Monday, December 1, 2008

Roy Keane and the Influence of Brian Clough: Why He Won't Resign from Sunderland

Despite Roy Keane stating that he is unsure whether he will stay at Sunderland or resign after a poor run of results, I am of the firm belief that he is going nowhere. And furthermore, that he has no intentions of going anywhere until a job comes up that he considers a step up.

To understand why I believe Keane has no intention of resigning, I'll go into his background a little.

Keane was in the enviable position as a player, in that he served his apprenticeship under one of England's greatest ever managers, Brian Clough, before moving on to Manchester United and the living legend that is Alex Ferguson.

In his twelve years as a United player, Keane was regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world. Pundits like Alan Hansen even went as far as to describe him as the best player ever to play in England; certainly no one was ever been as consistent.

And despite picking up every honour in the professional game, Keane is still remembered for the famous incident in Saipan, where depending on your point of view, he was either walked out or was forced to walk out on his country on the eve of the 2002 World Cup.

Whatever your point of view on the subject, Keane missed out on playing in the best tournament in the world when he was at his peak. A thorn in his side that still has an impact on him today. I'll come back to that in a bit.

At the tender age of 19, Keane made his dream move to an English professional team, Nottingham Forest. It was here that Keane met the charismatic Brian Clough.

Clough, regarded as one of England's best ever managers guided Forest to two European Cup wins in the late 70's, amongst other honours.

When he signed Keane his powers were beginning to wane, but it is he that Keane regards as being the biggest influence on him becoming a manager.

After starting his managerial career with Hartlepool, Clough landed a job with provincial side Derby County in '67.

They avoided relegation from Division 2 two seasons in a row, when Clough and Peter Taylor began to assemble a side that would win promotion and eventually become one of the dominant sides in England in the early 70's winning the league in '72.

Clough even guided Derby to the semi-finals of the European Cup in '73, but they were knocked out by Juventus in a match ruined by dubious decisions by the referee.

Clough even called Juve "cheating bastards." And he was vindicated some 14 years later, when the West German referee admitted taking bribes for the match in question.

However, in the immediate aftermath to the Juve defeat, Clough had a massive falling out with Sam Longson, the Derby chairman, over the aforementioned comments. Clough refused to apologise and resigned, so sure that he was right.

It was a decision that would haunt Clough for the rest of his career, even after winning leagues and European Cups with Forest.

He had taken Derby from the second division and made them perennial challengers for the title; Clough felt he had short-changed himself by walking away so easily. See where I'm coming from?

He felt that Derby were on the cusp of greatness, and it was they who should have gone on to dominate English football in the 70's, instead of Liverpool.

The decision to leave Derby was the biggest regret that Clough had during his football career.

And Keane's decision to leave Japan when something could have been worked out is one of his greatest regrets.

Keane left Saipan in 2002, and Clough passed away in 2004. It is unknown whether Keane sought advice from the man he sees as being the biggest influence on his career, but if he did you'd imagine that the man who once punched him full force into the face for a poor display, would have had no problem telling Keane never to walk away.

With Clough being such a massive influence on Keane, you would have to presume that they swapped stories at some stage. Keane is a known student of the game, and even back in his early Man United days he was known for studying matches and talking to United players from as far back as the 60's, in trying to improve his knowledge of the game.

The parallels between Keane and Clough are un-canny, and the fact that two of the most talked about figures in football actually worked with each other over three seasons is of great interest.

Keane would have learned a lot from Clough. Both had career threatening injuries, which opposing players accused them of faking; both were very outspoken and weren't shy about giving an opinion whether it was warranted or not; both had left situations where the ultimate losers were themselves; and both were managers who wanted to achieve great things.

One must also realise that Roy Keane's adviser is currently negotiating with Sunderland over a new contract. And it's no coincidence that all this talk of Keane walking away only surfaced in the last few weeks.

This is an old ploy often used by Brian Clough. In the months leading up to contract negotiations, Clough would often leak stories to the press linking him with positions and with him threatening to resign.

The usual outcome was better terms for Clough, and this "resignation ploy" was also used to get the boardroom to jump through hoops. In doing this, Clough made sure that the boardroom knew who the real figurehead of the club was.

Niall Quinn's Drumaville Consortium have invested heavily in Keane and Sunderland. So much so that Keane has re-structured the entire club to his vision. And despite the current poor run of form, few would argue that Sunderland have a weaker team this season.

Keane is all too aware that if he resigns he will find it next to impossible to manage in the top flight again. His reputation would be shot, as the general view would be that he resigns when things get tough.

And you would assume that Keane the manager has the same drive and will to succeed that Keane the player had. If so, then you must also assume that Keane's ultimate goal is to manage a club like United or Liverpool; he won't achieve this by resigning.

As a player, Keane was often described as volatile, and many expected this aspect of his character to be carried over into his management career.

But as many know, the cold heat of battle makes many men act in different ways. As a manager Keane has had to adopt a "helicopter view" of the actions of his team, and he has proven that he is a shrewd manager in strengthening his squad.

Sunderland have a lot of strength in depth this season, and are three years ahead of schedule of Niall Quinn's blueprint for the club. Keane has been instrumental in not only getting the team into the premiership, but in also being the face of a club that Irish people want to invest in. He knows this all too well.

Resignation at this stage of his career is not an option; Keane has learnt too much from Clough to even consider it.

twitter / WillieGannon