Soapbox update: the Keane era and its ripple effect

This posting has been affected by technical problems but has still managed to inspire some lively responses comparing the Roy Keane and Peter Reid eras of the recent history of Sunderland AFC. The comments have also been re-posted (though the little thumbs-up marks already awarded are, sadly, missing!).
It is now four years ago – give or take a couple of weeks – since Keano signed his contract at the Stadium of Light. He took over a squad of misfits and underachievers who had lost their first five games, including a league cup game at Bury, then the lowest of all Football League clubs. No wonder that after being talked through the players’ strengths and weaknesses, he joked that he should have held out for twice as much money -and set about replacing as many as he could. Pete Sixsmith looks back on the appointment as right decision, right time …

Niall Quinn and the Drumaville consortium took over, we were promised a “magic carpet ride”.
After dispiriting defeats at Southend and Bury, the magic carpet was distinctly threadbare and we looked like a team heading for the third level of English football.

Quinny then decided that managing footballers was not as easy as breeding racehorses and decided to appoint a world class manger”. We now know that O’Neill had been indecisive (I believe SAFC had something like seven meetings with him – ed) and Allardyce had bottled out of leaving his comfort zone at the Reebok.

We were expecting a high profile foreign coach to come in; we got a man with no managerial experience but with, shall we say, a reputation.

When Roy Keane took over, it’s fair to say that views on his appointment were split. “Hardly world class,” said some, while others were encouraged by his record as a winner and his forthright views on the managers he had worked under.

Image: Peadar O’Sullivan

He had an international break to bed in and he made an immediate impression by bringing in five players on deadline day – Miller, Wallace, Connolly, Varga and Kavanagh. Celtic and Republic of Ireland connections in all of them, clearly an approach of go for who you know rather than plunge into the unknown.

On Saturday Sept 9, the Keane road show rolled into Pride Park, Derby, along with 4,709 Red and Whites. I had not been intending to go, but the appointment of Keane encouraged me and many others, so much so that the Durham Branch ran two buses rather than the original 29 seater that had been booked.

The great game on the way down was “Pick the team” and there were limitless combinations from the many players the club now had on their books. We knew that Dwight Yorke was unable to play, but there was great debate about which of the Famous Five would pull on the stripes.

The was huge media interest in the game, with camera crews filming Sunderland fans getting off their coaches and inviting vox pops on the accession of Keane. The mood of doom and gloom that had pervaded those of the red and white persuasion after the dismal relegation and the atrocious start to the season was beginning to clear and the belief among many (but not all) was that the carpet was possibly about to take off.

Not in the first half it wasn’t, as a shaky start became a disaster as Steve Howard (a Mag!!) headed across the goal for Oakley to give Derby the lead seconds before half time. Whatever Keane said to them in the dressing room worked, because we were a much tighter unit after the break.

Chris Brown levelled after 61 minutes after great work by Dean Whitehead and was booked for celebrating with the Sunderland fans. Three minutes later, Ross Wallace slotted home after a corner, took off his shirt and twirled it round his head, as 4,709 fans went mad. The Keane bandwagon was rolling!!

The team that day makes interesting reading; Alnwick; Delap, Cunningham, Varga, R Elliott; Whitehead, Kavanagh, Miller, Wallace; Connolly, Brown. Subs; Ward, Collins, Leadbitter, S. Elliott (for Connolly 82 mins.), Hysen. Not one of them is still at the club and some of them left very, very quickly.

It was a great start, which continued at Leeds on the Wednesday night and then hit a bit of turbulence in autumn and winter. However, after a couple of nifty acquisitions in the January window and a host of departures, the wagon started rolling again in the New Year and up we went as Champions.

Keane has his detractors but I thought he was just what the club needed at that time. His charisma and his determination to succeed were inspirational and I doubt we would be where we are at today had we appointed someone else. Quinn took a risk on Keane and Keane took a risk by taking a job that nobody really seemed to want.

It was great season and that day at Derby was one that many Sunderland fans will remember as being paramount in the club’s climb back to respectability after the horrors of the 15 point season.

