Roy Keane has written about his time at Portman Road. Susan Gardiner took a quick look and these are her first impressions.
I did wonder whether Roy Keane would say very much about Ipswich Town in his new autobiography, The Second Half, co-written with Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle. I enjoyed his previous book with Eamon Dunphy (with whom he later fell out. Obviously.) and I felt some sympathy with him when he came to Ipswich – here’s a man who will never be able to build a career away from the cameras, journos and their tiresome ringing mobile phones, and keyboard warriors high on male pheronomes – but that has been severely strained by a quick glance at the relevant chapter of the new book. Given that I don’t have the context of the entire book, it wouldn’t be fair to comment too much on Keane, the man – although it’s hard not to.
It’s quite obvious that Keane regards his whole time at Portman Road as a mistake. He claims that he and Ipswich were a “bad fit” and the omens were there from the start: hardly anyone came to his first training session which was open to the public, he says. Oh, and he hates blue: “I don’t like fuckin’ blue. City were blue. Rangers were blue. My biggest rivals were blue? Is that childish?”
Yes, Roy. It is.
I’m quite glad that I was unaware of that level of irrationality when he was our manager. Although this book was written with hindsight, it’s a curious method of self-justification and that particular bit doesn’t ring true. I wonder why he says it. It’s not particularly edifying. He goes on: “I couldn’t feel it. Me and the club. I get annoyed now, thinking that. I should have been able to accept it.”
This is the tone of the section I’ve read: slightly regretful, mea culpa, I should have accepted the situation and have done my best with it. But I don’t buy it. It seems to me that, at Ipswich, he felt like Gloria Swanson, playing the ageing Hollywood star, Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard (“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”) He moans about his office, “like a school prefab,” and it makes me long for the humility of an Alf Ramsey or the pragmatic cheeriness of a Bobby Robson (“good fits”).
The question springs to mind: why was Roy Keane appointed at all? What was in Marcus Evans’ mind when he (presumably) decided to sack Magilton and replace him with this man? Magilton was not doing particularly badly. In retrospect, it seems very harsh that he was sacked and, although we’re happy to have Mick McCarthy, I do wonder how well Magic Jim would have done, had he had the time to build a team. The only explanation that I can come up with for the arrival of Keane is “publicity.” And he definitely created huge opportunities for a certain grey and white logo to be displayed all over Britain’s press and TV screens.
Keane is certainly self-deprecating at times: “I made another mistake. I should have looked at the bigger picture.” He writes of what he describes as “the dreaded conversations with the owner” during the close season. It’s interesting to see that, for all his anonymity, Evans is not averse to interfering with managerial decision-making. Perhaps Town fans became too used to the completely hands-off approach that the Cobbolds took for decades, although it seemed to work for us. I was most surprised by the picture Keane draws of sitting with ME discussing tactics, with a tactics board. Perhaps this explains a lot:
ME: “Well, why can’t he play there?”
RK: “Because he’s this and he’s not that.”
ME: “Let’s go with the younger players.”
So, according to Keane’s book, he was told to go for youth rather than experience against his better judgement. “The average age of a promoted team is twenty-eight or twenty-nine.”
Keane puts the failure to recruit (33-year-old) Sean Derry firmly at the feet of the club. He wanted an experienced pro, which is understandable, but whether Derry was the right “fit,” we’ll never know. He’s respectful towards Town fans, says some kind words about Connor Wickham but what he says about some of his other players demonstrates an absence of rapport to say the least. When shaking their hands and wishing them luck going on to the pitch “sometimes I’d wonder what they were putting into my hand.”
He wanted to physically attack Pablo, and his bust-up with Walters is the stuff of legend (vomit selfie, anyone?) but what he says about selling Rhodes is interesting, at least to me because I always suspected that was a club decision rather than Keane’s and he confirms it.
Most interesting of all are his revelations about CEO Simon Clegg. And that there was never an occasion when he, Clegg and Evans were ever in “the same room together.” His comment on Clegg (“This is the face you have got”) being answerable to Marcus Evans rather than working with the manager rings true and it’s perhaps one thing that we can be sympathetic with Keane about.
While I find him surprisingly unanalytical and lacking in self-awareness (that ego gets in the way too often), I think he’s right about not being a good fit with this club. I despair that he compares us unfavourably to Sunderland and even more when reading these words: “Chris Kiwomya was there, and Bryan Klug, and Steve McCall was the chief scout. They’d all played for Ipswich. It has the feel of a family club that didn’t need breaking up. But that was exactly what it needed.”
Ultimately, it was the wrong appointment at the wrong time and for questionable reasons. Keane clearly found it onerous to “discuss mobile phones for hours” when Wickham has been thrown out of his digs. I was struck by the comparison with our great managers of the past, Ramsey and Robson, who patiently performed far more menial administrative tasks for the club and had a genius for good relationships with their players and other staff, well documented elsewhere. As Kevin Beattie recalled of Bobby Robson: “It didn’t matter if you were the best player in the team or the worst player, he treated you the same and got the best out of you. He could make an average player into a good player and a good player into a great player. It was uncanny ability and that made him stand out as a manager. Wherever he went, he seemed to get the best out of his players. I know at Ipswich, we all just wanted to play for him.”
Roy Keane wasn’t blessed with players of the ability of Beattie, Mariner, Wark or Mills, and it’s arguable that things may have been different if he’d had a different kind of owner and chief executive to deal with. In many ways, Keane was a symptom of the changes made to our club’s character in recent years rather than the cause of our problems. Let’s hope that in Mick McCarthy we now have someone able to deal with that, yet retain respect for the nature of our club.
The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2014). Borrow it from your local public library, they need your support.