The news that Roy Keane has left Nottingham Forest apparently due to his desire to ‘restart his managerial career’ was one of the more interesting stories of the weekend.
Naturally, as soon as the news broke, many Sunderland fans took to Twitter and proclaimed ‘Bring him home’, or a variation thereof. Despite the inevitable leanings towards nostalgia, I found myself trying to take a broader view of the situation.
When Keane joined Sunderland as manager in 2006, I distinctly remember feeling a mixture of both shock and excitement. Roy Keane, Sunderland manager? It sounded surreal. How had Niall Quinn persuaded one of the game’s greats to come and manage our (then) wounded and damaged club? Convince him he did, however, and suddenly, we had cause to be positive once again.
We all know the impact that Keane had during the 2006/2007 season. He raised the standards, recruited shrewdly, and transformed the team’s style of play into something that owed a great deal to fighting spirit and tenacity, but with the skills of players such as Carlos Edwards and Ross Wallace to compliment the newly-instilled ‘never say die’ spirit. It worked.
We won the league, and the summer of 2007 was one of the most optimistic times I can remember as a Sunderland fan. Finally, we seemed to be on a genuine upward trajectory.
2007/2008, though something of a roller coaster, had to be deemed a success. We survived - the primary aim of any newly-promoted team - despite some wretched results (Everton away, anyone?) and hit and miss recruitment (Danny Higginbotham? Pass).
Keane, to my eyes, never looked out of his depth in the Premier League, and even during the winter of 2007 when things looked bleak he remained calm, and was ultimately rewarded with survival, secured with a 3-2 home win against Middlesbrough.
Keane’s tenure at Sunderland ended badly. I remember the day he left and the shock and sadness I felt. Two years, and he was gone. We were struggling at the time but his departure still dismayed me. What started so well had ended with a horrible sense of ‘what might’ve been’.
Since then, ten years have passed. We’ve been through a hell of a lot of upheaval and Keane’s own career as a manager with Ipswich, as an assistant at Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland, interspersed with many memorable punditry appearances, has been interesting to say the least.
Nevertheless, he remains one of football’s most compelling characters, and a man who, for better or worse, will almost certainly make an impact, in the short term at least, wherever he finds himself landing next.
Were he to return, would Keane necessarily be able to recreate the magic of his first spell?
Modern-day footballers, as we know, are sensitive souls, and criticism of players is often met with less than professional responses. Could Keane adapt to that, or is his no-nonsense managerial style best suited to an era long since past, and his upfront manner best suited to the comforts of the pundit’s studio?
Assuming Keane remains ‘on the market’, and Sunderland’s 2019/2020 season begins in less-than-impressive fashion, it is almost a certainty that the clamour for his return will grow ever louder.
I remain a staunch backer of Jack Ross.
I believe that, given time and the right recruitment, he will deliver promotion, but Keane’s current status as a free agent simply brings back into even sharper focus the pressures and red-hot expectations that Jack Ross will be under as we embark upon our second season in League One.