League One Sunderland are to hold formal talks with Roy Keane over the managerial vacancy at the Stadium of Light after he emerged as their major target.
The PA news agency understands the Black Cats have spoken to a series of potential candidates in recent days following head coach Lee Johnson’s exit at the weekend, and that the former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland skipper is at the top of their list.
Sources on Wearside were insisting late on Wednesday evening that no final decisions had been taken, but it is understood that Keane is interested in the prospect of a return to the club he managed between 2006 and 2008.
He spent five years as Ireland boss Martin O’Neill’s assistant until his tenure drew to a close in November 2018 and has served as number two at both Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, but he last managed in his own right with Ipswich, a reign which came to an end in January 2011.
The 50-year-old has been a regular presence on television screens in the meantime in his role as a pundit for both Sky and ITV.
Speculation that Keane could reprise his eye-catching spell with the League One club came just days after 39-year-old striker Jermain Defoe’s high-profile return to the club.
Keane, then 35, was initially appointed in August 2006 with the club lying one place off the foot of the Sky Bet Championship table and guided them to the title as champions by the end of the campaign.
Sunderland finished 15th in the Premier League in their first season back, but as his relationship with owner Ellis Short deteriorated he resigned in December 2008 after 27 eventful months at the helm.
However, he has admitted since that he feels he has unfinished business in the north-east and his willingness to listen to what the club has to say has left fans hoping.
The Black Cats, now in their fourth season in the third tier, currently sit in third place in the table just two points off the automatic promotion places, but having played a game more than leaders Rotherham and three more than second-placed Wigan.
Johnson’s departure was announced in the wake of last Saturday’s 6-0 defeat at Bolton and Mike Dodds has been placed in interim charge for this weekend’s home clash with bottom-of-the-table Doncaster.
That has handed owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman breathing space in which to fully assess their options.
Reports have suggested the formal interview process is under way with former Hull boss Grant McCann the first to stake his claim, while Keane, the vastly-experienced Neil Warnock his immediate predecessor at Middlesbrough, Jonathan Woodgate, and ex-Celtic boss Neil Lennon among those who could follow.