Well, I don’t know about you lot, but I haven’t really stopped chortling yet. Middlesbrough 2-1 Chelsea. There are many issues that I could try to discuss at this point. Are Chelsea just too arrogant to win the Premiership again this season? Was it just a lapse in concentration, or is there a deeper malaise at Stamford Bridge? All very interesting questions, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I’d rather focus briefly on this question: have we seen the finest moment of Gareth Southgate’s managerial career, in only his second competitive game? I mean, in all likelihood, exactly how much better is it going to get for him? Middlesbrough are an average Premiership team. They may get to, say, the semi-finals of the FA Cup. They might, at a push, get back into the UEFA Cup. But no. This is as good as it’s going to get for him.
All of which brings me to the first major managerial shuffle of the season. Sunderland’s start to the season has been remarkably wretched. We all had a few laughs at their ill-fortune last season, as they found many, many strange, interesting and original ways to lose Premiership matches. Their start to this season, however, has been almost disturbingly bad. Four straight defeats in the league, and then, on Tuesday, a comprehensive 2-0 defeat against Bury. Probably the worst team in the Football League at the moment. It’s a fair question to ask… what does that make Sunderland?
I commented on here earlier this week that the affable Niall Quinn, after Saturday’s loss at Southend, stood outside the away dressing room at Roots Hall and admitted that there were several of the players in said dressing room weren’t “good enough”. And so it came to pass that, after Tuesday’s debacle, he resigned his position, and told the British media that he would have a world class manager in place by the weekend. I don’t think that anybody was expecting what has come next. Roy Keane, the pitbull-like former Manchester United midfielder, is set to be installed as manager by the weekend. Now, considering Quinn’s comments about his own team last weekend, I can only begin to imagine what Keane’s reaction would have been to their performance or, indeed, what he must be thinking now.
The decision is one that I can sort of see the logic in. Keane spent over a decade as the engine of the best midfield that English football has, arguably, ever seen. He sets the most exacting demands of himself, and everybody around him. He speaks his mind, whether it’s wise for him to do so or not, and there can be little question that his players will certainly know exactly what they’re expected to do. He spent the lion’s share of his career under the tutelage of Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson. Possibly the two greatest British managers of the last thirty years. What’s to go wrong?
Well… this. It’s pretty basic, really. Roy Keane has never managed anybody before. He has no managerial experience whatsoever. In fact, having stood in and run my former team for a few matches when the real manager was away, even I have more managerial experience than Roy Keane. It’s a habit that big-ish clubs have adopted over the last few years. Take a former player with no experience, and throw him in at the deep end. At international level, it has had mixed results. Jurgen Klinsmann was, after a few teething problems, undoubtedly successful with Germany., but Marco Van Basten’s Dutch team met with an ignominious defeat in the second round of the World Cup. At domestic level, it smacks somewhat of desperation. Gareth Southgate was clearly a fine defender and is an intelligent man, but is it right to put him in charge of a Premiership club with no experience? The results so far have been mixed. True enough, they were excellent on Tuesday night, but their capitulation against Reading last Saturday hinted at a massive task ahead for him.
It’s a task that is going to be fifty times as tough for Keane. Sunderland may not be a Premiership club any more, but they have the support, facilities, and expectations of one. They’re just missing one thing: the team. Has Keane got the man-management skills for the job? Maybe, maybe not. But we know for certain that he hasn’t had the chance to develop any skills of note. Sunderland’s team are in crisis, and they won’t be going out and buying twenty new players straight away. He may be able to bring in new talent (though, pointedly, Kevin Phillips turned them down for West Bromwich Albion last week), but are half-decent players, which are going to be the best they can get, going to put up with the mother of all tongue lashings after every single defeat? Questionable.