Captain's Blog: Keane Impact Crucial In Sunderland Revival

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 02: ITV guests Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane (R) give their views before the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Villareal CF and Manchester City at El Madrigal on November 2, 2011 in Villarreal, Spain. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

For the most part, this summer's European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine have been one of the more entertaining international tournaments of recent years. For all the good football, mostly competitive games, and top players on show, though, it has been Roy Keane's cutting and uncompromising wit from the ITV studio that has proved the source of the most consistent entertainment.

For us, of course, it has been more like a nostalgia act. The sight of a brooding and generally annoyed Keane staring down some poor soul contractually obliged to ask him prominently silly questions with nothing but disdain and rage in his eye was a weekly occurrence at Sunderland a few years ago.

It is probably fair to say that Keane was one of the more frustrating managers the club have had in recent memory. It wasn't really that he came up just short in the end and it all ended in some tears that was behind that frustration. That happens with just about everyone if you wait long enough. It wasn't that it all ended in drama and histrionics, either. Think we all expected that from day one.

What was different about Keane at Sunderland is that you always just sensed the was on the cusp of something very special. For a time, it was a very special ride. That incredible run from absolutely nowhere to the Championship title in 2007 is something I genuinely expect to remember in intricate detail for the rest of my days.

As close as he always seemed, though, he was never really able to grasp it and seize the magic formula that harnessed his gifts and belied his demons. He always tread a fine line between success and self-destruction, and ultimately dropped off onto the wrong side into a beard-laden nightmare.

The cold annals of history will probably record Keane's tenure in charge of Sunderland as an unremarkable spell that never achieved the the levels of progress that the investment that was going on at the club during that time really required. There is probably a lot of truth in that. I am not sure it tells the whole story, though.

In reflecting upon Roy Keane's importance to the mini Sunderland revival of recent years, context is absolutely crucial. Because without Keane, it is difficult to envisage it even happening at all. That is a bold statement, I accept, but one that holds water. To underestimate the importance of Keane to the Sunderland story is to underestimate the apathy that engulfed the club prior to his arrival and threatened to strangle Niall Quinn's revolution before it had even properly began.

The revisionist part of the tale is that Quinn breezed into the club following a crushingly humiliating relegation, uttered a few magic words in his soft Irish brogue, and everything started to get better. That's not how I remember it. I am fairly sure that it isn't how the fans who travelled to Southend and Bury that August remember it either.

For all the relief and romanticism and raw hope of Quinn's return, he alone was powerless to even slow the decline down, never mind stop it and turn it around. He needed a force of nature to shake the club free from the apathy. He needed Roy Keane.

Would anyone else have done? You suspect that Martin O'Neill, who was Quinn's first choice for the job even then, would have had a similar impact. No one else even remotely within the club's reach could have provided the required buzz, though.

For a while there always seemed a sense of resentment towards Keane from Sunderland fans following his departure from the club. When the end is messy, and it was certainly that, then that will always be the case.

If my conversations with fans this summer are any reflection, however, that anger seems to have softened and many have now come to appreciate the pivotal role that Keane played in where the club is today. Without Keane, the likelihood is that there would have been no instant promotion, no Ellis Short, and possibly no easy way back for Sunderland following that 15 point debacle.

Would I want him anywhere near the club nowadays in a managerial role? Absolutely not. But I'm certainly very thankful that he showed up when he did.

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