"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Roy Keane on Wearside

And then it happened. I heard on the radio one morning last week that Roy Keane was in "advanced negotiations" with Niall Quinn, chairman of Sunderland football club, with a view to taking over as manager. I thought a first I must have imagined what I thought I had heard: a product of exam stress and insufficient sleep/caffeine perhaps. But it was correct. And now it is a done deal. Last night the Sunderland players even managed to pull off a surprising 2-0 win over West Brom. Why has Keane taken on the job? After all, Sunderland has seemed in freefall since being relegated from the Premiership. The players seem a dispirited, scarcely functional bunch. They lost their four opening matches in the Championship; then they were knocked out of the League Cup by Bury, a side languishing at the bottom of the Football League.

A contract worth a reported 6 million punds sterling (reports vary; some suggest 10 million) might be pointed to as a reason. But Keane is by any standard a wealthy man; over his final years at United he took home a six-figure sum weekly. He need not work again for many years, should he so wish. Unlike some other professional footballers, he has never shown conspicuous attachment to monetary reward as an end in itself; it has simply been a by-product of his career in the game. For example, we know he was willing to take a large pay cut to turn out for Celtic. He is a man who would not let money get in the way of something he thinks he should do. That is not to say he does not know his value; Michael Kennedy, solicitor, has rendered him consistently outstanding service in that regard, as Tom Humphries noted yesterday in the Irish Times. So it wasn't for the money. I think the basic answer is that Keane, as he showed in his playing career, is a competitive spirit to his very core. It has given his life its very meaning, apart from his family, since he contemplated what to do with his life and got the call from first Cobh Ramblers, then Nottingham Forest, then Manchester United, and, latterly, Celtic. He seems to have found the prospect of months, even years, away from the cut-and-thrust of footballing competition too much.

So if he desired a way back into the game, why Sunderland and Niall Quinn? The question would perhaps surprise a hypothetical observer unaware of what occurred in Saipan four summers ago. Look at it this way: the club has an ambitious chairman and board, has just been taken over by a wealthy consortium willing to invest significant sums, a fine stadium and a large fanbase - at least by Championship standards. Keane and Quinn are men enough to leave behind what happened. Keane certainly seems to have shed to bitterest leading edge of his view of the events of 2002; or so one would infer, for he has not said as much in public and may not do so for a long time to come. He has quite a task on his hands. But the old saying is appropriate: No better man.


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