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Roy Keane could be a talented manager if only he would put aside his distracting fixation with Sir Alex Ferguson


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Now that Keane has settled his scores in his autobiography, he should return to shaping them by winning games



When Roy Keane was quietly completing his Uefa Pro-Licence at Warwick University in June 2008, his tutors confided that the Irishman’s work was some of the most inspiring and innovative they had ever seen. Before finishing at Warwick, Keane told the coaches of his ambition. “It's about testing yourself against the likes of Sir Alex,’’ remarked Ferguson’s former captain at Manchester United.

That was Keane six years ago, respectfully referring to “Sir†Alex, always aware that Ferguson was the benchmark of the managerial trade, the kite-mark of excellence in the art and science of organising and galvanising a collection of men into a winning team.

In the light of Keane’s current written and verbal assault on Ferguson, demolishing further a mentor-pupil relationship in the manner of a Greek tragedy, it is timely to consider whether the 43-year-old wants to be known as a failure as a manager or as a Ferguson, a success. Keane is perceived as a disappointment, as a manager who rarely turned the brilliance of his individual course-work into dressing-room reality. Keane evidently lacks the inter-personal skills that made Ferguson such a phenomenon at motivating players.

Just listen to Keane himself. "With Sir Alex you're pitting your wits against one of the managers who will probably go down as one of the greatest,’’ Keane told his instructors at Warwick. “Maybe that's why so many players who’ve worked with him are now becoming coaches and managers - he has that effect.â€

Still uplifted by “that effect†in the summer of 2008, Keane went back toSunderland, whom he had just kept in the Premier League before the intensity of his character cost him support from dressing-room to board-room. Unloved in many quarters, Keane resigned on Dec 4. Four months later, he resurfaced at genteel Ipswich Town, a journey akin to one of the singers in The Commitments joining the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Same tenor, different tempo. It seemed a strange fit. Keane lasted 20 months, being dismissed with Ipswich 19th in the Championship.

Keane has returned to the game he graced so magisterially and menacingly as a midfielder but not as a No 1. He’s now a No 2, an assistant, a concept hard to associate with such a self-appointed warrior.

Maybe Keane should flick through the early pages of Ferguson’s own book (not the later bits which lambasted him), reading the chapters pertaining to the setbacks the Scot endured in the nascent days of his managerial career, the sacking at St Mirren in 1978 and (following triumph at Aberdeen) the travails from 1986 to 1990 at United before the trophies arrived. Ferguson never took time out, never hid, never went on long walks with his dog. He led. So should Keane.

A talented manager exists somewhere within Keane, a reality lost behind the published venom, behind the acceptance of roles as an assistant. Now that Keane has settled his scores, he should return to shaping them, to winning games. He’s dug out everyone, challenged everyone, and now needs to get back in the dug-out and start challenging himself. Keane grew up under two of the finest managers in English and European history, Brian Clough and Ferguson. It should all be in place for Keane but for the inhibiting aspects of his DNA.

Back in 2008, Keane informed his teachers at Warwick that he was “looking forward†to “coming up†against former team-mates like Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce, now managers, while registering his respect for Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt, now coaches. “These lads could be putting their feet up on a beach but that's not what life's all about,’’ Keane said inside Warwick. “It’s about testing yourself against the likes of Sir Alex.’’

It often comes back to “Sir Alexâ€. They have much in common. They made mistakes, Ferguson with Rock of Gibraltar and Keane with Saipan for starters. They rarely concerned themselves with the moral direction of their club. Ferguson never criticised the Glazers’ debt approach. Keane had "a few shares" in United so the “Glazers coming in was worth a few bob to me’’. Both should be ashamed.

It is hard to deny the certainty that Keane is obsessed with Ferguson. On the front cover of The Second Half (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20), a compelling book co-written with the peerless Roddy Doyle, Keane wears a black coat with a zipper remarkably reminiscent of Ferguson’s smart trawlerman-on-a-night-out number.

Inside the book, as well as the sniping at Ferguson, Keane proposes that the perfect approach for him as a manager would be to subsume “Clough's warmth and Ferguson's ruthlessness and put them in the mix but also add my own traits’’. If only the late, great Clough were still around, demanding Keane be less negative, focusing instead on being a proper manager.

One wonders whether all this comes back to Keane’s complicated relationship with father figures, with his own father, an occasional worker in Cork, and the presence of two such powerful forces in his early adult life as Clough and particularly Ferguson. Such an emotional Rubik’s Cube is one for Keane alone to sort into place but if he wants to be a No 1, taking decisions, rather than a No 2, taking notes, he needs to put aside his distracting fixation with Ferguson.

Those with no passion for football, lacking an instinctive respect for Keane for his many marvellous on-field performances such as that battering of Juventus in 1999, would simply look at this slightly mad man, even shorn of his fecund beard, and dismiss him as irreparably damaged goods. A cold, clinical psychologist would surely list Keane as a troubled patient who can no longer hear the whistle to discharge the rage within and who can no longer abuse alcohol as an outlet for release.

Keane is too old to be an angry young man any more, and also too intelligent. His outbursts are too many, too predictable, too weird. This columnist has been on the receiving end of splenetic sermons from Keane and Ferguson and the Scot wins hands down on the blood-chilling front. He came at you with the weight of history, with a CV of unimpeachable quality. Ferguson’s fury always felt calculated, always designed with the benefit of his dressing-room in mind. A Keane tirade left the supposed victim worrying about the assailant’s health of mind.

He ripped into this reporter in the most benign of settings, Portman Road, on the most soft-soap of media occasions, his appointment as Ipswich manager in April 2009. The unintended torch to the fuse was an innocent question about why that 1994 United team produced so many future managers. Was it the innate winning edge of those in that dressing-room or was it through absorbing experience from Ferguson?

“Who says they are good managers?†Keane barked back before engaging in a petty debate about what made good journalists versus what made good managers, a patently pointless intellectual exercise. The following day, Keane ended up having to ring Bruce to apologise for headlines questioning Bruce’s competence; it was particularly awkward, and naïve of Keane, as he was trying to take Bruce’s son, Alex, on loan.

Unless Keane turns that vast vat of enmity into energy and reclaims his rightful place in the technical area, showing us he’s still a winner, he risks shuffling through the shadows, a crashed contender in contrast to the feted Ferguson, enjoying retirement, his counsel sought by coaches, clubs and academics. Keane has done his score-settling, done his ghosted therapy. Now it’s time for Keane to reveal whether he can follow Ferguson as well as throw stones at him.

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