Sport Soccer

Wednesday 24 January 2018

They may be rudderless but at least the bus will wait

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Unhappy with being substituted in a training ground game, one of the lads stormed off back to the dressing rooms. His manager asked him where he thought he was going, furious with the reaction of the player. He barked back that he wasn't prepared to stand and watch some kid take his place. A first-team regular at the time, he felt he deserved better. "Be in my office before you leave."

Not long after that exchange, the player found himself up against the wall of the office, his manager's hands wrapped around his throat. "Get your hands off me, you fucking idiot." The manager wasn't backing down. "Do you wanna be the first one to take me on? Do ya?" It was the first month of the manager's reign, and it was his first job in management. The player left the club during the following transfer window. Roy Keane has always done things his own way.

On one of the first occasions when a group rollocking was expected, he completely outwitted everyone. Sitting in the dressing room, 3-0 down at half-time, the players braced themselves for the expected onslaught. None came. Keane sat in silence for the entire break. Arms folded, legs crossed. They didn't know what was going on.

The reported joy from the Sunderland squad on hearing the news is understandable. They couldn't possibly have reacted any other way. The 'my door's always open' speech never counted for anything, from day one. Open or not, it never seemed inviting to anyone.

It was almost a week after his initial arrival before he addressed the club captain for the first time. It wasn't to touch base or to form any kind of bond. It was a chance meeting in the corridor. "Where's the kit room?" That was it.

His appointment made an immeasurable impact on the dressing room. Some players immediately felt inadequate, knowing they'd never meet the demands that would surely now be imposed on them. Others relished the opportunity to impress the man even some Man Utd players couldn't. As the club steamrolled to the Championship title, it looked as if Keane was destined to match his playing exploits with managerial ones. Predictably linked in the press to one day taking over at Old Trafford, it looked at one point that the Drumaville Consortium's gamble would continue to reap untold rewards. Desperate to lose their yo-yo club tag, survival in the Premiership was achieved first time round.

It's a funny thing in football though -- as much as results are a measure of success, they can also hide a multitude of failings. The praise he was receiving for appearing such a composed figure in public contrasted greatly to what those who worked with him were experiencing.

There was the odd outburst along the way against a variety of targets, but all were relatively measured and logical. Players turning up late to travel to games were left behind, and publicly reprimanded as a result. Players who considered the potential unhappiness of their wives in their decision to turn down a move to the club were ridiculed. Over-hyped, underperforming England players were targeted, and rightfully so. The Sunderland fans who dared to boo him recently were told off, and even the influential yet mindless Sky Sports pundits weren't spared.

Roy Keane may look back on his spell as Sunderland manager with some regrets; he may look back with none. Unable to relate in any way to the wavering levels of commitment shown by the mere mortals he found himself working with, the job must have frustrated the life out of him at times. Whether a new challenge in management is tempting, or a break from it all is preferred, Sunderland are in a remarkably healthier position now than the day he arrived and Keane is considerably more employable as a result.

What he does now is anyone's guess. With little time for the bullshit that fascinates so many, evenings spent in TV studios with Jamie Redknapp or Gary Lineker are hardly likely to appeal. Any kind of intelligent on-screen analysis of the game is confined these days to the studios of RTE, but he's even more unlikely to show up there.

The players he has left behind at Sunderland now have Dwight Yorke as their coach. Not sure if that represents progress for the club in any way, but, despite Niall Quinn's efforts, Keane has had enough. Without knowing Yorke's credentials in such a role, it would be safe to assume his approach would differ more than slightly to that of Keane. Less will be expected of the players, more leeway will be granted to them. One thing's for certain, no matter who takes over, they won't ever have to worry the bus will leave without them again.

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