Roy Keane took a call from one of his brothers the Friday before last. It was, as Keane said, "not to see how Roy is emotionally", but to see if flights for Sunderland's game against West Bromwich in the middle of next month should be cancelled.
Keane was laughing through his thickening beard at the thought: the Friday before last saw him at the centre of a mini-tornadoof speculation about a resignation. "You see, selfish," he joked of his brother.
One week on, Keane was able to ridicule the furore begun by an erratic radio station report. His mood was good, buoyed by the 2-1 win at Blackburn last Saturday, which he said "gives you a week of peace and quiet", but the serious point underlying his talk at the Sunderland training ground was that time is not on a young manager's side any longer. Not even on Roy Keane's.
Today, at home to West Ham, Keane takes charge of his 99th Sunderland match. In that time, his team have gone from the bottom of the Championship to Premier League survival. That's on the pitch; off it, Sunderland have stabilised financially and attracted the fifth-biggest crowds in England last season. In their chairman Niall Quinn they have a football man at the helm. Yet four defeats in the fortnight before Ewood Park had caused stress. Keane thinks it was "knee-jerk" but he knows the modern reality and feels for Gianfranco Zola, for whom today is game 12 in charge of the Hammers – they have not won any of the past seven.
"I've been very lucky, it helps obviously that Niall has played the game," Keane said. "He knows the element of patience involved in football but, trust me, if you're constantly not winning football matches it doesn't matter what kind of stability you have or what you did last year. Rightly so, there has to be that element of tension. I've been lucky. You see other managers getting the sack and they've not even started.
"You're now one game away from a crisis. It was mine last week, then [Paul] Incey's, could be Zola's on Sunday. You wonder when things will settle down but I don't see it. There seems to be so much pressure. People talk about the money side. There's no sort of clarity."
Keane recalled a League Managers' Association dinner at the end of his first season when reflecting on his time in charge at Sunderland. "I still feel very raw, inexperienced, because that's what I am. I've been a manager for how many games, 80, 90, 100? I was at the LMA dinner at the end of the year, and Neil Warnock is getting presentations for 1,000 matches and you're thinking, 'Jesus'. Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger were there. Will we, Gareth [Southgate], Incey, get the same benefits? I don't know if we will."
Those experienced managers might point to dismissals when they were starting; and brothers on the phone asking abouttravel plans.Reuse content