Nice people. Nice town. Nice team. But how long can Roy Keane be... Mr Nice?
07 August 2009 11:54
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Roy Keane must not have passed a mirror in his three months in Suffolk with Ipswich Town. As he extolled the beguiling gentility of this corner of England yesterday morning, Keane said: 'I've not bumped into one angry person yet.'
Boom boom. This was the smiling, relaxed version of Keane, any dissatisfaction at the pace of transfer activity, or anything else at Portman Road, well disguised. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Four days before his 38th birthday, Keane said that he has 'settled well' into his new home and in praising the area's civility observed: 'I've not seen anyone have road rage, everyone is dead nice, enjoying life. I'm even getting nice myself.'
Everyone laughed, including Keane. It was that sort of morning.
But he would not be the man of legendary impatience if there were not wariness about such niceness, a certain suspicion, and beneath the charm, sure enough, Keane senses danger.
'You can get sucked into a comfort zone in any walk of life,' he said, 'but particularly footballers and particularly at this football club, because it is such a nice area.
'I'm not knocking that but I think the team can be accused of being a nice team. Whenever we go away to places like Sheffield United, we might not have the ball for 60 or 70 per cent of the game - it's no use being nice then.'
A county attribute had swiftly been turned into a potential football fault. It was one reason why the Ipswich squad spent two preseason days at an army barracks, from which one player, Colin Healy, is yet to recover.
'I hope he's still alive somewhere,' Keane joked. 'It was a good idea, tough, a change of scenery. Lack of sleep, lack of food . . . it was good.'
The message to his players is: 'I can be a very demanding person and Idon't make any apologies for that. Some of them have lost their way,some of them have fallen into the comfort zone, nice area, decentwages, very nice people and they get sucked into that, just coasting.They won't be coasting with me.'
Keane's concern is understandable. Even though it was a serene morning at Portman Road, where the statue of Sir Bobby Robson continued to attract a steady flow of mourners, the reality for Keane is that this mood will be a memory if Ipswich Town do not start well in their eighth consecutive Championship season, and do not sustain a challenge.
There have been signings, such as Healy and, from Manchester United's reserves, Lee Martin, but there need to be 'two or three more' according to the manager.
He was hopeful that three could arrive in time for Sunday's trip to Coventry. Watford striker Tamas Priskin is on his way after a medical yesterday, and Sunderland forward Daryl Murphy is a target.
But everyone knows Ipswich's biggest name is in the dugout and that is a reflection of the squad.
'I'm under no illusions,' he recognised, 'I'm here to get the team promoted.'
Then, cranking up the pressure on himself and all those around him, just as he did at Sunderland in his first managerial post, Keane spelled out a timetable of achievement.
'I have my own aims and if we don't get promoted this year or by the end of my contract here in two years' time then I would certainly class that as failure, without a shadow of a doubt,' he said.
'None of this mid-table business. Any half-decent manager can get a team to mid-table. I want to be one of the best managers around. That will come from experience. Sunderland will stand me in good stead because, despite one or two bad decisions, I think I did some decent stuff up there.'
He did. Even though he did not pick a team at Sunderland until September, in his first season on Wearside, Keane led them to the Championship title and promotion.
A repeat of that with Ipswich would aid the restoration of a reputation that took several hits last autumn as Sunderland declined alarmingly and Keane took to nurturing a beard. Then he walked out.
Does he have a point to prove, he was asked. 'We certainly need more points than we got last year,' he replied.
'Listen, I've come here for the challenge, like I said many times. I'm really looking forward to it.'
Over the past week, Robson has emerged as a source of optimism and consolation. He toiled in his first two years at Ipswich and endured calls from supporters for his head.
Keane attended a club barbecue the other night and said: 'From my point of view it was good to hear stories of Sir Bobby struggling in his first two or three years - it gives you a bit of hope.
'You automatically think these great managers - like Brian Clough at Leeds, Alex Ferguson in his first few years - that it was all about win, win, win. They struggled.
'When Sir Bobby was first here they were trying to get him out, a few supporters. When I say a few, I think there were about 10 - the biggest demo they ever had.
'And he was rewarded with a 10-year deal! So I think I need to lose a few games, I might get a 10-year contract. But great stories, that's what makes your football club.'