Azerbaijan an unlikely fit as Roy Keane’s managerial fire dims

Man United legend hasn’t filled a number one job since leaving Ipswich Town in 2011

Roy Keane has been linked with the Azerbaijan job. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Roy Keane has been linked with the Azerbaijan job. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

When Roy Keane allowed his name to be linked with the managerial vacancy at Turkish club side Kasimpasa in September 2012 there was a suspicion the real aim was to make him seem publicly wanted at a time that Blackburn Rovers were weighing up who their next boss might be.

It seemed to say something about where the Corkman’s managerial career was in the wake of his spells at Sunderland then Ipswich because Blackburn were considered to be quite a mess at the time. Still, when it came time to take their pick of the available ex-Manchester United men, the club’s owners opted for Henning Berg.

The 48-year-old Irishman has not managed in his own right since and news the Azerbaijani FA have talked to him about taking over their national team has not been accompanied by the slightest suggestion his people have helped generate the reports in order to add urgency to an ongoing situation elsewhere.

A great many coaches would rightly covet the opportunity to manage any national team and Azerbaijan would have much more by way of resources than most but it still seems like a very unlikely fit, unless somebody in Baku saw Keane’s recent endorsement of dressing room confrontations with underperforming players and liked the strongman tone of it all.

Those comments by Keane, made while working as a pundit on the game between Manchester United and Tottenham, were widely seen as having served as a reminder of why such a talented player has found it so hard to get another opportunity in football management.

The problem for the once great midfielder is that nearly 15 years after his retirement from playing and not too far off 20 years from the last of his five inclusions in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, Keane’s star power has dimmed a little and the outspoken nature of his TV work has only served to perpetuate the questions asked about his temperament.

Roy Keane signs autographs in 2009 during his time as Ipswich Town manager. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Roy Keane signs autographs in 2009 during his time as Ipswich Town manager. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

He is, of course, hampered by the manner of his departure from Sunderland, his wider failure at Ipswich but the various tales of his sometimes spectacular altercations with players, most recently Jon Walters and Harry Arter during his time as Martin O’Neill’s assistant with Ireland, are probably the most damaging thing of all at this stage and talking about fighting with David de Gea did him no favours.

At the very least, Keane gives the impression of being somebody who would be hard work to work with and most club owners will reckon they have enough on their plates without that. Though clearly articulate and hugely knowledgeable, the tone of Keane’s onscreen comments do little to counter the argument that both the game and, in particular, team management have moved on in the time he has been waiting for a job or working with O’Neill.

Perhaps there is still a way back for him although even he has recently acknowledged that it will not be easy. The suspicion from the outset was that he needed to be working with players of something approaching his own calibre but it is especially hard to see how that happens now.

The most plausible route would surely be more likely to start with another assistant’s role than as manager of a team that took just one point from their Euro 2020 qualification campaign. Had the latter part of O’Neill’s time with Ireland gone much better, he would surely have been a major contender to succeed him.

The Azerbaijanis, who apparently want to make a quick appointment, have told their local media that Keane is just another one of several candidates they are considering. That too says something and given the queue that generally forms for such jobs, it would be surprising if they decide he is the one on the list best suited to the role.

It will be slightly sad though, if, in the longer term, Keane cannot find a way to be more constructively involved back in the game than imagining for a TV audience the combative half-time team talks he would give if only someone would give him half a chance once more.

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