In a week and a half or so where Sunderland have made the headlines for all of the wrong reasons, the latest news to emerge is that Roy Keane has ruled himself out of taking the Sunderland job.
Keane was the number one choice for many fans – not so for many others – and while not being quite marmite in the collective thoughts of our support at the possibility of becoming manager, his name raised more than a few doubts. What you cannot deny though, is that his was the biggest name of all of those being linked.
Also, as anyone who has read his book will tell you, Roy, for such a hard-faced abrasive character, has a huge soft spot for Sunderland. For someone who wanted to be left alone outside of Old Trafford when he was in Manchester, he loved engaging with the fans in street when he was in charge at the Stadium of Light. For someone who didn’t care too much for being manager of Ipswich, he loved being manager of Sunderland.
There were always doubts attached to his name when it was brought up in the past week and a half. How long would he last? Is his style of management what is needed for a shell-shocked, shattered squad?
But to be fair, every manager is a gamble and the reason that Keane has engaged so much debate amongst fans is because his has been the biggest name, the first name for some, and also because we know him so well.
Throughout the whole debate, the question I had was how would he fit in with the current set-up and philosophy implemented by the club hierarchy? Roy Keane has always said that he prefers to distance himself from coaching, to be an observer and motivator of players. This is a man who likes to be in charge, to have control of a club top to bottom and to bring in the players that he wants. Much the same way that his own long time manager Sir Alex Ferguson had at Manchester United and before him Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest.
This is the way Roy Keane ran Sunderland with Niall Quinn as chairman from 2006-2008.
Could that have fitted into the current set-up, with him working under a Sporting Director responsible for the recruitment of players? Players who fit into the data-led scouting philosophy which is at odds with Roy Keane’s gut instinct for a player, of liking what he sees, taking in their character and even (in the instance of Connor Wickham at Ipswich) the way they shook his hand.
If there was any question over who was responsible for player recruitment when Lee Johnson was in charge, then it was answered in the days after he was sacked, with the club continuing its transfer business as normal. And remember that Lee Johnson was never given the title of ‘Manager’, he was always ‘Head Coach’.
It is hard to imagine the club hierarchy wavering from their present stated long-term set-up, of a Sporting Director who is responsible for player recruitment, and a Head Coach underneath him responsible for team affairs. To rip that plan up in favour of an incoming manager who wants control over all affairs to run the club in the way he sees fit, seems improbable.
For me, there had to be a meeting of minds, with Roy Keane willing to be a head coach, solely responsible for coaching and picking the team and with little say on the kind of players that were being brought in. It could be, that as talks went on between Roy Keane on one side and KLD and Kristjaan Speakman on the other, the more they heard of each other's ideas, the less one fancied of the other or even both ways.
When asked about the discussions over the last week, Keane himself stated that the ‘contract had to be right’. But if he has as reported been offered a contract which he has turned down it is hard to believe that it was just a matter of money.
After all, the carrot dangled was a route back into management, and the Sunderland job one that he loved. It would be interesting to know if any ‘right contract’ offered had the title of Manager or Head Coach on it. If the minds had met, then in my opinion any contract offered would have been ‘right’ in terms of money, title and all.