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Roy Keane to Sunderland – a nostalgic call-back, or a shot in the arm?

“Reports have suggested that Roy Keane may be in the frame for a return as Sunderland manager – it is exciting on paper, but is it what we need?” asks Jack Howe-Gingell.

Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Roy Maurice Keane.

It’s a name that evokes excitement and fond memories amongst most, if not all Sunderland supporters. Whether it was that transfer deadline day where six players were all signed in one of the greatest flurries of activity we’ll possibly ever see, or the cavalcade of last-minute winners and equalisers (special mention to David Connolly’s last minute equaliser away to Burnley, and the late Liam Miller’s winner against Derby at home causing scenes and limbs aplenty), the Keane era was one to remember.

Keane’s promotion season was a real rollercoaster, starting off rock bottom of the Championship, and ending with a Carlos Edwards rocket leading us back to the Premier League (and eventually another Championship title).

For many, Keane returned Sunderland to a place of relevance with his mystique and fiery energy, alongside a subtle sense of humour and most importantly, a desire to win.

Sunderland v Burnley
Edwards mobbed in that special moment
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

It’s interesting that the situation the club found themselves in prior to Keane’s arrival is not all too dissimilar from the situation we later found ourselves in, which sadly has led to our current stint in League One.

Keane saved us from that once, and you have to wonder if he could do something similar again and lead us back to another promotion. We’re currently on a poor run of form, and back in 2006 we were on the back of 5 defeats, including one against bottom of the Football League Bury – dare it be suggested that history could be repeating itself?

Question marks were of course levied at Keane after he successfully kept us in the Premier League. That campaign again was awash with that never say die attitude, with the last-minute winner against Tottenham on the opening day setting the tone, but he struggled to take us to the next level.

Attempts to sign “next level players” perhaps pulled apart some of the team spirit that had defined us for two seasons, and there were indications that Keane’s temperament provoked downfall.

The final straw for Keane was a dismal defeat at home to Bolton (that sounds familiar), and an apparent dislike of “meddling” from then owner Ellis Short, leading to his resignation.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Fast forward to the present day – Sunderland are well-positioned in League One, but are faltering and need something to get back on track. Can Roy Keane provide that spark, and what would make it different to the way it unfortunately ended?

We know that Keane is a born winner. He demanded it as a player and imposed it as a manager. Whilst there is undoubted talent within our squad, it needs some fire and motivation – following our lacklustre drubbing away to Bolton, you would expect the players to ask each other serious questions as to how they performed. Someone like Keane would foster a more competitive, driven mindset, the exact kind needed to push for promotion.

The club has set out a clear strategy of how they wish the playing side to be conducted. The presence of Technical Director Kristjaan Speakman and Head of Recruitment Stuart Harvey is move to a modern style with the manager being more of a “head coach”, with less responsibility for identifying players and managing contracts.

Some say Keane would not fit into this, nor be willing to do so – I beg to differ.

If anything Keane would thrive in this system. By his own admission, he was not great at managing transfers and contract negotiations. Surely this would allow Keane to be a great fit now, possibly even better than his initial run?

Equally, if Keane is indeed willing to speak to the club, then he will be fully aware of what the role entails should he and Sunderland be willing to partner up.

There is also the prospect of this only being a short-term appointment – someone to push the team and get them organised until the final ball is kicked. This kind of short-term star power has been plain to see in the latest return of Jermain Defoe. His mere presence has provided a huge lift to supporters, and his playing colleagues – and that’s before he’s even had a shot in anger!

Keane could provide much of the same, galvanising the fanbase and getting us on the same page for an important next three months. Admittedly, he hasn’t had a managerial role for 12 years but he has still kept his hand in with assistant roles with the Republic of Ireland, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest – the man is not completely cold, and can still offer something.

Keane’s temperament has been an oft-cited reason for his failure in management but there is evidence of a softer, or mellower Roy Keane. His foray into the world of Instagram and his on-going bromance with fellow pundit Micah Richards has shown another side to Keane, and maybe even a development into understanding the modern footballer.

The fire, of course, still remains, with comments such as those launched at David de Gea and waiting for him in car parks, making that perfectly clear.

Liverpool v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

It’s safe to say that this link has stirred up the emotions of the fanbase.

To many he put Sunderland back on a pedestal and was part of the “magic carpet ride” that so many of us loved 16 years ago.

Keane stated in his latest autobiography that he had “unfinished business” with Sunderland, a team he described as “a proper club”. He is a man with an understanding of what Sunderland is about and I have no doubt that he would love to have another crack at it.

It could be another case of right man, right time to push us on to promotion, and if ends up with the Playoffs, I can’t think of many better who could provide the drive and tenacity to get us through them.

On the other hand, it may all end in massive, unkempt beards and tears again but you can guarantee one thing, it won’t be boring.


Farewell, Tony, and thanks for the Sunderland memories


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