11 thoughts on “Soapbox update: the Keane era and its ripple effect”

  1. That was pretty much how I envisaged it Salut. The play in the top division in France tends to be pretty slow and deliberate from what I’ve seen periodically. It certainly makes it hard to judge whether players from France will do well here. That’s the main concern that I have about Gyan as he was not a prolific goal scorer by any means. Had he not looked so powerful in the WC I would have been concerned about the wisdom of spending over 13M on a player with that goal tally.

  2. A relative of mine works for Rochdale. He told me that Mocquet was very poor even for them. Not surprised that he is in the third tier of French football. I can only imagine how pedestrian the standard is in that league.

  3. Absolutely Bill. Where we’d be now I dare not contemplate. Peculiarly when Quinn first arrived he was very poor, mainly because of the pairing of Quinny with Paul Stewart who later turned out to be a something of an asset when the partnership was broken up and he adopted a more withdrawn role.

    It was the pairing of Quinn with Phillips of course that turned things around. SK was just made for scoring goals, and I was amazed that we got him for 350K. Strangely, it was David Connolly that Reid was originally interested in at Watford, but he came back with KP. Had Phillips gone to Ipswich who refused to pay another 50K for him then history for both players and our club would have been so profoundly different. The accident of sorts which led to Allan Johnstone being played as a right footed left winger in tandem with Micky Gray was also a but of good fortune resulting from keeping both Johnstone and Summerbee in the same team. They were exciting days, and it’s good to be reminded of them.

  4. I always think of Keane as a sort of Shane figure. He rides into a troubled town, sorts out the bad guys and then rides on. It does, of course, involve causing a certain amount of trouble of his own…
    Peter Reid’s “very astute acquisition” of Niall Quinn in 1996 was probably one of the most important things anyone has ever done for the club. Had Quinn not been first associated with Sunderland as a player, our destiny might have been very different.

  5. Tremendous precis of the Keane era. Bill (as he so frequently does!) hits the nail on the head with his comparisonswith the Peter Reid era; in as much as they were the perfect troubleshooter at the time they were appointed. That is perhaps not surprising because the parallels run very deep indeed. Both of them had great reputations as players. Likewise, they were heavily reliant on the recommendations of their former managers (Howard Kendall and Alex Ferguson), and also in Reid’s case Alan Durban. Both Reid and Keane demonstrated a heavy reliance on players that they had previously worked with and/or knew well. In Reid’s case this landed some very astute acquisitions, such as McCann, Quinn, Coton, Hutchison, Stewart etc as well as some that didn’t turn out to be so hot; such as Dichio who he knew from his brief spell from QPR. Alan Durban’s judgement of a player was consistently good and other additions to the squad were good during AD’s time Unfortunately his services were dispensed with for some reason and it was his successor Andy King who was responsible for saddling us with the likes of Fregaard, Heiselbergs, and the unforgettable Milton Nunez. Reid was a poor judge of a players and had trouble communicating with players resulting in high quality expereienced men like Helmer and Eriksson sitting on the sidelines.

    Keane had his torrid moments with players that he himself had acquired but didn’t get on with too. He brought in players that he knew well too. Kavanagh, Connolly, Varga, Wallace, Yorke, Cole, Simpson, Evans, Stokes etc, but ran into disciplinary problems with the less familiar.

    Both came unstuck when they became increasingly reliant on their own judgement and not that of their mentors. Reid has proven to be a rather ineffective manager subsequently despite his early success at Sunderland. Keane is still relying on the same formula with Edwards, Leadbitter, Fulop, Colback, & Murphy all featuring for the Tractor Boys since he took the reins at Portman Road.

    The rot started to set in when the players he knew from his own playing days started to retire. It seems to be working for Keane at the moment, but it’s a strategy with a limited shelf life.

  6. I think it was a French winger called Willie Mocquet. He went on an extended loan to Rochdale and is now back in France – but not at Lyon or Marseille, or even our new heroes, Nice.

  7. You could almost rename this article “Read the players we had and now be thankful for what we have now..”

    Wow. Some of them names are just astonishing. Chris Brown?

    I also remember the Quinn signings of Hysen (decent but homesick), Arnau Riera (awful) and one other foreigner i believe? All of whom left very sharpishly.

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