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Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Keane facing uphill battle with Ipswich Town


LONDON — Last April Ipswich Town sacked manager Jim Magilton and brought in Roy Keane for the last two games of the season. Ipswich's new owner Marcus Evans, who likes publicity as much as Superman enjoys kryptonite, wanted a big name. Instead, Ipswich is in a big mess.

Christopher Davies

Six months after Keane's arrival and having ended 2008-09 in ninth place, Ipswich is bottom of the table, the last senior professional team in England not to have won a league game this season after 14 attempts.

Meanwhile, under Magilton, Queens Park Rangers are sixth and scoring goals for fun.

As a player Keane was a serial winner. Management has been a demanding learning curve and after leading Sunderland to the Premier League, when things started to go wobbly he resigned — by mobile phone text.

Keane now finds himself in a relegation battle having been given two votes of confidence as Ipswich, for the 15th time this season, attempts to win a league game when it entertains Derby.

To be certain of staying in the Championship a team usually needs 53 points, which means Ipswich requires 45 more points from their remaining 32 games. Or to put it another way, Ipswich needs to win one of every two games until the end of the season to stay up, a massive task.

Managers of teams facing relegation tend not to survive, and there must be a limit to Evans' patience. The Ipswich owner will not like to admit he made a mistake in appointing Keane, who would not be cheap to dismiss, while finding a replacement mid-season will not be easy.

Keane says Ipswich is playing well, has been unlucky and once it gets its first win things will move on from there.

But he would say that, wouldn't he?

Keane and Ipswich seem unlikely to be long-term partners, though I doubt whether a man who lives on instinct has thought too far ahead.

Keane is as charismatic as he is unpredictable.

I covered almost every game Keane played for the Republic of Ireland and marveled at his inspirational captaincy, but he could be as cold as ice.

I once asked Keane to sign his autobiography for my son as he left a news conference while manager of Sunderland.

He gave me a steely, expressionless stare that I tried (and no doubt failed) to return. Keane may not have known my name but he knew my face from Ireland trips. After about 10 seconds — which seemed like 10 minutes — he begrudgingly obliged with the charm of someone just told they must have root canal treatment.

Keane, the Sunderland press officer explained — not for the first time, I suspect — cannot comprehend how an autograph can possibly mean anything to anybody.

Matt Lawton, the Daily Mail's chief football correspondent, tells a story about a time when he was interviewing Keane after a game. Lawton was distracted by the sight of Dwight Yorke clowning behind Keane.

"I dared divert my gaze away from Keane towards Yorke, who was celebrating the win," said Lawton. "It was only for a split second but long enough to send Keane into a rage.

"He told me, 'If you're not going to look at me, I'm not going to answer your f------ questions.' And that pretty much was that."

Keane has even sought divine intervention to end Ipswich's win drought but without luck. He said: "I pray all the time but obviously the man upstairs is busy at the moment. He's got bigger issues to deal with than our problems."

* * * * *

ROBERTO MARTINEZ, the Spanish-born Wigan manager, gave a question-and-answer interview to the Madrid-based sports newspaper AS.

In it he was quoted as saying: "[Sir Alex] Ferguson has his group of faithfuls, people who are committed to him: [Sunderland manager] Steve Bruce, who was a player with him, [Blackburn manager] Sam Allardyce, who thinks he will be his successor at Old Trafford, and others.

"On the other side there's [Liverpool manager] Rafa Benitez and he gets attacked from all sides."

Not surprisingly, the quotes found their way back to England. The next day Martinez, through the League Managers' Association, "categorically denied" making the comments attributed to him.

There appears to be two options. AS completely fabricated the quotes, though why on earth a Madrid-based newspaper would make up quotes concerning the managers of Sunderland and Blackburn is beyond me. It is sticking to its story.

The other alternative is that Martinez did say what he was quoted as saying but naively didn't realize it would reach England.

You decide.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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