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Without Keane, Sunderland Flirt With Relegation

Is Roy Keane smirking right now? Is he rolling his eyes? Both?

For two years Sunderland was Roy Keane’s baby. He took the struggling side, nurtured it back to health and delivered it from the relegation zone of the Championship and back to the top flight. In every transfer window he made moves to improve the squad. Once back at the top, the goal was to dig Sunderland’s feet in and avoid the old yo-yo effect. Stay up. Stay up.

And while they only finished three points from the drop zone, Sunderland didn’t look in danger at the end of 2007/08 and 39 points was an amazing feat compared to their last Premier League finish: 15 points and 20th spot in 2006.

The season began as expected with a balance of wins, draws and losses and Sunderland enjoyed reaching as high as sixth in the League table. But six losses in seven matches led to Keane’s departure. Intense pressure from the board in light of the bad results was too much for Mr Keane. He resigned in early December. Directly before a trip to Old Trafford to face his old club.

Now, I recognize it was Keane’s decision to leave, but doesn’t it seem painfully obvious that the board could have found a more constructive way to work through Sunderland’s problems? Unrelenting pressure at this level is inevitable, especially when the threat of relegation comes into the equation. But boards are too quick to come down on the manager rather than work with him through a rut. It is a foreign concept for boards to think, We’ve got the same goals, let’s fight through this together.

And while Roy Keane may not have been ready for the pressure of leading a struggling premiership side, this would have been an ideal time for Sunderland’s powers-that-be to show their support for the man’s learning process. One six-loss rut in the larger picture of all that Keane had done for Sunderland seems workable. Sure, if the results are not turned around in January, questions need to be asked and a sacking or a resignation may well be in order.

But clearly, Sunderland have gained nothing by letting Roy Keane go.

Interim manager Ricky Sbragia hasn’t turned Sunderland’s results around and now, unless they defeat Chelsea this weekend, their fate will rely on the outcomes of other matches. Newcastle at Villa and Hull hosting Manchester United.

Hull, who scored three goals on United at Old Trafford will put up a fight, and Sir Alex Ferguson is expected to rest his best for the upcoming Champions League final, having won the league already.

Newcastle have a mammoth task playing Villa away, especially with defender Sebastien Bassong suspended. But there’s nothing like facing relegation to inspire a side to glory.

Sunderland will be praying one of the two drop points. But there are no restfull nights in the Blackcats’ week ahead. And even if they survive, the fact that they are in this position in the last weekend is proof enough Keane’s departure didn’t do the club any favors.

Meanwhile, Roy Keane is probably pouring over the scouting reports, plotting his summer moves for Ipswich Town.

“I truly believe that I am joining a club that has the potential, ambition and infrastructure to once again be a Premier League side,” said Keane when appointed. If he returns to the top flight with Ipswich, prehaps he’ll be ready for the next bout of pressure. A good manager learns from past tribulations. Even if boards can’t.

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  1. Paul Bestall

    May 20, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    It’s well speculated that Ellis Short wasn’t impressed with the start after paying for most of the clubs summer signings and questioned Keane’s abilities.
    Keane took 15pts from 15 games, Sbragia has taken 21pts from 22 games so no real improvement at all. I’ll be amazed whatever happens to Sunderland on Sunday if Sbragia isn’t replaced.

  2. Dave

    May 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

    This is the absolute first time I’ve heard any whisper that Keane was forced out in any way. In fact I remember thinking his leaving Sunderland when everything wasn’t going exactly the way he wanted was pretty much in character for him.

  3. brn442

    May 19, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    I doubt Keane was forced out. Typical Roy – when the going gets though, he gets going. If Keane thinks his destiny is Old Trafford, he needs to learn how to work through adversity.

  4. Dave G

    May 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    according to reports he left because of disagreements with majority shareholder Ellis Short and Niall Quinn over the direction of the team.
    Keane never suffered fools lightly

  5. hank

    May 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Keane’s departure hasn’t helped Sunderland, but I wouldn’t necessarily lay the blame for his departure on the feet of the club. I think it’s just as likely that Keane simply decided it was in his best interests to leave. He had already secured a reputation as an up-and-coming manager by bringing Sunderland to the top flight and keeping them there. A bruising relegation fight, and potentially even relegation, would simply drag his reputation back down to earth. By leaving when he did, he went out on top, and ensured himself a maximum leverage when picking a new appointment and bargaining for terms.

    Anyway, just speculation, I’m not sure if anyone really knows why he left, but I always felt it was Roy’s decision to leave, and that he wasn’t pressured out by Sunderland.

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