Which Club Dares Take On Roy Keane As Its Manager?

It’s very rare that a sequel lives up to its predecessor, but from the look of the quotes taken from ‘The Second Half’, Roy Keane’s second autobiography is going to be more ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ than ‘Wall Street 2’.

You’ll have your favourite quotes already, but perhaps there’s nothing that sums Keane’s attitude up like the revelation that, having been released by Manchester United, he deliberately ran the mileage up on his club car for three months before handing it back.

“Every little victory is vital,” he concluded defiantly. Only Keane could make his mileage a matter of honour.

And yet as you scan these furious soundbites, it’s hard not to admire his attitude. He’s Howard Beale and he’s still as mad as hell. He’s William Foster, shooting up a fast food restaurant because he can’t have his breakfast muffin at one minute past 11. Disproportionate responses are the order of the day, which is endearing in a weird sort of way. Most of us meander through our lives, burying our anger, tutting and looking at our shoes instead of standing up for what we believe in. Keane never looks at his shoes. All of which makes you wonder how long it will be before he’s back in a managerial role of his own.

Roy Keane took his first step with the Republic of Ireland in November 2013, complimenting Martin O’Neill’s ‘bad cop’ act with a ‘baddest cop’ assistant manager’s role. This summer, he took another number two spot at Aston Villa, news that probably caused a sudden rush of number twos in the Villa training ground. But how long will it be until he takes a job for himself.

The popular view is that Keane cannot be trusted in the hot seat. For starters, any chairman who hires him knows deep down that one day he’ll have to sack him and that’s not a comfortable thought for anyone. Then there’s his transfer record at Ipswich, where he invested heavily and somehow made the team slightly worse. But the primary reason for the belief that Keane would make a poor manager is the perception that he doesn’t understand the modern footballer. 

Au contraire. With every negative comment he makes, it becomes apparent that Keane understands the modern footballer all too well. Keane once said that talent was only about 10 percent of what it took to make a Premier League player. Everything else was effort, desire, hunger and courage. And while the numbers are subjective, he has a point. Everyone in football is talented, they have to be talented to survive the yearly culls at every academy. It’s the players with application who survive, the ones who actually want to keep learning and who don’t assume that their first professional contract and a couple of appearances off the bench are evidence that they’ve made it.  

Keane couldn’t comprehend the mentality of some footballers, most memorably the one who refused to move to Sunderland because his wife felt that there weren’t enough shops in the North-East. He is said to have sneeringly warned academy players not to trip over the tubs of hair gel left by the first team squad. He once karate kicked a tactics board because he felt that the players weren’t paying what was written on it enough attention. 

But what would happen if the players did pay attention? What would happen if he wasn’t forced to deal with slick-haired and heavily bejewelled show ponies from the lad bible-belt, but was given the chance to assemble a squad of dead-eyed, cold-blooded monsters, far less skilled, but far more focused? Players who were desperate to make the grade and would rather die a thousand deaths than feel that they had disappointed their manager.They must still exist, cast off somewhere down the line because they couldn’t do a rabona without getting a nosebleed. They’re out there, bellowing at their new non-league team-mates for not taking a twice weekly training session as seriously as the entrance exam for the 7th Parachute Regiment. 

Imagine if Keane could take a small club, a club with few expectations, and overturn all accepted coaching practices, replacing short, positive training sessions built on an atmosphere of mutual respect with something rather more brutal. Imagine if he could take a crop of young players and have them pass through the Agoge, honing their courage, their strength and their self-sufficiency, an assembly line of grim-faced bastards bred to intimidate and bully. That wouldn’t be modern football. That. Would. Be. Sparta.

Someone somewhere, if only for poops and giggles, should just hand the keys of their football club to Keane and say, “Go on then. Do what you will with them.” Who knows, it might actually work. 

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