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Why Aren't They Keen On Keane?


The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Rumours travel fast in the North-East of England. Nobody is entirely sure what happened or where it started, but Wearside was abuzz last Friday with the 'news' that Roy Keane had walked out on Sunderland. Everyone knew about it, apparently. Some said that he'd not turned up for training. Others that he'd stormed out of a hotel during contract negotiations. It was something of a surprise then to see Keane on the bench against Blackburn the next day as if nothing had happened, which of course, according to Keane, it hadn't.

The interesting thing was that not all of Sunderland's fans were particularly dismayed by the rumours. After all, the club spent last week in the relegation zone following three successive defeats, despite spending enough money in the summer to bail out a British bank. There are also concerns that the players are tiring of his temper and of his own brand of instant justice. Keane has used 27 players this season, more than any other team by some distance, and he hasn't had that many injuries. He chops and changes quickly, punishing all indiscipline with a spell on the sidelines.

Like a superstar player who goes into management only to be frustrated by the technical limitations of average footballers, Keane's biggest problem has been finding people who care as much as him. In this, he hasn't exactly helped himself, taking a huge gamble on the morally bankrupt Pascal Chimbonda, who has since been disciplined repeatedly for anything from poor timekeeping to an alleged appearance at Obafemi Martins birthday party just before a match. It seems that you just can't teach desire.

But why should Keane's demands for it be such a bad thing? He's not asking for centre-backs to perform stepovers, or for strikers to conduct post-match interviews in Latin. All he wants are employees who don't drink their careers away in nightcubs and that turn up for their four-hour-a-day job on time. For a weekly wage that would eclipse most of our annual paycheques, is it too much to ask?

Keane was lucky enough to work under two legendary managers, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, so it's no surprise that he's so forthright and headstrong. But he's not all soundbites and arrogance. Watch Sunderland on a good day and you'll see a team that approaches games like Manchester United in 1994. The ball goes down to the ground, out to the wings and then they burst forward across the halfway line in formation. With some genuine class in the side, notably Steed Malbranque and the much-improved Djibril Cisse, this is a team full of potential.

I was there to watch Sunderland in their last league game before the arrival of Keane in 2006. It was at my own Southend United and, hilariously, we absolutely battered them. In two and a half years, he has taken a side in danger of relegation to the third division and moulded them into a mid-table Premier League outfit. No-one knows whether he will have the success of his old mentors or if he will even ever find a squad of players as dedicated as he was to the cause. But in a relatively short time he has transformed the club and he deserves more respect than he's currently getting. The next time there's a rumour that he's walked out, Sunderland fans should have a good think about what they'd be missing if it turned out to be true.