End of an era: Keane went wrong with his choice of assistant

Roy Keane smiles ahead of what proved to be his last match in charge of Sunderland, against Bolton in 2008
Roy Keane smiles ahead of what proved to be his last match in charge of Sunderland, against Bolton in 2008
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WHAT can you say about Roy Keane at Sunderland that hasn’t already been said?

I wrote a book about it: “In Keane We Trust” and he quit a couple of months afterwards.

The two incidents weren’t related (!) but the juxtaposition neatly illustrates the unpredictability of Keane’s time in charge.

When he was appointed Sunderland manager, a senior former member of the Republic of Ireland coaching staff suggested privately that whatever Keane did or did not do on Wearside, no-one at the club would know him any better on the day he left, than the day he arrived.

There was some truth in that.

Keane was distant and aloof and, when it came to the media, he simply did not want to engage. He didn’t want to know your name and he didn’t want to be your mate, though he was always ultra-professional.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter in the slightest that he wasn’t pally, because every time he opened his mouth, what came out was copy gold.

Some people can talk for an hour and say nothing, Keane spoke for five minutes and filled your notebook.

I remember casually lobbing him the easiest of full-toss lines to smash to the boundary: “Great news that you’ve been voted Manager of the Month, Roy.”

Every other manager I know would have smiled and agreed and joked that he hoped the curse didn’t come back and bite him with his team losing their next game.

But Roy was different and launched off in a tirade against the uselessness of awards such as those and finished by saying he did not know what he would do with it when he got it but he would probably stick it somewhere in the garage.

It made headlines all over the world.

That was typical of him. Original, sharp as a tack, and utterly convinced he was right about everything he uttered.

He wasn’t though.

I remember feeling personally disappointed, having previously heard him excoriate former professional footballers who turned TV pundits, to see him following exactly the same route a few years later.

He remains, though, the most charismatic man I have ever met. A man possessed of incredible presence.

I have known plenty of famous and successful people who have carried gravitas and weight but when Roy Keane enters a room, sound levels drop and all eyes turn to him.

He also had the most frightening stare.

If he trained it on you, you could feel your blood starting to ice up and your Adam’s apple swell.

What he achieved in his first season at Sunderland – taking the club from the bottom to the top of the Championship – was amazing and thrilling to report on, but when he got into the Premier League, among the elite managers and clubs, he felt the pressure and found it increasingly difficult to take.

In my view, by far his biggest mistake was his appointment of deputy.

He originally tried for former Manchester United guru Brian Kidd, who would have been perfect.

He ended up with best mate Tony Loughlan, who was exactly the opposite.

Keane had the kudos, the certainty, the leadership skills to succeed and best mate Loughlan was important in shoring up his belief and confidence.

But what Keane really needed was a Peter Taylor to his Brian Clough, an experienced mentor who could have steered him through all the pitfalls.

In the end, he took too much on himself and the final outcome was all but inevitable.

Box office while it lasted though and a massive boost worldwide to the recognition of Sunderland Football Club.