The Two Sides of the Roy Keane Coin

Mary O'SheaSenior Writer IJune 15, 2009

BOLTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 03: Sunderland Manager Roy Keane looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland at The Reebok Stadium on May 3, 2008 in Bolton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Captain fantastic or over zealous thug?

Someone who knows when to walk away or someone who quits when the going gets tough?

If anyone has divided people into lovers or haters it is former Manchester United and Rep. Ireland Captain, Roy Keane.

The current Ipswich Town manager is never one to shy away from revealing his thoughts off the pitch and never shrunk a challenge on it.

His playing career was pitted with massive highs and some awful lows.

Having already got booked and assured of missing the Champions League Final of 1999, Keane gave the performance of his life against Juventus in Turin to assure his team mates would walk out at the Nou Camp.

Then there is the side of Keane that saw him commit the most awful of tackles on Manchester City's Haaland, which ended his career.

Even his short career in management to date has seen him fully in the limelight.

He took over a Sunderland who were near the bottom of the Coca Cola Championship and lead them to the title and earned promotion to the Premier League.

A season and a half later, Keane left the club.

Looking at some of the main topics of conversation of Roy Keane's career to date, Irish Bleacher Creatures Maire Ofeire and Willie Gannon both take a side of the coin to try and pit both the pros and cons of one of Ireland's most celebrated footballers.

Maire Ofeire will look at the negatives which will be labeled "tails" while Willie Gannon will look at the positives of each situation and as such will be labeled "heads".

Tails: Roy Keane was a central figure in Manchester United's midfield for years. He brought fear onto the pitch, a fear that made some of the opposition quake in their boots.
However, this fear didn't come about from his fantastic skills or ability to pick a pass, it came from his willingness to commit bone crunching tackles. Keane was a dirty player whose best tactic was to dig his studs into the nearest member of the opposition.

Heads: "The most influential and consistent player of the Premier League generation" as quoted by Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Oliver Holt, Henry Winter, Eamon Dunphy, John Giles, and a multitude of others. And rather than being a central figure, he was the central figure in gaining United's dominance.

Keane has become the epitome of what a modern midfielder is. A superb passer of the ball, statistically he had the highest percentage of completed passes in the Premier League when he was a player, great in the tackle, incomparable tactical awareness, and above all a supreme competitor.

All too often the battle was won when his opponent met his icy glare.

Tails: Two words but one name: Alf-Inge Haaland. Yes, Haland had annoyed Keane over claims that he feigned injury but to commit such an awful tackle four years later, to bare such a grudge for such a long time that he ended a fellow professional's career shows Keane's lack of respect for others.

Heads: There is no way to defend the "second" tackle on Haaland. Vicious and brutal and deserving of a red card. But it hurt Keane to the bone, when Haaland stood over him gloating and shouting and calling him a diver and that he faked the injury, one that kept him from the game for almost a year.

And just like Brian Clough, whose career finished the same way, with a player claiming he dived and was faking. Clough went on to harbour those thoughts without retribution until he died. Keane had a chance to put the story straight, asking Haaland "Who respects who now?"

Tails: A man's word is meant to be, well his word. In 1992 he had agreed to join Blackburn Rovers but instead on the day the deal was meant to go through he announced he would be joining Alex Ferguson's Manchester United.
Keane had broken his word, a verbal contract, and it wouldn't be the last time either. Maybe Brian Clough was right, he was just a "greedy child."

Heads: Blackburn were on the way to buying the league. They were a club without a soul, and the only bidders for Keane until Fergie called him. And over a game of snooker with his soon manager to be, Keane decided to join Fergie's revolution, and take a wage cut into the bargain. Never motivated by money, always by the challenge ahead. 

Tails: As a Captain of a club, in particular one that is in the public eye and as acclaimed as Manchester United, one would expect Roy Keane to be discreet in his actions.
If he feels something isn't happening to his liking at the club, it is best to go direct to the manager and air his grievances. Instead, Keane being Keane he had to get his moment in the spotlight and attacked his colleagues on television in that infamous MUTV interview. 
What other option had Ferguson but to make him leave? He had undermined the club, his fellow players and his manager. This eeks of a man who wanted to leave the club but didn't have the balls to do so, so instead he made the manager sack him as Captain and sell him.
Surely you would expect a lot more from a professional who at that stage had been playing at the top level of football for quite a long time.

Heads: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Manchester United, at the time were floundering in open sea. Too many of their players thought that they had made it, just by joining a prestigious club. 

His outburst on MUTV was not aimed at getting himself into the media spotlight, like one of David Beckham's many pr stunts. No, it was designed to wake his club and manager from their slumber, and let them know that just being there and accepting second place is not good enough, never mind a 4-1 mauling by bloody Middlesbrough!

