Its been a difficult start to the new year for Roy Keane. Firstly, his Sunderland side gets dumped out of the FA Cup by Wigan Athletic, Makems letting their manager know that he ought to be ashamed of his teams performance. And he was. And he told us so.
Then, in another blow to his nascent team-building plans, tough-tackling, straight talking midfielder Robbie Savage turned down Keane and joined Derby County, a club where he is loathed by the fans. Where he accepted, furthermore, that he would be playing Championship football next year. Savage stated that he has teamed up with Paul Jewell because he felt Derby County ‘wanted him more’.
This may help explain why Keane has been unsuccessful in his attempts to lure a number of key players to The Stadium Of Light. He has gone on record, earlier in the season, saying that players must want to come and play for Sunderland. For him, it is a red and white issue. They shouldn’t need persuading. The honour of playing for Sunderland FC should be enough. If they don’t feel that way, then they are not the players he is looking for.
It’s a very principled stance. But it may come at a price. Those professional footballers without a sense of history may not see Sunderland FC in the same way that he does. This, after all is a club, once renowned as The Bank of England, which stayed in the top flight longer than any other apart from Arsenal.
A club whose Roker Roar was as evocative as the theme music of BBC radios Sports Report. A club whose Montogomery inspired victory in the 1973 FA Cup is embedded in the fabric of the old Wembley. A club whose modern day hero, Niall Quinn, is now in charge. But players not persuaded by past deeds may, like Robbie Savage, need to be convinced of the idea. They may need to feel important. Needed. A sense of history may be irrelevant to them.
This presents a dilemma for Keane. It may not be his style to pander to players’ emotional needs in such a direct way. Yet what if this limits the calibre of player he can attract to Sunderland? Perhaps, certain emotional types, who want and need themselves and their, sometimes extended, family to be loved, made to feel part of the group, will say no to a move to remote Sunderland FC. Also, they sense potential conflict with an unyielding coach. It would not be enough for them to play for Roy Keane on his terms. They need more than that.
Many great players have failed as managers because they were unable to solve a related dilemma; the inability to understand the mindset of players who were not as talented or as driven as they themselves were. The art of management is something that Keane, in his formative coaching years, will need to acquire quickly if he is to succeed at Sunderland.
Roy Keane has to decide whether he can compromise his principled stance. He may have to show players how much he wants them.. It may be a small price to pay to create a team which will thrive in the Premier League, not just players that may save Sunderland from relegation. But, when you have based your reputation, your career, on being a man of principle, it may be simply non-negotiable.
Yet, understanding a players emotional values is critical knowledge for every manager. Appreciating their beliefs is the key which opens the motivational door. You know their values, you know them. You know the triggers that motivate them. But these crucial appreciations may come only with the right kind of experience.
But, maybe, in Roy Keane’s world, a professional footballer should never need motivating. Playing the game should be enough. It’s an understandable mindset. It is one that has characterised his glittering career. But is it one that may compromise his teams development?