Roy Keane isn’t cutting the mustard as a manager
Iconic Manchester United and Republic of Ireland midfielder Roy Keane created a benchmark that today means players with bite and vision are described at Keanesque, something to aspire to.
But as a manager Keane is struggling to make the same sort of impact at Ipswich Town and whereas once he was being mooted as a possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson, there is now a real danger, even with a promotion to the Premier League with Sunderland under his belt, he will be heaped in with all those great players who failed to make the switch from dressing room to manager's office with the same level of success.
He hosts Northampton, conquerors of Liverpool, in the fourth round of the Carling Cup tonight at a critical point in the season. A Cup run might not be the top priority, but Keane needs to turn around Ipswich's season somehow — and fast.
With almost a third of the campaign already gone, Ipswich are nestled in 14th place in the Championship and that is unlikely to be what the club view as sufficient for Keane to keep his job.
His unveiling as manager at Portman Road in April, 2009 was unprecedented at the club in terms of the spectacular media coverage.
Even the appointments of Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsay, the club's two most successful managers, did not compare.
Jackie Milburn a top-class player in his own right for Newcastle United and England who briefly, and spectacularly unsuccessfully managed Ipswich, did not get the same attention.
But Keane's tenure is increasingly looking more akin to Milburn who failed miserably as manager at Ipswich, than Robson or Ramsay, even if Sir Bobby took almost three years before showing any signs that he was going to be a success.
Keane wouldn't be the first top player to flop when going into management, fellow Manchester United legends Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles are a case in point.
Both World Cup winners were failures as managers at Preston, and for Stiles, West Bromwich Albion was also as unsuccessful as it was short-lived.
During his much trumpeted early press conferences at Ipswich Keane stated very clearly that he had signed a two-year contract because that was how long he would need to get Town promoted and if he didn't then he would regard himself a failure and not worthy of an extended contract, adding that any half-decent manger could finish in the top half of the Championship — it was promotion that mattered.
With almost a third of the campaign already gone and Ipswich nestled in 14th place, time is fast becoming as big an enemy to Keane as his lack of a streetwise midfield and a misfiring attack.
The cracks, albeit by no means cavernous just yet, are starting to appear and the plain-speaking Irishman has made clear his feelings on secretive owner Marcus Evans' decision not to bring in a couple of players Keane coveted. Most notably was Shaun Derry who Keane had in his office ready to sign when he was overruled and the wily midfielder signed for QPR instead.
That means Keane has had to rely on signings, largely from Sunderland, and Town's academy especially the likes of highly-rated striker Connor Wickham, New Zealand's World Cup defender Tommy Smith and the emerging Ronan Murray and that has been a source of frustration, although he refuses to blame lack of progress on his players' shortfalls.
“I don't get frustrated at the players, insisted Keane. “It is more I get frustrated along with the players.
“I'm short as a manager in certain areas and I get frustrated with myself. Being a manager is a lot tougher than playing.”
Keane, who conceded that a factor in him taking the Town job was the Portman Road crowd's reputation for patience and tolerance, has not held back on the rank and file Ipswich support too after criticism of his favoured one up front at home tactic, saying that while fans were entitled to their view they didn't know much about football.
While Ipswich is being dragged along with the rest of football into changing its culture and beliefs, there are still many who expect the Blues to play with a certain attacking panache, even if not entirely in the ‘Ipswich Way'.
They really would prefer to lose 4-3 than win 1-0 if their team has given their all in a positive way and not just set up not to get beaten.
That has been reflected in crowds that have dropped by around 6,000 from when Joe Royle was playing exciting, if sometimes kamikaze, football, to an average of 20,000 and it does not help that rivals Norwich are averaging 25,000.
At the moment Keane is pragmatic about the situation he finds himself in.
“It has been a bad week but you have bad weeks in football and it is how you respond to that is what is important,” said Keane.
“If we win (against Northampton) we would be in the quarter-final of a Cup and three points away from sixth place in the league.
“The supporters have been unbelievably patient but that is a reason why I took the job. I knew they would be patient when other fans would have turned. But I live in the real world and if you are not winning football matches that creates frustration and pressure.”
The feeling in this part of East Anglia towards Keane remains mixed with those who believe no matter what he should be given plenty more time, ala Robson, to get it right as getting rid of yet another manager at the end of the season would just set the club back another couple of years.
Then there are a seemingly increasing number of supporters who are turning against someone they see as something of a bluffer and not cut out to be a top manager.
Given that Evans showed remarkable patience with the previous incumbent Jim Magilton, before cutting him loose once it was confirmed Ipswich were not going to even make the playoff and showed immense alacrity by appointing Keane within a couple of days, it is highly likely that this manager will be given the remainder of his contract to ensure a to six finish.
If Town fail, or Evans is not convinced that sufficient progress has been made then the contract will not be renewed, although things may come to ahead long before then if Keane doesn't believe he is getting the right sort of backing to achieve his aim.
If progress is to be measured in terms of league position then Keane comes up short.
He took over a stuttering Magilton side that managed to finish ninth in the Championship, at the moment Town are 14th, a place better than they ended last season's campaign.
This time last year Ipswich were still to win a game and went 16 matches before a victory over Derby at the end of October got them underway.
Although things looked brighter at the beginning of this term with a seven match unbeaten run in league and cup, things have unravelled since and three straight defeats have seen Ipswich drop out of the top six to mid-table and any slip up against league Two side Northampton in the League Cup tonight will only add to the pressure.
Keane won't let criticism get to him but he has form with the Republic of Ireland and Sunderland for taking the big step if he doesn't think the right sort of support from upon high is forthcoming, or if goalposts are moved in terms of being given the right tools to work with.
If Keane is growing disenchanted with the football side of things in East Anglia he seems to have fallen in love with Suffolk.
You don't buy a £2million home in Woodbridge, as Keane has and is reputed to be spending another £1m renovating the property, if you plan to leave anytime soon. Although, perhaps typically of Keane, he also built a home in Cheshire and left it saying it was only bricks and mortar.
Moving house maybe easy but accepting that he is not going to reach the same level as a manager as he did as a player will be a lot harder for the uncompromising Keane who will know he may not get another opportunity if he follows the footsteps of Milburn, Charlton and Stiles.