Amidst all the talk of Keane – talk that gathers pace with every minute that passes and sees a Paddy Power promo code used left, right and centre – those who think there could be a positive side to such a move are often shouted down.
What possible upside could there be to appointing such an aggressive character as manager, when no club would hire him in that role in the past decade, because directors and players alike are petrified at the thought of it?
Don’t you just love it when the question you pose has, in itself, got some of the answers?
Because yes, of course, there’s an upside and I just articulated part of what it would be.
Fear. Uncertainty. Wariness.
The over-riding feeling that “things have changed around here.”
Let’s be honest; we could all use a little change around here.
The idea doesn’t have to be frightening to us.
Fans should embrace the idea that the club is about to change. The question is whether or not it changes for the better. I’m in a place right now where I believe that big changes are needed and if they are radical then so be it. Indeed, radical might be all to the good.
No-one can doubt that appointing Roy Keane would be radical.
Let’s, for a minute, take a step back and view this whole thing in a slightly different way. There are a lot of stories about Keane which claim to offer an insight into who the man is; how many of them are misrepresented? Let’s take one right away; the idea that he slagged Celtic in his second autobiography and regretted ever coming to the club.
Now I’ve seen that expressed today on Celtic social media, and I thought I would look into the claim, having never read the book myself. Imagine my surprise to find out that it’s only half true.
He did, indeed, express regret at coming to the club and he had a pop at the Celtic Park culture of that time.
But these aren’t the negatives they seem to be.
Keane’s regret comes from the fact that he came to Parkhead at a point in his career where he was in pain most of the time and unable to find the level he believed he should be playing at. Indeed, that section of the book says that he felt his love for the game begin to dissipate the second he left Old Trafford for what he knew would be the last time.
He said that it didn’t matter where he had gone after that; he would have felt the same regret and the same nagging feeling that he should just have retired instead.
His criticism of the culture at Celtic – which he expressed as “welcome to Hell” – was in relation to an incident after the Clyde match where he got on the team bus and saw John Hartson stuffing his face with junk food.
For Keane to see that was jarring … and he realised that at Celtic there was no attempt to match the meticulous standards he was used to.
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me that speaks volumes about Keane’s philosophy of how players should treat their bodies and the mind-set that is needed to be winners. Those philosophies didn’t arrive at Celtic Park until Ronny Deila showed up, and they weren’t perfected and allowed to reach their ultimate level until Brendan Rodgers came in.
We went backwards in that regard under Lennon.
A return to that kind of thinking, with the attitude on physical conditioning and strength and respect for the body and the mind would see us in a better place than right now, with Kennedy ridiculously telling us that Albian Ajeti still isn’t fit with the season almost finished.
The days of that sort of regression would be over.
Every time Keane has been involved in a “controversy” in his career it has been because he believes in certain standards and sees others fall blow them.
At Sunderland, he imposed an order that club had never had before – or has had since – and so of course there was deep resentment of it. He famously left three players in the car-park one day because they were late for the coach.
The squad is said to have celebrated his sacking; it didn’t improve their results.
It just allowed the party boys to take over the dressing room again, to the detriment of all concerned.
That club was a shamble long before the events depicted in the stunning Netflix documentary about their double relegation.
Likewise, his time at Ipswich was characterised by board interference in the team and a general lack of standards he worked hard to put right. His confrontations with the directors were, as much as any results, what led to him stepping back away from the role.
It’s been ten years since he had a management job.
Yet that hasn’t stopped O’Neill hiring him for the Republic of Ireland and the Forest board from giving him the nod as their assistant under the same man. Keane has lashed the IFA with more criticism than any major player in its history, but they did not object when Martin wanted him alongside. Aston Villa had no problem hiring him to work with Paul Lambert.
The idea that boards are afraid of him … it’s not totally true.
He just hasn’t been hired as a number one.
But it’s churlish to claim that Keane has done nothing in his management career; he is a title win boss, securing the English Championship with Sunderland. That’s more than a lot of other English managers who get gigs everywhere – and bring their own baggage – have managed to achieve, and if you are looking for solid, verifiable, proof of success … he has that.
Club chairmen might be afraid to give Keane the reigns, but why should we fear that? He’s been at two clubs and was a winner at one of them. If clubs feared his rep for stirring things up then perhaps it’s because he was at small clubs with a small club mentality; why should Celtic fear to have a big man, a big character, at the front of the house?
That’s the last thing he has in his favour; Keane is no shrinking violet. He would brook no compromise. He would set standards and expect them to be met.
Furthermore, can you imagine what would happen if someone on the board questioned his signing targets or tried to impose a player on him? Keane is just the sort of person to leverage support from the fans in such a scenario and he would undoubtedly get it, no matter what people thought of his managerial skills by then.
What I’m saying is, with this guy there would be no nonsense about interference from outside the football operation. The manager would not tolerate it. He would not tolerate being given players he did not entirely sign off on; relationships would have to work across the boards, with the manager being paid the ultimate respect.
I’m not here outlying the case for why I think he should get it; we’re handing the next manager a task to rebuild the most important part of our club and the board owes us more than just the first name at the top of Desmond’s list of out of work mates.
If we’ve waited this long and the appointment turns out to be a guy who’s been a decade out of work as a manager a lot of people are going to be very pissed off, and I’ll be one of them for the sheer lack of imagination it shows.
But there are … I dunno, signs?
Little flashing indicators that maybe it wouldn’t be the epochal disaster a lot of us reckon it would be.
He’s a title winning boss. He takes no nonsense. He’s not afraid to clear out a dressing room of rowdy elements. He will not accept less than total professionalism and he would absolutely run the show however he damned well pleased.
Unimaginative? Sure. Another Irish manager, as if that’s how far the Desmond nexus extends? Yes, definitely. A controversial appointment? Without a doubt.
Does all that mean it would be the wrong one? He has a gravitas and commitment to standards, the very highest, which Lennon never had. He has a winner’s mentality. He would chew the media and our critics to a bloody pulp. Would he also win football matches? Can he spot a player? Would he work well with a squad which tried to live up to his example?
Without question, he could have been a winning boss with the Invincible team, and they would have understood exactly where he was coming from. Those standards have slipped. He would restore them, of that there is not the slightest doubt.
Things are obviously happening with Keane; he’s definitely in the running.
I won’t like it if he’s hired.
I won’t appreciate what it says about how we’re run.
But he would get the chance to prove us all wrong and the support that he needs to start building his team.
I don’t want him to get it; I cannot say that enough times.
But it nags at me, this idea that maybe I’ve got it wrong, that maybe he’s got more than we’ve seen … or maybe we have seen it and we’re just a little wary of all that goes with it.
That, in itself, might tell you something … he would scare the Hell out of our enemies.
Not at first, maybe, but they laughed at Brendan Rodgers as well and we know who had the last laugh.