If we don't go up I have failed, says Keane

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The Independent Football

Ipswich Town, Roy Keane can handle. But Ipswich town, and Suffolk in general, appear to have the Irishman baffled.

"I've not bumped into a single angry person, or seen any road rage, since I've been here, the people all seem to enjoy life, and that's great, I'm not knocking it," said Keane. "I'm even getting nice myself. But you can get into a comfort zone in any form of life, particularly in football, and particularly at this club, simply because it is such a nice area.

"I'm convinced a lot of the players at this club could play in the Premiership, without a shadow of a doubt. But some have lost their way, and some have maybe fallen into that comfort zone of having a nice wage, living in a nice area, surrounded by nice people. They've been sucked into that, and are coasting. But they won't be coasting with me in charge."

That much the Ipswich players must have long since realised. As part of pre-season training, the first-team squad, Keane and his staff included, spent two days under the command of the Parachute Regiment at their barracks in Colchester. It was, said Keane, all part of a learning process, for him as much as the players. "It was tough, very tough, but I wanted to see the players working together out of their usual environment, taking on challenges and assault courses lacking sleep and half-decent food."

The same was true of the more usual pre-season training routine, during which a number of players have been allowed to leave, or as Keane put it, "fallen by the wayside". Others, he said, are likely to follow. "I think I can be a very, very demanding person, I don't make any apologies for that, and I believe you train as you play," he said. "Some players enjoy that, a few don't, and I certainly feel one or two of those who have moved on weren't maybe ready for the demands I was putting on them."

Those demands, and the club's limited spending power, mean Keane will begin the season with a squad he concedes is understrength, particularly up front. Pre-season games have seen Ipswich almost of necessity playing 4-5-1, but the signing on Friday of Watford striker Tamas Priskin for £1.7m increases Keane's options, and both Sunderland's Daryl Murphy and Celtic forward Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink are also said to be targets.

Even so, Keane acknowledges he is in a different position to that in which he found himself when taking over at Sunderland. "In terms of bringing in seven or eight players, it's been a relaxing pre-season, put it that way, but realistically, I knew that wasn't going to happen. The owner [businessman Marcus Evans] spent good money last year, there are some good players here, and it's essentially up to me to fine-tune it."

But for all that there are teams in the Championship with what he suggested are "much, much" stronger squads than his, Keane has no doubt that promotion is a realistic ambition. "Absolutely 100 per cent. It's going to be tough, but mid-table is no good, I think any half-decent manager will get a team mid-table in the Championship. You can't beat the Premiership, let's not kid ourselves, that's where I should be and I want to get there this year."

Keane believes he has learned from his time in charge at Sunderland. "Hopefully I'm a better and wiser manager. For example, I think at Sunderland I was guilty of letting the training sessions go on too long when intensity is what's important.

"I probably also tried to do too much in my third season. I was happy with getting promoted, and then finishing 15th, but I thought we could maybe go up to eighth, and that was probably unrealistic. I'll also be very wary of the players I bring in here. If the gut feeling isn't right, they won't be signed, simple as that. Good players are obviously important, but so are good characters. Character will get us promoted this year."

Asked whether in the circumstances getting Ipswich promoted would be recognised as a greater achievement than taking Sunderland up, Keane shrugged. "Recognised by who? The media? That doesn't worry me. It's about myself, my aims. If we don't go up this year, or at the end of my contract in two years' time, I'd class that as failure, without a shadow of doubt."