Monday, December 08, 2008

Farewell for now, Roy

Photo: Former Sunderland manager Roy Keane [Getty Images via The Independent]

It was rather surprising to see Manchester United legend Roy Keane step down [ESPN Soccernet] from managing Sunderland last week. Keane achieved some outstanding success with the Black Cats, even though many don't seem to acknowledge that at the moment. When he took the team over in August 2006, they were sitting in the relegation zone of the Championship (for non-English football fans, that's the level below the Premier League). In that season, he took them from the bottom to the top, and earned not only promotion to the Premiership, but also the Championship title. He was named Manager of the Year at the Championship level, and deservingly so.

Keane also had success with Sunderland in the Premier League last season and managed to keep them out of the relegation zone for much of the year. They pulled off a 15th-place finish, which is rather good for a just-promoted side (see County, Derby for an example of how a poor team does when promoted). The other two promoted sides were the aforementioned Derby County FC and Birmingham City, and both went right back to the Championship. Sunderland also finished ahead of Reading (18th, also relegated), Fulham and Bolton, all established clubs with a good deal of Premier League experience. That's impressive in my books.

This season didn't start as well for Keane and the Black Cats, and they were 18th in the standings when he left. Keane's decision to leave is still surprising, though, as there was and is still plenty of hope for the survival of Sunderland. With 15 points going into this weekend's match against Manchester United, they were tied with Tottenham Hotspur (also undergoing a wretched run of form) and always-struggling Newcastle United, three points back of West Ham and Manchester City and four points behind Stoke, Wigan and Middlesbrough. There's a lot of football left to be played, and Sunderland have the quality players to compete with many of those clubs. I would not be surprised at all to see them stay up, even without Keane.

The question has to be asked as to if Keane left on his own, or if he was pushed out by backroom intrigue. The statements and such that have come out have described the parting as "amicable", but the same Soccernet story that used that term mentioned that Keane was "locked in talks with chairman Niall Quinn". There have also been suggestions raised that new Sunderland majority investor Ellis Short, an American businessman, was not happy with Keane [Kevin Palmer, ESPN Soccernet].It's tough to tell from the outside, but that suggests that there might have been a bit of a push.

That's not to say that Keane was perfect. Assuredly, he made mistakes and errors in his managerial career, much as he did during his playing career (Alf-Inge Haland, anyone?). There were poor transfer market decisions and curious squad rotation moves. There was perhaps even a sense that he couldn't get through to today's players, as they didn't meet the incredible standards he set for himself (read his excellent autobiography with Eamon Dunphy if you want some insight on his character). Those are errors common to any manager learning on the job, though, especially in a league of the calibre of the Premier League. Keane showed a lot of potential during his brief stay at Sunderland, and he will be remembered for bringing the Black Cats back to the top. He left with class and dignity and took the blame himself rather than throwing the organization under the bus. Today, he announced that he does want to return to management [The Independent at some point in the future; hopefully, he'll be given another chance and learn from his mistakes.

- Norman Hubbard has a good column comparing Keane and former teammate Paul Ince, now an embattled manager at Blackburn (who are 19th in the Premier League) [ESPN Soccernet]
- Rob Shepherd has a nice piece on how Keane's failure was his inability to connect with today's players and his lack of subtlety. [News of the World (yes, it's a rubbish paper, but the sports section's all right)]
- Ian O'Doherty has an interesting analysis of Keane [The Belfast Telegraph]
- Paul Ince tells James Ducker that the critics are out to get him and Keane thanks to their successful playing careers at Manchester United. That's perhaps not as far-fetched as it sounds, especially with Keane: he's such a controversial figure thanks to the Haland debacle and the 2002 World Cup controversy that he's made a lot of enemies in the media over the years. [The Times of London]
- Scott Wilson has an interesting Dickensian twist on the situation, with the ghosts of Sunderland past, present and future paying Keane a visit. [The Northern Echo]

1 comment:

  1. An excellent look at a fascinating individual who will almost certainly be back in English football in some capacity. I particularly enjoyed the link to Scott Wilson's piece - required reading just before Christmas.