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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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Steve_M added 15:15 - Oct 21
Thanks for taking the time to write that up, much appreciated. I would assume it's Richard Wright who he is blaming for goals conceded rather than Fulop though.

caught-in-limbo added 15:38 - Oct 21
Really interesting. Thanks.

I think the Alf-Inge Håland incident marked him indelibly for most Town fans - he's definitely a fascinating character and your article presents a degree of humility in him that wasn't very evident while he was at Ipswich - but because he ruined another player's career, he's a very difficult person to like for anyone but a Man U fan.

Was he asked about THAT moment while you were there?

Heathlander added 15:41 - Oct 21
Thanks SuperFrans. A very good read. Keane is a very interesting character. I think he is slightly bonkers but good value for the entertainment he gives.

NoCanariesAllowed added 16:20 - Oct 21
Thanks for the report, SuperFrans, good work. I think while the wider media hasn't really paid a great deal of attention to Keane's chapter on Ipswich during the broader excitement over his book release, it's a significant period in his career which raised a lot of questions that were never really answered.

Upbeat~ added 17:59 - Oct 21
Cheers SF much appreciated, a very revealing and nicely written piece.

tractordownsouth added 18:32 - Oct 21
A good read, well done. I wish I could have been there!

commuterblue added 18:35 - Oct 21
Interesting blog thanks. But why let reality spoil a good caricature?!

TennesseeBlue added 20:01 - Oct 21
There is just one problem with your article, comparing Marmite with Roy Keane. Some people actually like marmite

paulthebluealien added 08:23 - Oct 22
A really excellent blogpost.

But, I still hate the bloke!

Reuser_is_God added 08:40 - Oct 22
Great blog & I have the exact the same impression of him after reading his superb book.

Superfrans added 11:57 - Oct 22
Thanks for the comments all. Always a pleasure.

Len_Brennan added 14:20 - Oct 22
A great blog, really nicely written and well done on getting in there with your question, which can't have been easy in that company.
I can agree with pretty much all your thoughts on Keane here, but the fact remains that he was a terrible appointment for us, put the club back a number of years and despite his remarks about the price paid for his signings, has to be held responsible for the squandering of millions in transfer funds.
The other point I'd make relates to him admitting to his mistakes. He may do so now, but he never did at the time, nor acknowledged that he might have needed help or an alternative option.
I do remember him saying "I've made mistakes" a number of times while he was our manager, but he never once (& I looked for it) said what these mistakes actually were or how he going to change/address these problems. It very much suggested to me, at the time, that he was only saying what he felt needed to be said to get him away from a topic he didn't wish to deal with or really acknowledge under the pressure of a Press Conference, and then just carry on managing in his own way where he placed fear, revenge & his insecurities above all else when putting out a team.

He does seem to have a good sense of humour alright though.

TractorBeezer added 15:37 - Oct 22
Thanks Superfrans for your interesting and insightful blog. This reinforces my impression that Keano does indeed have a charismatic side which is unfortunately overshadowed by an angry and bitter dark side. Not necessarily a bad thing if deployed appropriately but at the end of the day he failed to establish positive working relationships with players and staff at Portman Road which only served to take us backwards.

Seablue added 21:43 - Oct 22
Thanks Superfrans - very interesting. He clearly relaised he needed help at Town when he brought in Peter Taylor for a few nano seconds before changing his mind. He makes no reference to this in his book - it would be interesting to hear Taylor's side of it.

TR11BLU added 14:52 - Oct 23
Good blog, but maybe because I agree with much of it.
I have read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was open minded when he was appointed but It didnt work out. However, we all move on (well most can) and I can see his point about 'nearly being a good team' The semi final against Arsenal was certainly the hilight of the last decade for me.
Onwards and Upwards......

62WasBest added 11:28 - Oct 26
I'd like to know if he has ever apologised for his attack on Alf-Inge Håland , or even admitted that that sort of assault has no place on the street, let alone on a football pitch? Len Brennan has it exactly right. His confessions of making mistakes was just a ploy, with no or little sincerity whatsoever.

Was he the worst Ipswich Town manager? Probably, because of the scale of the damage he caused, though not necessarily on results. When I first heard that he'd been appointed I said on this forum that he was a divisive character and I thought it was a mistake, and all I received was abuse. I don't think he has changed much, but I do think Superfrans second to last paragraph is a pretty good summing up of the man.

Swailsey added 16:53 - Oct 27
Great read, have shared on the main board.

neillrumsey added 22:24 - Nov 10
Excellent insight to this complex character. I maybe alone on this as I don't think RK was the worst Ipswich manager. Reasons for this RK attracted some excellent loan players who were a joy to watch. Secondly many of the players and coaches will say that his training was the best they've ever had at Playford Road, varied, challenging and enjoyable. Those same people also say RK's man management skills were virtually non existent. I believe Jewell was a lot worse and he was described as doing very little on the training ground and letting players do as they pleased which in some cases was arse around.... Opinions.
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