THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 3 October ~

Nineteen years ago Mark Robins scored a goal for Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup and saved Alex Ferguson's job. Ferguson went on to win every trophy English football has to offer and Robins became surplus to requirements. He left United in 1992 and journeyed through 12 clubs before beginning his managerial career. Now in charge of Barnsley, Robins could today bring an end to the career of that other powerhouse of mid-1990s Manchester United, Roy Keane. Barnsley host Keane's Ipswich this afternoon in what could prove to be a match every bit as cataclysmic for Keane as it was for his mentor two decades ago.

The pressure on Keane could not be any stronger. Ipswich’s start to the season has been catastrophic, their worst for 73 years. They are yet to win a game in the Championship and have collected only five points from their opening 11 games. Keane touted his team for a return to the Premier League, but they look more likely to end up in League One. Keane has the support of the board, claims chief executive Simon Clegg, but a defeat to Barnsley, who lie a place above the relegation zone, and Keane could face another of the unedifying exits that seem to be becoming his forte.

The defeats have taken their toll on Keane, who sounded a battered man after his side were demolished last weekend by Newcastle. "I'm doing my best but I have obviously not been good enough. For 24 hours a day I am not sleeping, I am thinking about this club," he said. Keane reflected further on his managerial career: "Maybe I was very lucky at Sunderland and I am being found out now."

Keane seemed poised or managerial greatness when he led Sunderland to promotion in his first season in charge. A great player and captain, he seemed to have all the qualities required to be a successful manager. It is ironic then that Keane's problems now seem to stem from those very characteristics that made him a great player: his drive, determination, work-rate and inability to accept defeat or compromise. Keane the player wrestled his aggression and intensity into performances that overawed the opposition. As a manager his personality has only managed to overawe his own players.

Dwight Yorke, who played alongside and under Keane, believes his style is too intimidating to achieve results: "His aura and personality are what make him such a big force in the game; they provoke a kind of fear in playing for him, a fear if you did not come up to scratch. The intensity which drove the team to those successes, however, never let up and, I think, ultimately, doomed Keano's managership. Even when we had secured promotion at the end of my first season, he wasn't satisfied. He wanted the title. He warned players he would not settle for anyone taking their foot off the pedal. It was leadership by inspiring fear."

As a great player himself, Keane is easily frustrated by performances that he would not have deemed as up to his own standard. "It was difficult for him to accept that he was not in a top-flight team that did not win the majority of its games – all that he had known at United", said Yorke. "He would join in with the five-a-sides and any player on his team who misplaced a pass or miscontrolled the ball would be subjected to a stream of vicious lecturing or abuse. It reached the stage where nobody wanted to be on the same side as him."

Keane's uncompromising character – that was both a cause and effect of his brilliance on the field – made everything around him seem not good enough. In the end, he lost trust in his players, vilified them personally, slapped his captain, kung-fu kicked tactics boards across the dressing room and eventually walked out of Sunderland to take his dogs for a stroll.

In the end, at Sunderland, as could now be the case at Ipswich, Keane seemed unable to adapt to managing lesser players. Great footballers, it seems, cannot help but see football from their own lofty position. Having understood the game intuitively, they struggle to understand the needs of players with lesser abilities. Keane relied on his unmatched snarling aggression and competitiveness, and could not cope when he found his image of the game lacking in his team-mates or players.

In a very different way, Glenn Hoddle struggled to acclimatise to players who lacked his natural talent. Hoddle admitted that as "a creative player who goes to higher levels" he struggled to get his ideas across to players with lesser talents. Tony Cascarino, who played for Hoddle at Chelsea, claimed he made "grown men feel as if they are being treated as children". David Beckham also, apparently, bore a grudge over the master-classes he was subjected to on the England training ground. Tim Sherwood, a more prosaic player, claimed Hoddle had "absolutely no man-management skills".

Roy Keane could experience a "Mark Robins moment" this afternoon, drag his managerial career back from the brink and go on to experience the greatness his former manger at Old Trafford has enjoyed since 1990. But to become a successful manager he will have to unlearn, or at least rechannel, the traits that made him a great player. That, or the managerial scrapyard of Hoddle, Graeme Souness and Terry Butcher awaits.

Comments (8)
Comment by el gato negro 2009-10-03 10:52:21

Surely the point is that Keane is not only incapable of managing "lesser" players but ANY players. Don't patronise Sunderland and Ipswich, patronise Roy Keane.

Comment by Hot Orange 2009-10-03 17:29:33

Hmm. There isn't a strong feeling amongst Ipswich supporters yet that Keane should go or will go. He's changed things around, as was necessary, and many of the new players have looked good. Ipswich have had some tough games, having already played Newcastle, WBA, Middlesbrough, Preston and Sheffield United. It feels like early days in his Ipswich career and things are very much a work in progress. I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath 2009-10-03 18:58:47

Taking five points out of a possible 33, in a season where the play-offs were the least that was expected, might have something to do with it . . .

Keane is a bully and an egomaniac, and too dim to realise that you can't manage a squad of players simply by screaming at them all the time.

