Monday, August 25, 2008

Roy Keane Revolution at Sunderland: How Long before a Top Job Comes Along?

Since Niall Quinn's surprise announcement that Roy Keane was to be Mick McCarthy's successor at Sunderland back in 2006, the Cork native has gone from strength to strength as a manager.

Many were surprised to see Keane accept a job so early in his coaching and management career. And few would have predicted him to take over a struggling Championship side, never mind one where Niall Quinn was chairman...

Few outside Ireland would know of the acrimonious split in the Irish camp during the World Cup in 2002. This argument between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy would end up with Keane being expelled from the squad and sent home. This caused shock-waves in Ireland and still brings heated debate today. In the end Ireland were knocked out by Spain, but the real losers in this war were the Irish public who never got to see their strongest team perform.

Roll on five years and Quinn, who was firmly on McCarthy's side in the dispute, installed Keane as manager of his club. By this stage Keane had also fallen out with Alex Ferguson, and was drummed out of Manchester United after he criticised the team while doing commentary on MUTV.

The most volatile and probably the best player in Premier League history was taking up management, and everybody wanted to see how he'd cope. Some waited for the explosion on the horizon they expected, but three years into the job Keane has shown a maturity beyond his years. He has also shown he knows how to get the best from his players and that he can attract good players to Wearside.

Since taking over in 2006, when Sunderland were struggling at the foot of the Championship, Sunderland's rise under Keane has been impressive. Combining good coaching, good management and a lot of money, he has propelled them to what I would assume to be mid table safety this season.

When Keane initially took over his assessment of the squad was swift and decisive. He signed 20 players (£11.2M) in his first season and by May had offloaded 32 (£6.2M).

Sunderland in that fist season were catapulted from relegation candidates when he took over to eventual champions of the division.

The Drumaville Consortium with Quinn as it's focal point had not only gotten their man, but had financially backed him too. Sunderland spent double the transfer spending of nearest rivals and fellow promoted team Derby County. According to Quinn this wasn't a gamble at all but a well calculated risk, as the Drumaville group knew that by just getting into the Premier League (which was on the verge of negotiating a new television deal with Sky) they'd be guaranteed £50M in television revenue before a ball was even kicked.

Now in the Premier League, Keane once again assessed his charges and rightfully came to the conclusion that to avoid relegation money would have to be spent again. Quinn and Drumaville again backed their man, with a kitty of just over £40M.

Again, Keane completely renovated his squad and did away with the "deadwood"—14 players were added to the squad most notably Kieran Richardson, Andy Reid, and Kenwyne Jones. Jones in particular went on to be hailed in most quarters as one of the signings of the season. 22 players were trimmed from the squad, including a lot of players who had only signed one year earlier.

Keane seems to have the belief that if you're good enough you can stay, but if you're not you'd better move on or he'll move you on.

This approach seems to have garnered a lot of respect for Keane in playing circles as with him you know exactly where you stand. Gone is the ranting player chasing referees, and what we've been left with is a manager who knows how to treat players who want to work hard right.

He isn't the strict disciplinarian that some expected him to be, although he has had his moments. These include leaving Anthony Stokes at home for turning up late for the bus on a Saturday morning before a match, placing Liam Miller on the transfer list after he was repeatedly late for training, and drumming Liam Lawrence out of the club after an incident in a hotel.

This season, Keane has been canny in his transfer dealings again. Happy with survival last year, Sunderland and Keane have signed players to secure them mid table safety this year. Seven players have been added to the squad. El Hadji Diouf (Bolton), Djibril Cisse (Marseille), Teemu Tainio and Steed Malbranque from Tottenham being the stand out players. And only five players have moved on, as Keane starts to have what he believes is a squad capable of mid table safety.

If Keane continues in this vein, Sunderland will by vying for Europe in two or three seasons.

Keane has served under two of the best managers to grace the English game. His initial introduction was at Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough, and then under Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

Under these two, Keane learned how to get the best from players.

With Clough being a huge influence in the way he fostered trust and admiration from his players, under Ferguson Keane learnt the hardest lesson of all for a footballer in that loyalty is a two way street. And if your face doesn't fit, the manager will get rid of you no matter who you are, what your reputation is, or how important you are for the team.

Stam, Beckham, Ince, Hughes, Keane all were moved on when Ferguson deemed them surplus to requirements—with Stam's transfer in particular having a massive effect on how Keane viewed player / manager relationships.

Keane seems to have gone out of his way to sign good players who have had a bad run of it. Diouf, Cisse, Yorke, Cole, Chimbonda were all considered bad boys and trouble makers, but Keane has sought these players out to transform Sunderland's fortunes.

Perhaps in showing these players he trusts them, he hopes to replicate Clough's philosophy on football management. Show the players you trust them and the favour will be returned.

So in three seasons Keane, with Quinn's aid, has completely transformed Sunderland. The next question for Keane to answer is will he stay when the bigger clubs come calling.