to learn that one of his ex-players was happily telling friends yesterday that he was preparing to crack open a bottle of champagne.

Keane has struggled to grasp that he was managing at a level where even if you loath a player, there is sometimes a need to tolerate and massage an ego. Perhaps, he's correct to be outraged by the uppity youngsters who, compared to Keane, have done nothing in the game -- to coin one of his famous put-downs.

He will always find a sympathetic audience to agree with that point.

But his inability to bite his tongue and accept that unsettling reality weakened his position. Players talk and, when defeats stack up, people listen.

The 39-year-old operates in a tight circle of pals, from which little seeps out. Yet the impression exists within the English game that, in certain respects, Keane was guilty of sticking too resolutely to his own rules when it came to aspects of his job. Specifically, the area of player recruitment.

He largely shunned the temptation to indulge agents, and abided by the official practice of approaching managers to register interest in acquiring an individual's services. Frequently, he missed out on leading targets. In part, due to the club's finances and location, but also because the successful party were just that little bit cuter when it came to powers of persuasion. Hence the over-reliance on old pals or loan signings.

That said, he did manage to push through some ill-advised purchases, although his supporters argue that he did a reasonable job of balancing the books; the initial £2.75m sale of Jonathan Walters to Stoke helped offset his purchases last summer.

The writing was on the wall when he was unable to progress the planned captures of Andy O'Brien and Kevin Kilbane when the transfer window re-opened last week. Ipswich's reluctance to loosen the purse strings now makes sense; they weren't going to write a cheque for a manager whose P45 they were preparing.

Keane released a statement yesterday through the League Managers Association, revealing his disappointment at being unable to bring the team to Chelsea for tomorrow's FA Cup tie, or to Arsenal for the Carling Cup semi final; the run to which stands as his most notable achievement in East Anglia.

In some distant day, it wouldn't be a great surprise if he recounted his time at the club and questioned the level of funds that were actually available. For now, the tale of the break-up is that of an amicable parting. Evans phoned Keane to tell him the news and, subsequently, chief executive Simon Clegg and the Irishman exchanged e-mails.

We don't know if Keane watched Clegg's morning press conference, but it's a doubtful he would have been impressed by the CEO moving on from describing it as a sad day for the club to quipping that he was watching the betting market revolving around the identity of the new man 'with interest.'

Football rolls on relentlessly, however. Lest we forget, Keane was appointed Ipswich boss in the same week that his predecessor, Jim Magilton, got the bullet. That's the unpleasant nature of his business. The most surprising aspect of his demise is that after famously preaching the message of preparation, he failed to recognise what he required to succeed.

Irish Independent

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