December 8, 2023

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There has been recent noise around Roy Keane getting back into management after an eleven-year hiatus although talks broke down between the 50-year-old and Sunderland for their previously vacant position, now filled by Alex Neill. However, the question has now rightly come to the fore about whether Keane will ever manage again.

Keane had a relatively successful career at the helm of Sunderland guiding them to the Championship title and keeping the club in the Premier League on their return to the league during the 2008-09 season before his departure from the club on the 4th of December 2009 with the club sitting in 18th position. This period can be seen as a fairly successful one for Keane, having won the Championship and being awarded the manager of the year for the 2006-07 season. Keane drove his players hard and demanded the best from them in terms of effort and standards with this resulting in positive results before his downfall in his third season.

This successful period was followed by a dull one at Ipswich Town. Sitting in 19th place, the club sacked Keane; this was following a 15th place finish in his first season – a far cry away from their aim of challenging for promotion, one that the club and fans expected to achieve under his stewardship. The Keane tenure of the club would disappoint many fans due to the inconsistency of results and performances, however their expectations could have been considered unrealistic, made obvious by the desire to sack Mick McCarthy despite good results and continuous pushes for promotion. It displays how difficult a job Keane had at Ipswich.

Keane has not had a role as manager since Ipswich in 2011, however he has had three assistant manager roles with the Republic of Ireland, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest. Within this period Keane had success with the European Championship qualifying campaign and the European Championship in France in 2016; Martin O’Neill and Keane had the whole country on a high following their results against Germany and Italy. The level of influence that Keane had with the Republic of Ireland is unknown, however, he was a vital part of the management team of this enjoyable period. Yet the period at Villa and Forest with Paul Lambert and O’Neill, respectively, were quite unspectacular with Keane stepping away from the roles after only a number of months in each.

Keane is best known for his media work recently with the Cork-man proving to be a box office attraction for Sky Sports with many of their most viewed videos on YouTube featuring Keane. His no-nonsense style of punditry, forthright manner and strong opinions regularly spark debate; it’s perfect for any media outlet that wants a vast viewership, similar to Joe Brolly within Gaelic Football. Keane will always be desirable for media work due to the popularity and ‘talkability’ of his nature on screen, yet he has spoken about his desire to move away from this work to get back into management.

The media work may be having a negative impact upon his managerial career. As a pundit Keane is not often asked to analyse the tactics of games but to focus more on character and the thoughts of players and management. This may lead potential employers to question whether Keane has the tactical nous to manage their club successfully. However, mentioning Keane’s name makes your club relevant for 15 minutes and brings you to the forefront of football media as witnessed recently with League One side Sunderland, international side Azerbaijan and in the summer with Scottish Premier League runners up Celtic, but the three sides went for other candidates.

Keane has been criticised as demanding and expecting too much from average players due to the quality he possessed and as not being a suitable manager for the modern player that supposedly needs an arm around their shoulder to perform; yet these accusations have been unfairly levelled at Keane without much evidence apart from his media appearances. Keane will not be able to shake this impression until he enters management again to display his character and ability as a manager.

Football has evolved in many ways since Keane last had his role at Ipswich Town. This evolution has been witnessed and analysed by Keane during his time as a pundit, however this will not help him in his aspiration to return to management. If Keane is serious about securing a role as manager, he will need to accept a position with a side at the level of Sunderland or lower as many clubs of a higher level will look to appoint a manager that has not long ago had a managerial role, been employed in a similar role recently or a former player that has just retired that is eagerly seeking their first managerial position. The longer that Keane remains out of football management and within the media, the more difficult he’ll find it to return to the game. Football will continue to evolve, potentially leaving Keane behind.

Written by Brendan McGilligan | Feature Image by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

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