Stadium Of New Light: Enter Keane, Mr Motivator

Hairdryer and prawn sandwiches on standby as Roy Manager prepares to bury hatchet
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The Independent Football

For the best part of an hour on Friday in the media suites at the Academy of Light, Sunderland's state-of the-art training complex, Niall Quinn bobbed, weaved and danced around the subject. "When we're over the line, we'll let you know," he repeated ad infinitum. Roy Keane this and Roy Keane that, his inquisitors jabbed away at him. Not once was the Sunderland chairman goaded into mentioning the name of the man he wanted to not so much get over the line as to sign on the dotted thing.

With the Lonsdale logo on the sponsors' board behind him, the big man floated like the finest of pugilistic butterflies. It brought to mind Roy Keane watching Ali while flying with the Republic of Ireland to their 2002 World Cup training base and resolving to stick to his principles, like the Vietnam draft-defying king of all the heavyweights.

Keane had just about had his fill of what he subsequently described as his country's "third world approach" to international football: of rounds of cheese sandwiches for the players instead of bowls of pasta before vital World Cup qualifiers; of haphazard travel arrangements; of drinking sessions in between matches. Getting to Saipan and finding rock-hard pitches, no training kit, no electrolyte drinks and no goalkeepers involved in five-a-side matches added up to the final straw for him.

It was then that Keane vented his spleen and ended up telling Mick McCarthy: "I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager and I don't rate you as a person. You're a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse."

Perhaps one reason why Keane now stands on the brink of accepting Quinn's advances is a desire to see precisely how he would rate against McCarthy in the football management game. If Quinn does succeed in getting his man, the old adversaries would be lining up on the same Championship bill at Molineux on 25 November and at the Stadium of Light on 7 April.

For the record, Quinn's man has yet to be beaten in the ring. As a youthful member of the Brian Dillon Boxing Club in Cork, Keane won four bouts out of four in the Irish Novice League.

Now, at the age of 35, the Corkman is about to set out as a managerial novice in England's Championship division - in effect, after the caretaker stewardship of Kevin Ball and Quinn's ill-fated fling in a temporary dual role of manager and chairman, as a replacement for McCarthy. The prospect could hardly be more intriguing - for him, for us, and not least for his prospective new boss.

Keane has his history with Quinn, of course. He was distinctly unimpressed when his team-mate offered his instant support to McCarthy when the brown stuff hit the air conditioning in the dining room of the Hyatt Regency in Saipan. He has referred to Quinn in print as "a muppet", "a coward" and, less than affectionately, as "Mother Teresa". The fact that Keane is considering launching into a new career in working tandem with the Sunderland chairman suggests how much the challenge of the management job on Wearside appeals to him.

It also suggests that he has buried the hatchet; as he observes, with typical self-mocking, in his compellingly candid autobiography Keane: "If I was to fall out with everyone I'd had an argument with I'd be talking to nobody."

Keane admits in his book that he did not take kindly to Quinn telling an interviewer: "If Roy buttered his toast it would have to be perfect." If he accepts the offer of a £2m-a-year three-year deal, it can be taken as read that absolute professionalism and the most thorough of preparation will be on the menu at the Stadium of Light. There might be sandwiches too, though only of the prawn variety - for the punters pouring back into the hospitality suites that have been down on numbers of late.

If playing standards were to keep on the slide, as they did under McCarthy's tenure in the Premiership last season and have continued to do under Quinn in the Championship this season, there might also be some hair-dryer treatment in the dressing room. Then again, given the combustibility of Keane's nature, it might be more of a blast-furnace job. If he felt Rio Ferdinand and some of his Old Trafford colleagues were swinging the lead, what would the toast-buttering perfectionist make of players stuck in a losing rut at the foot of the Championship? And, then, what would he make of any of them choosing to play the pundit and pulling their team-mates to pieces on SAFC World?

Sunderland have taken a punt on a "big-name" manager before, and, unlike Keane, he arrived on Wearside with a proven managerial record. Then again, by the time Lawrie McMenemy departed, Sunderland were on a collision course for the old Third Division. His formerly good name was readjusted to that of Lawrie Mackem-Enemy.

Keane has diligently gone about taking his coaching qualifications. Back home in Cork recently, he quietly dropped into his old club, Rockmount, to help out with training. He also gave a two-hour motivational speech to the hurlers of Cork before their All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick. They won.

More than anything, Quinn and the Drumaville Consortium now in charge at Sunderland need to change a losing mentality that has dragged the club through the humiliation of a record low points total in the Premiership to the current nadir of rock bottom in the Championship with nul points from four matches. It is not difficult to see why Keane has become their Plan A.

The hope is that their man will be on Wearside for the match against West Bromwich Albion tomorrow. It would be Keane's first visit to the Stadium of Light since he was sent off for elbowing Jason McAteer in August 2002. On that occasion, in the wake of the Saipan spat, he ignored Quinn's verbal consolation as he left the field. Four years on, the chairman and the would-be manager are busily making up for lost words.