Category: Archive

Keane’s poor start has fans grumbling

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

This time 12 months ago, he was still the bright young manager of Sunderland and somebody seriously talked about as a future boss at Old Trafford. Today, he’s a long, long way from being considered a candidate for that job. Whatever about journalists openly mocking him (many of these characters have agendas against him from way back), far more worrying is the fact that, in Ipswich, local radio stations have already hummed to the sound of debates about the likely length of his stay. Garnering two points from the first five championship fixtures will do that to a manager.
There is no question Keane is in a spot of serious bother. The transfer deadline purchases of Grant Leadbitter and Carlos Edwards from Sunderland were solid if not spectacular pick-ups. In the bizarre category of players deemed too good for the second tier but perhaps not quite up to the Premiership, this pair are perfect for a team battling for promotion. The only problem is that after such a disastrous start, this Ipswich side is currently mired in the relegation spots and facing into a rather tough September.
After a trip to Middlesbrough (fourth in the table) next Saturday, Ipswich have Nottingham Forest at home, Doncaster Rovers away, Newcastle United (the unlikely league leaders) at home, and Sheffield United (unbeaten so far) away. Beyond Forest at home, how many of those games will Ipswich be favored to win? In the crazy quick-fix culture of modern English football, it’s not an exaggeration either to say that this quintet of games in the space of just 17 days could make or break Keane’s relationship with the club.
He’s already pleaded for patience with the fans but his stock with them is low. Among other reasons, they are miffed with his decision to sell on promising striker Jordan Rhodes. Keane didn’t rate him but the 19 year old has since scored six goals for Huddersfield Town (albeit in a division below) and is suddenly being talked about as a candidate for the England Under-21s. There is also discontent about the fact many of his summer signings have looked no better, and in some cases, have looked decidedly worse than the players already at the club. The latter point weakens Keane’s argument that new personnel were needed to improve a team that finished 9th place last season. Even if he may yet change their minds by using loan signings in the same clever manner as he did at Sunderland, many supporters right now feel that a repeat of 9th in the table seems a long way off.
The way in which his team has so woefully underperformed in the first few weeks of this season has also put Keane’s man-management skills in the spotlight. After the typically dramatic ending to his time at Sunderland, stories began to filter out of the north-east of England about his inability to get on with the players and other staff. On the day of his appointment at Portman Road, some of the Sunderland squad even reportedly sent texts to their pals in Ipswich warning them about what a tough time lay in store.
Those mocking messages must have rung very true last month when Keane followed up yet another lackluster display by his new team with the announcement to the media that a couple of the players would never represent the club again. In an era of pampered and spoilt footballers, we all love these brash statements. When it comes down to it though, this is not the way to get the best out of the members of the Baby Bentley generation. Alex Ferguson, for one, has learned that in the 21st century players tend to react better to a bit more carrot than stick.
If it’s too early to start speculating about whether Keane has lost the dressing-room, the arrival of two of his old soldiers from Sunderland should also help his cause in that regard. However, his conduct this past few weeks, swearing at a local hack, and swearing off ever picking certain players, has again begged the question about his management structure. Even during his more successful days at the Stadium of Light, it always seemed like the neophyte boss could have benefited from a more experienced, older voice alongside him.
While some would argue he cottoned on to that fact when he hired Ricky Sbragia, the man who eventually succeeded him at Sunderland, Keane’s outbursts and “my way or the highway” tone of late might have been tempered by the presence of an elder lemon on the bench at Ipswich. His relationship with Tony Loughlan, his best friend in the game, appears to work well but his assistant had no previous experience coaching at this level before Sunderland. The presence of somebody with decades of involvement in picking teams and dealing with dressing-rooms might help them both avoid future pitfalls. Something better improve soon because the clock is ticking.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw with ten-man Preston North End was viewed by some fans as an opportunity lost. Still, that point gained was vital in its own way because another defeat would have meant Ipswich were off to their worst start to a season for 40 years. Their manager back in that depressing August of 1969 was a newcomer by the name of Bobby Robson. They gave him time to find his feet though and he worked out alright in the end. A lesson there for all involved.

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