Roy Keane arrived at Ipswich in a blaze of publicity for Marcus Evans’s Ipswich Town following the sacking of Jim Magilton in April 2009. The fans were full of optimism despite some feeling that Keane wasn’t in the Ipswich tradition and had at times courted controversy as a player. However it was clear he was a winner and he made a success of most of his time as manager of Sunderland and what’s more – he seemed to have mellowed.
The team ended the two games of that season with two victories (including the last ever league game at Cardiff’s Ninian Park) but had a dreadful start to last season, with the first victory coming on October 31st after sixteen failures to win in league and cup! The fans remained incredibly patient and supportive throughout this difficult spell and indeed beyond. A record number of draws – 20 out of 46 matches – meant mid table, rather than meeting play-off aspirations. But it was appreciated that Keane was building his team, trimming the squad of ‘dead wood’ and adding steel and discipline, despite a mostly frustrating season with little entertainment.
A surprisingly super start to this season quickly started to slip away and Keane’s honeymoon period is now well and truly over. All of a sudden he is beginning to lose the faith of the crowd. The fans have turned too on chief executive Simon Clegg (‘lack of football knowledge’) and saviour but faceless owner Marcus Evans (‘only wanted a big name to market his brand name’). However both have stood by their manager and at the recent PLC AGM Clegg stated “We all know that Roy is a very driven individual, a very focused individual not used to accepting failure and if there’s anyone who can turn it around, Roy Keane can.” At least one Ipswich tradition survives – giving a manager time.
Aspects of Keane’s management methods are now being questioned – ruling by fear has been a theory – but not backed up with much evidence, although ex-player Jon Walters dished the dirt after he left, talking about players ‘walking on eggshells’. Poor signings have been prevalent, most notably the ineffective Lee Martin signed for over £1 million and on a four year contract. (He is currently on loan at Charlton).
Keane’s tactics, substitutions, motivational skills and over reliance on loan signings have been brought into real question and the local newspapers’ and fans’ forums have been rife with the growing calls of ‘Keane out’. The poor quality of football and lack of goals have peeved them most and attendances are dipping fast. The feat of reaching the Carling Cup semi-final has largely been ignored, almost like a sort of side-show achieved by some other local team!
However, Keane has not only been resolute but totally honest in the assessment of his underperforming team’s efforts – despite claiming when he arrived, it would be promotion in two years. Wearingly, the same excuses are trotted out. Admittedly there have been injuries to key players and with a small squad Keane has been forced to give chances to promising young players who have come through the youth team. There have been plusses from this. For instance, seventeen year old Connor Wickham has been talked about as a £10 million target for the big clubs.
On the down side Keane has also criticised the supporters for not having enough footballing knowledge, after they began to show their feelings during a dire 3-1 home defeat against Barnsley. This has not gone down well and led to the fans really turning against him. In the league, the team are on a long losing run – the defence gifting goals, the attack profligate. Confidence is low. The heavy defeat at local rivals Norwich late November was possibly the final straw.
Was Keane’s success at Sunderland just a fluke? Is he so single-minded he fails to learn from mistakes or listen to advice? Is it just that Ipswich isn’t the club for him and a variety of things including lady luck have conspired against him? Whatever happens, Keane has rarely been out of the news with the media picking up on any controversial remark. Maybe this has given the owner the publicity he wanted but so far without the essential money gained from promotion to the Premier League. The owner is a shrewd businessman and wants to make money, not massage his own ego.
Now it seems Keane’s days may well be numbered. He walked from Sunderland when things got too much. Many think pride will kick in and he won’t see out his two year contract if there isn’t a big improvement in the club’s fortunes – even if Evans doesn’t give out the P45. Nevertheless failure is alien to him, but in his post match interview after the defeat at bottom of the table Preston recently, he had the demeanour of a man on his way to the gallows. He followed this by saying, “I’ve been very lucky. I have another life outside football. My life won’t crumble on Saturday night if I lose my job. I’ve got a great life, best life ever.” Keane has amassed a huge fortune and maybe he might just want to walk his dogs full-time. Or maybe not? Some might bet on him turning things around – no matter how impossible it looks? Just a very small wager though!
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