Date: 7th January 2011 at 11:25pm
Written by:

If there’s anything that can be said about the twenty months that Roy Keane spent as manager of Ipswich Town Football Club, it’s that some things just don’t seem to go together.

The arrival of notoriously hot-tempered media magnet Keane at Portman Road raised plenty of eyebrows from the very beginning. With the mercurial Manchester United legend, never a stranger to courting controversy, pitching his tent at an unassuming family club in ‘sleepy Suffolk’, they always had the look of odd bedfellows. Was this a potential stroke of genius by Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg, or the realisation of a match made in Football Hell?

For all his achievements at Sunderland, it never worked out for Keane at Ipswich. Perhaps the players didn’t respond well to being in his spotlight. Perhaps given mistakes in his first season, he was denied the chance to put things right by the two at the top who, for all their smiles and reassurances, were no longer willing to back their gamble. Perhaps, as some fans had often said, Keane simply didn’t know what he was doing.

Whatever the problem was, he need no longer concern himself with it, though that might be easier said than done. Even after taking his leave, the Irishman remained defiant, insisting that progress was being made and that the team he had built would be capable of turning things around. Whether he was the only thing stopping it or not will probably be debated for some time to come.

A determined and driven character, there is no doubt Keane will dust himself off and carry on. It could take time – the experience of the last year-and-a-half may have hurt Blues fans but it will have hurt nobody more than Keane himself. Failure is not something the seven time Premier League winner is familiar with, but having promised promotion and managed only mid-table mediocrity, his time at Town was far from successful. Indeed, his win rate of under 35% ranks as one of the poorest records of any permanent manager in the club’s professional history.

Arguments will long rage on over whether Keane ever possessed the credentials and character of a good manager or, as testament to the oft-quoted adage, he is another example of a good player making a bad manager. The likelihood, however, is that Keane will take another job, and he will probably make a far greater success of it. Say what you like about his performance at Portman Road, but his achievement in taking Sunderland to the Premier League suggests there is something there. Whether he would ever have rediscovered that had he been given longer by Evans and Clegg will remain one of those unsolved footballing mysteries.

The challenge of finding that formula will no longer be down to Keane. Be it Paul Jewell or any of the other names in the parade of prospective suitors being trotted out in the column inches of today’s press, a new man will soon be left to pick up the pieces of Town’s season and try to solve the jigsaw. Evans and Clegg are the men that need to find that missing piece if the club is to ever slot back into the promotion picture. Maybe the simple reason it never happened under Keane was because, potentially through no fault of his own, the piece just didn’t fit.

Such tales of fundamental footballing mismatches are not uncommon when one casts an eye over recent history. Take Ian Holloway – the barmy Bristolian guided his hometown club Bristol Rovers to a Division Two playoff semi-final and attained automatic promotion to the Championship with Queens Park Rangers in 2004 before leading Plymouth towards a playoff push. Holloway is now receiving considerable acclaim as his Blackpool side hit historic new heights following their unprecedented promotion to the Premier League last season. Yet his record is tainted by the aberration of his six months at Leicester City, where he was seen to waste money on unimaginative signings and failed to inspire any turnaround as the Foxes were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history. For a man so accomplished at leading underdogs to success on a shoestring, perhaps he was simply not suited to having a big budget at an established club like Leicester.

Or perhaps one might contemplate the career of Steve McClaren. Assistant and understudy to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, McClaren was seen as one of England’s most promising coaches having led Middlesbrough to a 2004 League Cup triumph and a UEFA Cup Final, only to subsequently be forever tarnished with the ‘Wally With A Brolly’ tag following his dismal year in international football with England. Yet thereafter, McClaren immediately tasted success again upon returning to club football with a Cup Final and a first-ever Dutch League title for FC Twente. Perhaps one might conclude that McClaren, despite all his club successes, was never a fit for that major role on the international stage.

Dare we say it, but the same may even prove true for Roy Hodgson. For all his achievements throughout the world and his astonishing performance at Fulham – whom he led from miraculous rescue from relegation to Europa League Runners-Up in three years – his continuing inability to turn things around at Liverpool is such that today’s news of a ‘Roy’ being sacked inadvertently got many Liverpool fans overexcited. Undoubtedly a distinguished and successful manager, but maybe he just doesn’t have the right profile for a place like Anfield.

Whether Keane’s Sunderland story truly warrants comparison with the likes of Holloway or Hodgson is doubtful, nor can we say for certain that he is necessarily that good a manager – at least until he is able to adequately prove himself elsewhere. These examples do go to show however that even managers with plenty of experience and proven track records can come a cropper if hired into a role that they simply do not belong in. There are always individual factors, but sometimes, you can just see it coming.

Perhaps it is harsh to claim that Keane and Ipswich Town were such a misfit. Signs were there at times – not least the first two months of this season – that the two were capable of building a harmonious relationship to achieve success, and that might have re-emerged to flourish in the long run; we will never know. Signs were present from the off however that the union was likely to be a difficult one as it proved to be, and now it has broken down, it raises the question: was Keane ever the right man for the job?

By Darren Campbell


What do you think? Were Roy Keane and Ipswich Town simply not right for each other? Do you think Keane can be a good manager? Should he have been given more time?

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