The end result was Keane leaving, but his outburst still echoes around the halls of Old Trafford, as his team have never showed the same complacency since. 

Tails: Keane isn't one for respecting those in charge is he?
In 2002 he was very distressed at how the Rep.Ireland national team were preparing for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Yes, there was a lot that could have been done to a more professional standard by the FAI but once again it seemed it was Keane's way or the highway.
Mick McCarthy was the manager of Ireland and Keane should have respected his authority. As Captain he had a right to air grievances of the team but Keane just seemed to be airing his own. Once again he used the media to do so in his interview with Tom Humphries of The Irish Times
Ireland don't qualify for too many major tournaments and for our best player and Captain to walk out on his country on the eve of a World Cup is criminal. It was meant to be a joyous time in Ireland, instead Keane divided the nation and caused endless debate.

Heads: Far from not respecting others, Keane wants the very best for all he plays with. Where did Ireland go for training a month before the World Cup? Saipan. What is Saipan most famous for? Being a stag-party destination.

The FAI had brought the Irish press core on a "jolly", and the only training pitch on the island was a field behind a hotel that was as hard as a road. And just to top it off the FAI "forgot" to bring the training gear. Makes you wonder what the FAI had in mind for those two weeks?

And the only inflammatory thing in the entire Humphries interview is when Keane describes the difference between him and more skillful players in the Irish camp was desire and not settling for second best.

McCarthy, who felt undermined in the countries best players presence, chose this to fight with Keane on. And then accused him of faking injury to avoid internationals, in front of the entire squad. Roy saw red, and walked.

Keane was right in his stance against mediocrity, bad preparation, and the un-professionalism that has dogged the FAI since it's inception. 

The end result was the "Genisis Report" which found everything in Keane's favour and ordered a complete re-structuring of the footballing federation, which has seen the FAI's approach to international and domestic football improve dramatically. 

Tails: Speaking of walking out, Keane did it once again in 2008 having decided the going had got tough at Sunderland. 

It would be foolish to deny he did a great job in getting Sunderland up to the Premier League as Champions considering where they were when he took over, however been a manager in the top level of English football is a different kettle of fish, it is a pressure cooker and Keane couldn't handle the heat. 
Sunderland had backed him with the finances to do well and he spent strange amounts of money on players that didn't look worth it. Yes, he kept them up the first year but the second year is always the hardest. 
Reports out of Sunderland claim neither the club or players were happy as Keane wasn't at training everyday as he still lived in Manchester—hardly very professional for a top level manager. 
Sunderland lost a few games, Keane buckled under the pressure and decided he would be better off taking his dog for a walk instead of getting the club out of the mess. I wonder how long he will last at Ipswich?

Heads: Although Keane "walked out" on Sunderland, it had little to do with the poor form the team were showing at the time.

After dragging a team, who were bottom of the Championship after Mick McCarthy's ill fated reign, Keane achieved promotion at the first attempt. A superb achievement. The following season, the squad improved by a few percent and survived life in the Premiership gold-fish bowl.

The following season, the squad was improved again, but beset by injuries to key players, Sunderland had to re-structure and change formation. This was taking time to bed in, before Ellis Short got involved.

For Sunderland to take that extra step into becoming a guaranteed Premiership side, Niall Quinn needed extra finance, and so, American businessman Ellis Short came on board. And no sooner was he is the door, then he started to undermine his manager.

No manager spends everyday on the training pitch with his team, and indeed managers like Alex Ferguson, Martin O'Neill, Harry Redknapp, and the great Brian Clough spend minimal time training the players, that is what assistant managers and first team coaches are for, just like Ricky Sbragia.

Who benefitted from Keane's demise? The man who was speaking to the owner.

Keane didn't buckle under the pressure, he resigned because Short had moved the goalposts that worked perfectly well for two years.

Ipswich have benefited from Short's poor management skills. Expect the Tractor boys to be in the EPL within two years, if not one.

So the arguments have been made, but where does your opinion on Roy Keane fit in?

Is he a negative influence on football and those around him? 

Did and does he use bully-boy tactics to get his way on and off the pitch?

Or is a player and manager who is aware that he has limitations and uses sheer passion to compensate for this?

Flick the coin!


Other articles in this series:

The Two Sides of the Nicklas Bendtner Coin

The Two Sides of the Cristiano Ronaldo Coin

The Two Sides of the Arsene Wenger Coin

The Two Sides of the Wayne Rooney Coin

**My sincere thanks to Willie Gannon for his contribution to this article.