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Is Roy Keane the Man to Get Sunderland Back up the Ranks?

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Roy Keane Ireland

The State of Sunderland is as bad as it's been in recent League One times

Following a humiliating 6-0 loss to Bolton Wanderers, promotion chasers Sunderland decided to part ways with now-former manager Lee Johnson after just over a year. The Black Cats are yet to appoint Johnson’s successor, and although several names are continuously linked to the position, one name that seems ever-present in the discussion is Manchester United legend, Roy Keane.

In all truth, Johnson's sacking seems somewhat unfair and certainly abrupt, as by all accounts, Sunderland were, and still are, enjoying a decent season. However, following a 2-1 defeat to Cheltenham Town in League One, the club now trail Rotherham United by 11 points and second-placed Wigan Athletic by two, but the Latics have an almighty four games in hand and will likely increase the two-point deficit.

Now, a fifth consecutive season in England's third tier looks likely unless drastic changes come for Sunderland.

Will Keane join Sunderland again after shining last time around

According to various reports, Keane looks favourite for the role, with the Irishman adding more fuel to the fire over the weekend by stating he would like to return to management, however, refused to comment directly on the vacancy at the Stadium of Light.

Keane has previously been in charge at Sunderland, spending exactly 100 games in the dugout between 2006 and 2008 where he held a record of 43 wins, 16 draws, and 41 loses, coming away with a respectable 1.45 points per game return.

During this time, the Irishman temporarily transformed his side, as the Black Cats sat 23rd in the Championship when he took over. However, under Keane’s guidance, they went on to win the title and promotion back to England’s top flight making him one of the most important figures of the 21st century for the club.

The next season, Keane avoided the drop, steering Sunderland to a 15th-placed finish, however, they struggled to get off the mark in the year that followed, and he therefore got the sack in late November after a run of five defeats from six league games as well as being knocked out of the League Cup by Blackburn Rovers.

How will he fare at the Stadium of Light?

Whilst Sunderland fans and pundits in general seem to be backing Keane to do well if he took over at Sunderland, outside of stints as assistant manager for Ireland, Aston Villa, and Nottingham Forest, Keane has had no concrete managerial experience for over a decade.

At Sunderland, Keane often deployed a 4-4-2 system, however, this alone helps to highlight just how long it’s been since he sat in a dugout, as whilst this formation is considered a classic, it rarely sees the light of day on a football pitch.

There’s no doubt that during his time in assistant positions Keane will have learned a lot, having studied under Martin O’Neill either side of a brief stint with Paul Lambert at Villa, however, if you’re in Sunderland’s position, hiring a manager who hasn’t taken charge of a game in 10 years may leave fans scratching their heads.

Putting nostalgia and loyalty to the side, with the Black Cats very much in the mix for promotion, fans may be hopeful of an experienced manager who can add to the team and help secure promotion rather than Keane, who at this point is very much an unknown quantity in terms of managerial ability and tactical nuance. At the same time, League One for him is a whole different ball game.

Have times changed too much for the 'old-school'?

As a pundit, Keane is known for being unforgiving, often coming across as aggressive and abrasive aligning with his style as a true destroyer in his United days, and while this approach may work for some, it can often prove hit or miss as we’ve seen in the past.

Outside of Keane, the other main candidate looks to be Alex Neil, with the Scot also being without a job for almost a year after leaving Preston North End in March 2021. While links to Neil are strong, Keane still appears to be the outstanding candidate with many media outlets reporting “advanced talks” are taking place as the Irishman looks set, at present, to be back at the Stadium of Light imminently.

If he is appointed, while his lack of recent experience could be an issue, there is no doubt his knowledge and experience of the game as a player will serve him well by playing at the highest level during his time with United. By the looks of things, fans will be made up with the appointment, with a hope that whilst one division is lower than last time out, the appointment of Keane will see lightning strike twice with a potential promotion on the cards.