The more closely one looks at Roy Keane’s resignation, the more one is driven for explanation to Hamilton’s Big Red Book of Psychobabble.
It wasn’t that he was a bad manager. He didn’t even come across as an inexperienced one.
Could he improve players? It’s a key skill, albeit one that several surviving Premiership managers lack.
And, yes, he could: Nyron Nosworthy’s previous bosses have expressed amazement at some of his performances in the last year. Richardson, a talent that had actually stalled at Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, has become exciting and dangerous again, but less wasteful.
Could he pick a player? How was he in the transfer market?
Things are more mixed here, but no more mixed than at any other club. Kenwyne Jones was a signing of brilliance, and one wonders how different this season might have been for Sunderland had he not suffered that awful injury in the “international” against England last summer. And who thought Dwight Yorke a good idea at the time?
It’s an old saw that the difference between good Premiership players, the Lampards, and Football League talent is mostly mental. That gap can be seen even at Premiership level, and the problem for clubs like Sunderland is that the number with the skill and the head to go with it are few in number and almost all at the big four.
Everyone else has to deal with the relative troublemakers and share them out between them. Sunderland’s recent experiences with players like Diouf and Chimbonda are no different from what other clubs are going through. Some players can’t be managed, and if you are Liverpool or Manchester United, you can afford to ship them out.
Had he lost the dressing room? Not if you ask Carlos Edwards. But what he does seem to have done recently is lost control of his defence. There was little wrong with the rest of the side, but it takes a certain standard of performance at the back to make Bolton look like Chelsea.
But every lesser club goes through this. No one doubts Mark Hughes as a coach, yet his recent results have been every bit as bad. David Moyes has had black periods – this period in Sunderland’s history reminds me of his first couple of seasons at Goodison. Whatever problems Sunderland have are capable of solution, and the club has the squad to solve them.
Out comes the Big Red Book, then.
Keane’s autobiography is packed with intelligent reflections on management from a player’s point of view, and it’s obvious that, like Clough before him, he’d been thinking about football from a non-playing perspective for a long time.
What if, then, Keane understood management, was good at management or at least not worse than the competition, was finding his way in it, had a future in it, and had been wrong in his prediction about what management would be like?
Every job has hidden parts to it that you don’t see before you’re there. I was a shrink for a number of years, but had pretty much obsessed with matters psychological for over a decade, putting in rather more than 10,000 of what we must learn to call our Gladwell hours.
I don’t miss it now that I’m out of the game, and I don’t miss it for that host of little details that no one tells you. Was it that way for Keane?
I wasn’t joking when I mentioned the beard yesterday. Unhappy blokes let themselves go. It was more than just the beard. The body language had changed: never a man with the most open posture to begin with, Keane had closed himself completely, his gaze, still burning, pointed off to some kind of elsewhere.
It reminded me of every colleague I’ve ever seen working out their last fortnight: body present, mind in the pub.
There’s one other clue in that autobiography: contra related authors like Alex Ferguson or George Best or Tony Adams, Keane puts football in the balance and finds it wanting. The other men never once imply that a world outside the game matters, or that the game is anything other than the most important thing in the world. Keane sees it as a black plastic bag containing fakers, cheats, cowards, and, on the other hand, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Which makes me propose that Keane’s resignation is nothing to do with his performance or his team’s. It wasn’t because his players lacked his intensity and commitment.
He resigned because there were things about management that he hadn’t expected. It felt different from the job he’d anticipated. He’d forseen something better. He just didn’t like it. So he left. He won’t be back. And he won’t miss it.