Roy Keane was a magnificent footballer. For me he rates as the most effective player in England over the past 15 years. As far as the Cork man is concerned those days are long gone.
All he concerns himself with now is delivering as a manager.
And so far he has been successful.
He took over at Sunderland in late August 2006.
It is worth noting that until that point, Sunderland were having a dreadful season in the Championship.
True, only a few weeks had elapsed but even so instead of getting themselves into contention to return to the Premier League, Sunderland looked on their way down to League One.
With Keane’s arrival came a remarkable turnaround.
Suddenly Sunderland went from a team of losers to a side that couldn’t stop winning.
Backed by chairman Niall Quinn, Keane brought in new players and Sunderland surged to the Championship title and promotion to the top flight, though typically the former Manchester United hero banned an open top bus parade to celebrate around the city, suggesting his players had done nothing major yet.
If going up in the manner that they did was impressive, I thought staying up last season was even better.
Some major refereeing decisions went against them, as they tend to with promoted sides, and they didn’t have much fortune with injuries, but Sunderland showed the character and desire of their boss in the second half of the season, especially at home, and survived with a little bit to spare. Just staying up though won’t be acceptable to Keane this season, or the Sunderland fans.
They will want to see a big improvement. They will want to see their team challenging for a top 10 place and enjoying a good Cup run along the way.
That means for the first time in his managerial career, Keane will be under some pressure.
And for the first time in his career, since he burst on to the football scene with Nottingham Forest in 1990 after moving from Cobh Ramblers, I’m starting to wonder if he is up to it.
Clearly Sunderland have millions of pounds to spend, but some of Roy’s signings appear a little strange. Certainly those coming in are not cut from the same cloth as him in terms of total commitment. I wouldn’t want Pascal Chimbonda, signed from Spurs, in the trenches with me or El Hadji Diouf, on his way from Bolton, for that matter. They just don’t strike me as Keane type players - ready to give everything for the cause.
And in terms of quality, Teemu Tanino, another brought in from Tottenham, isn’t exactly high class.
Still, I guess Sunderland fans will be relieved that they aren’t Irish or connected with Manchester United, which has generally been the case when new players have come to the Stadium of Light.
Mind you, Roy has brought in goalkeeper Nick Colgan (Irish) and midfielder David Meyler (Irish) recently just to continue that particular connection as Sunderland bid to become as popular as Liverpool and Manchester United in the Republic. No chance.
This season Keane is going to have to start without his two best players from last time, bustling striker Kenwyne Jones, who is injured and out for a couple of months, and Northern Ireland’s Jonny Evans, who after his successful loan spell is back at Old Trafford and according to Sir Alex Ferguson will be staying there.
So, obviously Keane needs new faces to replace them and to progress, but between now and when his side host Liverpool on August 16, I suggest he will require much better than those he has brought in so far, even though history suggests it is hard to attract big name players to Sunderland. Otherwise for the first time in his managerial career, major questions will be asked of this iconic footballing figure. It will be interesting to see if he has the answers.