James Lawton: A lesson for Keane from Ancelotti... never let a crisis turn into a drama

As a manager, it was as though Keane could not live with the idea of failure
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The Independent Online

The trouble with owning an extreme nature is that you always need to pack a parachute; you can fly high, but some of the landings are hell. Certainly in football it is hard to imagine a more draining descent than the one currently occupying Roy Keane.

Keane's job at Ipswich is obviously deeply imperilled but it doesn't end there. Unfortunately the challenge, for a rich young man of 38 who once had a self-belief he fired like an automatic weapon, is much less marginal than that.

What Keane is trying to do is far trickier than hanging on to one of the game's revolving managerial seats.

He is attempting, almost every utterance seems to say, to keep hold of his own idea of himself – to retain a sense of who he is, a picture he has always had in his mind. At least you are entitled to believe this if you have listened to what he has to say – and saw the ghostwritten account of his life which he presumably approved, despite his assertion that he had never read it.

In the often anodyne pages of football autobiography, Keane's testament could only have been more assertive if it had carried the title Mein Kampf. Keane, inevitably, had a typically abrasive take on some of the fauna of the game. One word that bubbled to the surface was whore.

He didn't quite apply it to some of his team-mates before he left Old Trafford, but the implications of his charge that they were living a life of great wealth and celebrity and severe underperformance weren't exactly a million miles away from that.

Keane was the holder of the football truth, everyone's truth, and the complication was that there were certain reasons to believe him. No had one ever competed more relentlessly, or with such abiding influence.

But then as the soil of East Anglia currently slips beneath his feet, who is the hugely rewarded underperformer now – who is the once ferocious zealot, the scourge of inefficiency and professional indifference, making the kind of noises heard from almost every manager obliged to make his way to the job centre?

Yesterday Keane seemed almost resigned to his fate, saying before the difficult away trip to Sheffield United: "Like the players, I'm doing my best. If it is not good enough, so be it. I'll be the one losing my job. That's life and we'll just have to deal with it. If I was a supporter looking at our results, I'd be booing me. It's part and parcel of the game. I've been booed before."

But not, we are bound to say, for failing to do his stuff, not for apparently accepting his fate and that of the club who placed so much faith in him with a glum shrug and a stream of bromide-laced comments.

The most severe problem for Keane is the one he has shaped himself, the one which suggests he has an infallible sense of what is right and wrong in football, which attitudes are true and which are false, with the result that he carries a great burden of expectation.

When, after much promise, he effectively ran away from Sunderland, some thought the story had ended in the first chapter. He had to dig in and fight, as he had always done out on the field, but as a manager it was as though he could not live with the idea of failure, something which, of course, would exhaust the resolve of someone whose only responsibility was to play while awash with adrenalin.

Somehow, Keane seemed to be saying that at Sunderland the betrayal was not his but by those who had in so many ways failed him, a nagging belief, apparently, because yesterday he was saying that some of his staff appointments at the Stadium of Light had proved not to be the "most trustworthy".

You couldn't help but consider the trials of the managerial class last weekend in the DW Stadium in Wigan, when Carlo Ancelotti, who has known the greatest success both as a player and a coach, recoiled from the wrenching sight of his Chelsea team shedding their best professional values.

Plainly, Ancelotti was appalled, at the very least to the extent of Keane whenever, in his view, team-mates or the players in his charge had failed him. But if every pore of the Italian exuded disappointment, he also displayed the seasoning of a manager who knew such days came inevitably, and that the priority was to retain a degree of public trust with his players. One phrase of Ancelotti, particularly, brought the agony of Keane to mind. "The most important thing," said Ancelotti, "is not to do a drama."

How many times might Keane have benefited from such an insight? How many times he did he break the possibility of repair in working relationships which might have served him better than he imagined, at least for a little while?

It is one of the arts of football management and was described eloquently by the great old philosopher Joe Mercer, who advised his brilliant, firebrand coach of a superb Manchester City team, Malcolm Allison, "when in doubt, do nowt". In his time at United, Keane surely saw Ferguson operate on that principle a thousand times. For every flick of the hair-dryer, there was a decision to bide some time, to take the best and live with the rest.

Is Keane edging beyond rescue, with his admission of defeat at Sunderland and his floundering start at Ipswich? The suspicion grows, and confounds those of us who believed that, for all the jagged edges of his personality, Keane was a sure-fire contender for the highest honours as a manager. He would mature, but the flame need not be any less fierce for that.

Perhaps it can still happen, maybe Keane will find a way. One point, though, is clear enough. As Ancelotti reminded us, there are in football only so many dramas you can do.

Sport of the damned confuses thuggery and healthy competition

Rugby union is ever anxious to tell us it has drawn a line under the appalling moral laxity of the Bloodgate affair – and that it just wants to get on with its rudely interrupted missionary project of proving its inherent superiority over all other team games.

Perhaps someone should today reassure the England captain, Steve Borthwick, both on the essential purity of rugby's global ambition and the hope that he suffered no permanent damage when somebody kicked him in the head at the weekend and turned his right eye socket into a swollen, bloodied mess.

There was in fact some some cheery news from Borthwick's Saracens club physiotherapist, who explained: "Steve received an impact around his right eye, a crescent-shaped cut that required five stitches and then we took him to hospital so we would open up the eye, which was swollen shut, and have it checked fully. I'd say he will be OK."

Well, that's fine then, you might say. But it's not. The character who kicked Borthwick in the head was the Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam, who only recently emerged from a nine-week ban for eye-gouging. The trouble with rugby these days is not that you couldn't make it up but that you can.

Anyone who has played rugby at any level knows that it is a physical game and that this is part of its glory. However, the fact that violence of a quite sinister nature is commonplace is a scandal that has only accelerated with the march of professionalism.

Nine-week bans for eye-gouging are as absurd as the argument rugby had with itself over whether a three-year suspension for Dean Richards for utterly subverting the concept of sport for the sake of single victory was "proportionate". If eye-gouging or stamping happened in a street or a bar it would, in normal circumstances, lead to imprisonment.

In the case of Azam the nine-week ban was modified to take into account the fact that he would miss some warm-up games. But for what purpose would he have been warming-up? We have a better clue now.

Rugby complains that do-gooders who know not of what they speak are eager to emasculate the game. It is the myopia of the damned. No one who cares about the game, and ever risked his health to play it, wants to disable one of its most striking qualities. The desire is only to withdraw a licence for thuggery.

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