Saying Roy Keane doesn’t do self-pity is a bit like supposing Dwight Yorke has an eye for the women.
However, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the Corkman’s plight at Ipswich Town – even if some of his sworn enemies in Ireland are probably of the view that it serves the ‘deserter’ right.
Towards the end of his time at Sunderland this column suggested that Keane had overdone the cool, calm, collected bit; that he’d be better off getting back to Mr Angry.
It’s since emerged that Keane’s claims to have been more the reflective type than a ranter and raver were somewhat wide of the mark. Behind closed doors he was still the same wildebeest it seems, carrying an air of menace with him everywhere he stepped inside the Stadium of Light.
Eventually the team couldn’t take any more of the Keane fear factor and stopped playing for him. Briefly they responded to the softly-softly approach of Ricky Sbragia, before collectively giving off the impression that they couldn’t be arsed and barely stayed up.
When Keane arrived at Portman Road just before the end of last season he said he’d learned his lessons. Soon he was giving away hostages to fortune á la Ger Loughnane’s misadventures in Galway. Promotion to the Premier League within two years or I’ll be a failure, he said.
The way things are going Ipswich could be chasing promotion next year alright – back into the Coca Cola Championship. What Town supporters wouldn’t give now for the 9th-place mediocrity that grubbily earned Jim Magilton the sack less than six short months ago.
His man-management may be suspect but I’m easily convinced that Keane is nowhere near as useless at being a boss as he looks at the minute. His luck, like his side’s defending, has been unbelievably bad so far. Though that was something he often bemoaned at Sunderland too after initially dragging them from the foot of the table and charging to the Championship title.
Momentum is everything. Had Ipswich hit the ground running back in August who knows where they might have ended up come the end of the campaign. As it is, 10 games in and with just five points to show for it, the learning curve Keane hoped to crest come May has become a desperate uphill struggle.
He needs to get decent players in, particularly defenders, and fast. The January transfer window is a long way away yet – if he makes it that far. Most people expect, based on his ‘flaky’ past form, that he’ll walk before he’s pushed. He’s certainly under huge pressure. His weekend brush with a BBC interviewer saw the Keane stare never look more chilling.
He’d already received the dreaded vote of confidence from his chairman, which he nervously laughed off as proof of his imminent demise. But if he does get the bullet chances are that Keane could be finished as a manager at 38. He’s previously made the point that Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough, his two managerial pin-ups if you like, were given their P45s before going on to greater things. Football is a different game these days, however. Indeed it’s no longer a game, but an unforgiving dog-eat-dog business. He need only ask his old Man U team-mate, Bryan Robson, new boss of Thailand.
Keane’s unnerving presence, once seen as his most compelling attribute, that ability to psyche out as well as outplay opponents and adversaries, has been rendered redundant in an age when over-paid professionals don’t respond to tough love or threats. Fail to perform and they know Keane will walk the plank, not them.
Keane’s self-confidence – and some would say self-righteousness – was the constant that drove him from a council estate in Mayfield to become captain of Manchester United and Ireland. Someone in control of his own destiny, for better or worse.
That aura is visibly diminished. Now the man who has questioned the abilities of others throughout his career is struggling to cope with the boot firmly on the other foot. I for one hope he comes out the other side smiling that mischievous smile, but he needs to hope the patience he’s so notoriously short of is in greater supply among his employers.