What kind of manager will Roy Keane make? For a man who knows his own mind as well as any footballer of the modern age he also has a formidable set of influences from his playing days from which to choose, although, in the end, there is little doubt that Keane will do it his own way.
Brian Clough's man-management skills? Sir Alex Ferguson's powers of motivation? Perhaps even some of the raw pragmatism of Jack Charlton, although Keane never thought much of the great Republic of Ireland manager who gave him his international debut. What is certain is that he will not be taking his cue from the man he effectively succeeds at Sunderland - Mick McCarthy was, in Keane's words, "a crap player and a crap manager".
For all his career, Keane has been the precious, volatile talent in need of nurturing. The man is an inspirational, match-winning figure and - to a great extent - he must be indulged in order to keep him at the club. Keane tried to retire at least once and Ferguson came to his house to talk him out of it - and the United manager never did that.
Now that responsibility rests on Keane's shoulders. He must do the cajoling, he must be patient with the Championship players he may not consider fit to lace his boots. He will have to be understanding and a motivator even if he secretly curses who he has to work with.
An unyielding perfectionist, a man intolerant of anything but the very best. It was hard to see, as Keane's playing career drew to a close, how he could ever expect to operate in the world of compromise and improvisation that the managers at those clubs below United's level exist. Last summer, as his relationship with Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz deteriorated, he fell out with them over the arrangements for United's pre-season training in Portugal. How can Sunderland hope to compare?
Keane had studied for his FA Pro-Licence at Warwick University that summer, by all accounts a diligent, unassuming student who mucked in with the class of ex-pros from the lower leagues and PE teachers. At times, Keane's humility can be disconcerting, but it is the opposite side of his character that Sunderland's under-achieving players need to be concerned about.
When he eventually comes to tell the story of how Sunderland approached him for the job it will be interesting to learn how Keane patched up his relationship with Niall Quinn. The two men found themselves on opposite sides of the divide during Keane's monumental falling out with McCarthy at the 2002 World Cup and their last meeting on a pitch could hardly have been described as a happy affair.
The abiding memory of that day at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland on 31 August 2002 was Quinn jogging after Keane as the United captain walked to the touchline after his dismissal for an elbow to Jason McAteer. Quinn tried to shake his hand knowing it would be the last time they would face each other, Keane just looked bewildered. An enraged Ferguson intervened, shooing Quinn away in fury.
At the Valley last night Ferguson made it clear that he would not be discussing Keane in his post-match interview on Sky Sports. It suggests that the relationship between the two men has not healed since Keane left the club in November. If Keane wants players on loan he may have to look beyond Old Trafford.
As a rookie manager he faces no mean task rescuing a team at the bottom of the Championship. The highlights of Keane's dealings with his most famous managers will stand him in good stead. Clough once punched him in the face as he walked into the Nottingham Forest dressing room at half-time. Ferguson collected him personally from Manchester's Bootle Street police station after a night in the cells in 1999.
On one of his first away trips with Ireland, Charlton reprimanded him for being late for the team bus following some boozy post-match celebrations. Keane's retort in front of the whole squad was short and to the point: "I never asked you to wait."
In his famous autobiography, Keane lampooned Kenny Dalglish for the angry threats he made when the Irishman decided at the last minute to turn down Blackburn Rovers and sign for United in the summer of 1993. When he finally met Ferguson before that transfer the two men got to know each other over a game of snooker in the United manager's house: Keane claimed he let the older man win.
As the notion of Keane the manager takes shape, the mind drifts back to that Sunderland game four years ago. As United struggled, Keane became so incensed with a misplaced pass from Phil Neville that, in a fury, he shoved the midfielder. As man-management skills go, he will have to improve on that.Reuse content