Roy Keane, unpredictable as ever, was today announced as the new manager of Ipswich Town four-and-a half months after the 37 year-old Irishman stunned football by walking out on Sunderland with the club third-bottom of the Premier League.
Outside the Premier League since 2002, Ipswich not only lack Sunderland's top-flight status but also the scale of its fan-base, yet the Portman Road club is the sort Keane would describe as "proper" historically and in billionaire backer Marcus Evans, Ipswich have a figure who can fund the club's – and Keane's – new ambition in the transfer market. It is understood that Evans is determined to turn Ipswich into a Premier League force. That aim was the appeal to Keane.
Evans alienates some Ipswich fans with his secrecy and it will not go unnoticed on Wearside that in this respect Evans compares to Ellis Short, the American majority shareholder at Sunderland whom Keane blamed his December departure upon. Both Evans' and Short's desire for anonymity disguises the depth of their pockets.
But Keane's signature is a coup for Evans and for Ipswich, who are ninth in the Championship but cannot reach the play-offs even with two games of the season left and that was the reason why they sacked manager Jim Magilton yesterday morning. Magilton, a former Ipswich player, had been in charge since June 2006.
Hours after Magilton's dismissal, the new high-profile chief executive Simon Clegg suggested that Ipswich were advanced in their search for a successor. Clegg stressed "passion" and previous experience of gaining promotion from the Championship as key requirements in their next manager.
Sources close to Keane then refused to rule out a surprise return and at 5pm betting was suspended, the Irishman having superseded Glenn Hoddle and Alan Pardew by a distance in terms of money wagered.
Keane will now preside over his team at Cardiff City on Saturday. After that match, Ipswich's last game of the season is at home to Coventry City on Sunday week.
Keane's brief next season will be to gain automatic promotion or at least make the play-offs and, depending on the level of investment, that on the surface appears an easier task than when he led Sunderland to the Championship title in May 2007.
Whereas Keane will have the two games against Cardiff and Coventry to examine his new playing staff – more than a dozen are out of contract this summer – and then a full pre-season, in 2006 Keane had joined Sunderland five games into the season with the club bottom of the table. Niall Quinn, the chairman, was also performing the role of temporary manager. Keane's arrival at the Stadium of Light immediately galvanised the club if not the displays of the team. That was more gradual progress and it was only after Christmas and a vital January window when Sunderland acquired Jonny Evans and Danny Simpson on loan from Manchester United that victories began to accumulate. In the end Sunderland had overhauled Birmingham City to finish top.
Keane then talked regularly of the Premier League being the place to be but he was also self-critical of his attitude towards the Championship post-Manchester United and Celtic and in the one and only interview he has given since walking out on Sunderland, Keane said he would be prepared to go down a level.
He admitted that not moving his family to Wearside had been an unsettling mistake and said of a future job: "I'm happy to move house. Theresa [Keane's wife] is happy to move. I'm not tied to Manchester. I'm from Cork. I'd be happy to go anywhere. I would be happy to manage a Championship club."
Keane had been annoyed at suggestions that his departure from Sunderland reflected a maverick personality incompatible with football management and added: "Football is in my blood. I'd just had enough at Sunderland. Things had changed. End of bloody story."
It is the beginning of a new one for Ipswich. This is their seventh season outside the Premier League but with 10 Championship games live on the BBC next season, Keane and his new club are likely to feature prominently.