Comment by Hot Orange 2009-10-03 19:34:50

Yes, I'm aware of all that. But, you know, it's a bad start - let's see how it goes from here. That's the overwhelming feeling amongst Town fans, even if many of us - including me - didn't want Keane. All I'm saying is that this "Keane on the edge" stuff doesn't reflect the prevalant mood of the fans,

Comment by Phoebe 2009-10-03 23:56:56

Quite. Some fans think he should go, but it's nowhere near as cut and dried as the media is making out. The media seem to think that Ipswich fans want instant success, but if Ipswich fans wanted instant success, they'd not be Ipswich fans, they'd follow a more glamourous, richer club instead.

If Keane's man-management was so bad, why would Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbetter uproot their families and take a drop in division and wages to go and play for him? It's almost like Dwight Yorke fell out with Keane and has books to sell. All Keane's comments recently have been how he's not done well, and he's got to improve. All the pressure is on him ,and Keane's taking all the pressure off the players.

And who says that the playoffs were the least that was expected? The national media who have no idea what this division's like? There were at least ten clubs who are "expected" to at least be in the playoffs.

Results are poor, that much is true. We need a lynchpin centre-half who can organise the defence, so that we don't leak the sort of goals that have cost so many goals in the last few games that have cost us around eight points. Keane knows that, anyone who's seen us lately knows that. The player who is supposed to fill that role was injured when Keane first arrived, and Keane has seen that he's not up to the job.

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath 2009-10-04 01:23:28

Hold on a second, did this Ipswich team not finish ninth last season under Magilton (eight points outside the play-offs), who was then shoved out the door to make way for Keane?

And now, all of a sudden, they can't win a match to save their lives, under a manager who (a) got just 15 victories out of 53 Premiership games at Sunderland despite spending about £80m or £90m on the team, and (b) is renowned for being incredibly aggressive and temperamentally unstable towards his players -- and we're supposed to think it's nothing but mere preliminary teething problems?

From ninth place to 24th in the space of six months (including a close season). That's a hell of a long way to fall.

Comment by Phoebe 2009-10-05 17:54:16

The problmes under Magilton were long term, and not obvious to people not watching us on a regular basis.

* Performances where the team would play well for 20 minutes, not once, not twice, but in 80% of the games. Most of the other games wouldn't have that. It's bad enough for a home game, but a return journey to Blackpool to see a tedious 90 minutes doesn't suddenly improve because we happenned to score one of the only shots on target, and Blackpool couldn't manage that. We're got getting the results, but the performances are there. Judging us on the Newcastle performance is way out. We're a good centre half away from stopping the stupid mistakes - which are a combination of people being caught out of position because Wrigt and McAuley can't organise a defence between them, and the inexperience of Balkestein and Tommy Smith. Keane has been trying to bring the right one in for weeks.

* Square pegs in round holes. Last season we had one natural left back (Thatcher), one natural right midfielder (Peters) and one natural left midfielder (Quinn) in the squad. None were first choice for their positions. In fact, Peters played once under Magilton last season. At left back. Quinn played more in central midfield at the expense of one of the six central midfielders Magilton had signed that were still at the club - at least one would be playing wide. David Norris was Magilton's most expensive signing at over £2m, only to be played out of position virtually every game. One thing Keane has done is play players in their natural position, and if there isn't one good enough, he's brought players in. It makes a huge difference to how the team plays. And unless we have another Newcastle horror show (and we usually have one of those a season, regardless of the manager), it's a lot better to watch.

* Fallouts between the team and the team and the management. Ipswich is a small town (40k people), the area isn't hugely populated either. When things happen at the club, word gets round fast. The players were srguing between each other on the pitch by Magilton's second game. Magilton was having secret meetings with small groups of players, and when that got out, Magilton said that he didn't have one secret meetibg, but had had several meetings with groups of six players about the future of the team. Alienating players by keeping them out of meetings is not the way to run a club. By contrast, the only account of Keane mismanaging players is coming from Dwight Yorke, a bitter ex-player who fell out with Keane at Sunderland and has a book to plug. I bet no other manager has ever shouted at their players.

The only pressure on Keane is coming from the media. The more the media push, the more the fans are getting behind him, mainly because we can see the improvements, we know what the club is like, we know that this isn't a one season job, and we're patient.

Comment by martinltalbot 2009-10-06 20:22:34

Pheobe. You talk a lot of sense. You should visit and post on TWTD too - it would be good to read some good sense there.

The problem with Keane is wound up in the pre-conceptions of him. All of the reports emanating from Portman Road (from journalists including TWTD's Phil Ham and the former local paper hack Derek Davis) is that players and staff have been much happier with Keane than Magilton, who was renowned for being harsh with players - as anyone watching him scream at them from the touchline would testify. I was a Magilton supporter until he left - but felt that three years was probably enough time.

Keane, for me, has big potential as a manager, but his reputation has raised the expectation that he is an egomanic, ranting psycho, when his performance in interviews indicate a far more reflective, modest man. Many of his utterances have been misconstrued or dramatised in a way which would never be experienced by any other manager.

I have no doubt that he WON'T walk - as has been speculated in the media - having moved his family to Suffolk in the summer. Indeed, he won't be sacked either, this season, unless Evans and/or Clegg feel that relegation is on the cards. The promotion plan is for next season and that is still possible.

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