LONDON — It was always going to end like this.

Roy Keane resigned as manager of Sunderland on Thursday because he could not stand being a failure.

On the field Keane had never been a quitter; at the same time he had never experienced what it is like to be a loser.

As manager of Sunderland he became both.

The serial winner with Manchester United had become an average manager. Keane doesn’t do average and it was no surprise when, after 100 games in charge at the Stadium of Light he walked away.

I doubt if he will ever return to football.

The timing is significant. Sunderland travels to Old Trafford on Saturday where Keane would have been guaranteed a hero’s reception from the United fans who adored him as a player. Perhaps what most would see as inevitable defeat would have been one loss too many at a ground so close to his heart.

Sunderland was at the bottom of the Championship when he took charge two years ago. Keane guided the club to the Premier League, winning promotion in his first season.

The Black Cats survived last season but despite an £80 million investment (some well spent, too much wasted on below average players) the side has struggled in English football’s elite league the second time around.

Half of his century of matches as manager have ended in defeat and with more than 100 players coming and going in two years, it is no surprise Keane never seemed to know his best team. He had used 27 different players this season.

Keane once said he has no friends in football. His playing career, particularly with United, won him millions of admirers if not friends.

Having covered his time with the Republic of Ireland, the impression Keane left on me was that he was a cold loner, the best defensive midfielder I have ever seen, in his own way the most charismatic player I have met and the supreme captain.

A complicated individual, Keane is a man of contradictions and one thing is certain: no one really knows him. He may not even know himself.

Keane has the names of his children tattooed on an arm, and when his wife asked why her name wasn’t there he told her they would always be his kids but she might not always be his wife.

No, this is not a joke.

Keane inspired a fear in his teammates that raised their performances.

One day at breakfast with Ireland, Keane, who usually roomed alone (the other players were grateful for this), made a rare appearance at breakfast.

“Hello, mate,” said a team-mate as Keane sat down. “You all right?”

Keane’s expletives-removed reply was along the lines of: “Don’t call me your mate. I’m not. I play with you, I work with you but don’t ever think I’m your mate.”

I once asked Keane to sign his autobiography for my son. He gave me a look that still gives me sleepless nights.

Keane cannot understand why anyone would ever want an autograph. I was wasting his time, all 10 seconds of it.

Apparently he keeps no football souvenirs, which would explain his adversity to autographs. To Keane, football is only about playing and winning.

With United he lost relatively few games but as manager of Sunderland it was a different story.

Sunderland is 18th in the Premier League after its 4-1 home defeat by Bolton last weekend. Keane would never have played in such a bad team performance.

Great players do not always make great managers, but ultimately Keane could not accept being what he perceived as a failure.

He will not become a television pundit, the next step for most ex-managers, as Keane has nothing but contempt for such “experts.”

Keane probably doesn’t know what the future holds for him but more immediately ex-Sunderland defender Sam Allardyce was installed as favorite to be his successor.

* * * * *

CRISTIANO RONALDO better than Lionel Messi?

The Manchester United winger won the European Footballer of the Year by landslide over the Barcelona magician and having helped his club win the Premier League and Champions League it is difficult to argue against the Portuguese’s selection.

The nagging doubt about Ronaldo concerns his petulance and attitude toward opponents and referees.

While Ronaldo has improved he still falls over too readily when Messi seems to regard hitting the deck as a personal insult.

When referee Howard Webb cautioned Ronaldo in last weekend’s Manchester derby, the winger applauded the official who would have been within his rights to have shown the player a second yellow card (more of which later).

It is hard imagining Messi clapping a referee, and though both players are breathtakingly talented the Barcelona striker has as many ticks as Ronaldo but fewer crosses.

Barcelona is playing the best football in Europe at the moment and a Champions League head-to-head between Ronaldo and Messi in the knockout stages is good reason to wish your life away.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.

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