Jim White

Venky’s and Keane a match made in hell

Jim White

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If it turns out to be true, the hint in the papers of the identity of the next manager of Blackburn Rovers is the most intriguing bit of football news of the season.

Roy Keane is apparently being sounded out for the vacancy created by Steve Kean's defenestration from the Ewood Park boardroom. He has — so the reports suggested — put a job offer from a club in Turkey on hold while he considers the possibility. We can only hope he accepts. English football could do with his return. Things have been getting worryingly sane in his absence.

Keane and Venky's would be the most unlikely of football couplings. And without doubt the most entertaining. On the one side would be a bunch of business people so utterly naïve as to the ways of the game they believed when they bought Blackburn that there was no such thing as relegation from the Premier League.

This is the group who sacked a highly capable manager who was delivering stability and replaced him with a bloke who happened to employ the same agent they had used to procure the club. And whose wife had charmed the senior members of the board. There was no other reason to hire Kean.

And on the other side is a man whose contempt for those who do not share his approach is total, whose disdain is so withering it should be classified as a dangerous weapon. Indeed so dismissive is he of others in the game, this is a man whose world view can be defined thus: there's Roy Keane and then there's the rest of the world. What a partnership theirs would be.

Perhaps if Venky's fulfil their ambition to make a few bob out of Rovers they ought to sell tickets to the interview process. It alone would provide far more entertainment than was served up in the 18 months of Kean's hapless tenure. Imagine it. The look on Roy's face when one of the Venky's types unleashes a smothering blanket of corporate management speak, talking of projects and global positioning initiatives: you would want to be there to witness that at first hand.

Not that Keano's refusal to diminish his standards and work to other people's agendas has served him too well in his career in the dug-out so far. Initially, he flourished at Sunderland, where his intensity at first terrified his charges into upping their game. But however brilliant Keane might be at it, football management requires something beyond the ability to scare the living daylights out of your players.

Contempt is not the most useful tool when seeking to encourage. As a motivational device, sneering dismissal is of limited use. The footballer's ego is a fragile thing which — however much it may dismay his manager — requires careful nurturing by the boss. Which is something Keane soon found out at Ipswich: not many people do well if their manager makes it clear he reckons them beneath his contempt.

The great man's absolute refusal to yield in his application of standards served him well as a player. It helped him as a captain too. Without question, his presence in the Manchester United dressing room communicated a sense of urgency to his team-mates. His aloofness undoubtedly helped him maintain an aura of authority. He was nobody's mate.

Gary Neville recalls once sending out a text to all his team-mates informing them that he had changed mobile numbers. He got one back from Keane asking the simple question: why do you think I'd be interested in your number?

That lynx-eyed certainty also made him a brilliant pundit. In the world of woolly compromise that is the studio sofa, his abrasive critique of anyone who did not share his utter focus (which means everyone) made compelling television. If nothing else it was worth tuning in when he was on just to see the look of abject terror in Adrian Chiles's eyes whenever he was obliged to address him.

Yet, while a manager cannot survive if he tries to be everyone's mate, Keane's dismissiveness is ultimately more corroding. If you think your boss reckons you a second-rate human being you are never going to fulfil your potential.

Not that the Venky's mob will take such things into consideration. If they were astute students of man management they would never have mistaken Steve Kean as a suitable candidate for a job that these days requires PhD levels of knowledge in everything from physiology to psychology.

It took them 18 months to work that mistake out of their system. Now they appear to be on the verge of making another.

What a combination they would form, the bonkers Venky's and the least malleable personality ever to have played the game. The friction would be incendiary. For the neutral his appointment — were it to happen — would be magnificent.

For Blackburn fans, however, it might be less joyous. And the manner in which they have suffered trial by management these past few months, even those of us seeking light entertainment would not wish it upon them.

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