|More Marmite than Marmite - an Evening with Roy Keane|
Written by Superfrans on Tuesday, 21st Oct 2014 13:45
Whether Roy Keane should go down in history as the worst manager to helm Ipswich Town is an arguable point - but it is hard to dispute that he is the most divisive Town employee in the club's 136-year history.
The publication of his second autobiography (including a chapter on his time at Portman Road) has underlined this - many Town fans clearly hate the man with a passion, many others find him a compelling, fascinating character, even if he was a terrible ITFC manager.
Me? I'm one of the latter... So, it was with some anticipation that I trotted along last night to the grandly headlined An Evening With Roy Keane (& Roddy Doyle) at RIBA in Central London.
As a Town fan, I predictably found myself outnumbered by Man Utd fans in an audience of 200 or so - Utd fans who loudly chanted "Keano!" as soon as he emerged into the room. RIBA has rarely seen such scenes.
Keane (and Doyle) were interviewed by Telegraph writer (and Utd fan) Jim White (not the Sky Sports caricature), so he was unlikely to get a rough ride, but Keane was asked about his failures and his successes - and was willing to discuss them all, warts and all. It was, on the whole, a fairly knockabout discussion.
The most disarming side to Keane is his unexpected humour. In contrast to his snarling public image, he is much funnier than many might expect, with an extremely dry sense of humour - something which is borne out by his book. He is clearly very aware of his ferocious image - and plays on that for both impact and comedic effect.
Where he became serious was when talking about his relationship with Alex Ferguson, the manner of his departure from Man Utd and his managerial track record. As the discussion drew to an end, the session was thrown open to the audience for questions - so I raised my hand, keen to get in a question about his track record at Ipswich before it deteriorated into a MU fans' love-in.
In the book, Keane talks about the signings of Tamas Priskin, Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter, (all of whom he says we paid twice as much as we should have for) and Marton Fulop (who he says he wanted on loan, but definitely not permanent). Why, I asked, as the most experienced football man among himself, Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg, was he so uninvolved in such deals.
Until this point, Keane's references to his time at Ipswich had been honest (admitting to his miserable failure) but slightly knockabout (appearing to suggest Priskin had the heart of a pea and grimacing at his own mention of Simon Clegg).
Now he became more serious. That's the way lots of managers work, he said, politely, identifying players and maybe suggesting a ballpark fee, but leaving the owner and chairman do the deals - and not deciding the final fees. If the owner wanted to pay £1.7m for Priskin (Keane suggested £400k), that was up to him - Keane couldn't be blamed for these deals.
But he didn't shirk responsibility for his overall failure - while he had lots of time for Evans, he never had any chemistry with Clegg - "Marcus Evans was a very decent guy, I have no problem with him, but you need a good relationship with your chief executive, it has got to be spot on." It clearly wasn't.
His failure was too many draws ("We were so close at times," he recalled - perhaps optimistically) and that he didn't sign enough good players, he said. He later added that, while at Sunderland, he managed to develop some rapport with the players, something he never managed at Ipswich - attributing this (at least in part) to his inability to get any momentum going with the team.
"The signs were that we were nearly there," he recalled. "Unbelievable. We had 20 draws in one season, a few late goals, and the goalkeeper cost me so many goals," (presumably referring to Fulop).
Asked what he thinks of the job Mick is now doing, he was complementary - remarking that Mick has brought in a number of experienced pros, something Keane says he wasn't able to in his second season.
"Towards the end, the owner had obviously lost a bit of confidence in me," he recalled. "I was trying to get a couple of senior players in, but the owner was telling me he wanted us to play more players from the Academy. I was saying, no problem, but we need one or two senior pros in. I had Lee Carlsey up for talks, Kevin Kilbane, Shaun Derry.
"Then when I left, the first thing [Paul Jewell] did was bring in Bullard, Chopra. Mick too, has brought in Murphy, McGoldrick, the defenders he's got. He hasn't paid a lot of money for them, but they're not on £100 a week..."
Important to emphasise though - Keane openly accepts responsibility for his failure. He wasn't good enough at ITFC and says so. "I can try and blame the owner or the chief executive, but to sell a striker like Jordan Rhodes, who can score you 30 goals, I don't think I'll ever been forgiven for that one."
Expanding on Rhodes further, he said he wished he had stuck to his guns more - having played him in close season, Rhodes scored a couple of goals and Keane liked the look of him. But, with the staff highlighting his lack of pace, seeds of doubt were sown and he was sold. "And then he went to Huddersfield and scored 400 goals..."
Overall impressions? I know some will hate this, but he was confirmed for me as a fascinating (if hugely complex) character - obviously charismatic, he has clear presence, especially for someone who isn't physically very imposing.
Keane is criticised by lots of Town fans for not admitting failure - not facing up to his lack of success at PR. But this could not be further from the truth on this evidence. While both White and Doyle suggested he had been a successful manager at Sunderland, he denied this firmly - it's easy getting a team like Sunderland promoted, he said, the same could be said for clubs such as Newcastle, West Ham and WBA.
And, after I asked my questions (I was in the third row, so quite close) I got a full five minutes of the Roy stare as he answered them in full, lots of detail, without averting his gaze. He may not even have blinked for the whole time. He could have answered quickly and moved on, especially given that the room was otherwise full of adoring Man Utd fans. But he didn't. He politely answered the questions in much more detail than I expected.
At the end, Jim White asked whether he has mellowed, as a final, closing question. His answer provided the clearest answer possible, but in the most roundabout way.
With White clearly expecting a short, pithy concluding remark, Keane then went on a five-minute ramble in an effort to explain that he isn't angry all the time, but that anger can be valuable in the dressing room, that his issue is mostly with the media who portray him in this caricatured fashion. He isn't, he insisted, always like that, but he doesn't play the media games that other managers do.
All this was spoken in an understated fashion, without ranting and raving, in a spoken voice which is quiet, almost gentle - giving a strange hint of menace which is hard to pin down, but definitely there.
I doubt anyone will be swayed in their opinion of Keane by these recollections - he is more Marmite than Marmite, after all. But the book is a great read, not only for the one chapter on Ipswich, but for an insight into the mind of a once great player, who slowly realises he is not the world beater he once was, both on the field and in the boot-room.
If you are interested in football, I would thoroughly recommend it as a weekend read - and if you don't want to put money in Keane's pocket, your local library could certainly do with the trade.
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