The United number 7 is a shirt that carries plenty of history, albeit in recent times a jersey that was held by gifted yet ultimately lightweight talents. While the club is looking for a worthy successor to don the fabled number 7, José Mourinho is fully aware that a new number 16 could be required sooner rather than later.
The relationship has long been uneasy; once hero to the massed hero-worshipers, now the cynic and the increasingly cynical. But Manchester United supporters have not yet fallen completely out of love with Roy Keane, the player who remains the finest all-round midfielder in the club’s modern history. Indeed, the player – and man, some might say – that United has not genuinely replaced since the Irishman was forced out of the club by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2005.
The affinity has, of course, evolved, not least with the publication of Keane’s second autobiography, The Second Half, last week. No longer an Old Trafford insider, Keane’s vocal and public spat with Ferguson over the past nine years often divided loyalty. Lurid headlines have run with the Irishman’s criticism of Ferguson’s management, while Sir Alex’ analysis of his former player’s personality has often landed below the belt. This, a tiresome spat, has often threatened to turn ugly in an era of sweeping media focus. Two giants of the modern game that cannot find a reason to make nice.
Little wonder Keane should address the relationship with his former manager so thoroughly in the new book. Yet, beyond the tabloid headlines and pithy quotes The Second Half is a remarkably frank work in Keane’s now familiar vernacular. Ghost Roddy Doyle has captured both Keane’s complexity and frustrating superficiality: “Take that you c*nt,” said the Irishman of Alfe-Inge Haaland in his first biography, Keane. It is a quip now replaced by an equally blunt assessment of one John O’Shea performance – he played “like a f*cking clown.”
The Second Half is both an exercise in self-effacing honesty and laboured self-pity. “There are things I regret in my life and he’s not one of them,” says Keane of Haaland, the former Leeds United and Manchester City player, on whom a 2001 tackle earned Keane a substantial fine and double-length ban. The passage contrasts unfavourably with a lengthy account of Keane’s “self-destruct button” – a tendency towards heavy drinking and an inability to think clearly in times of stress.
There is an admission of Keane’s failings in management at Sunderland and Ipswich Town, but also the pitiful bellyaching when it comes to his dismissal by Mackems’ chairman Ellis Short. And then there is the implicit criticism of Ferguson’s managerial failings, including a deconstruction of the Scot’s relationship with, among others, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Ferguson and Keane hold very different accounts when it comes to the Dutchman.
To varying degrees Keane berates Robbie Savage, Peter Schmeichel and Carlos Quieroz, while admitting to admiration – of sorts at least – for the former pair. Keane is at once angry, melancholy and seemingly without empathy. Make of those contradictions what you will.
The Second Half opens with the topic that dragged the Irishman into trouble with football’s authorities in Keane – that studs-up challenge on “the absolute prick” Haarland. It earned United’s captain a four-match suspension, followed by a further five game ban when biographer Eamon Dunphy claimed at an FA hearing that the midfielder had “without a doubt” set out to injure the Norwegian. It is a claim that the midfielder continues to deny.
“Was I going around for years thinking: ’I’m going to get him, I’m going to get him’?” asks Keane in his new book. No, comes the answer. “Was he at the back of my mind? Of course he was. Like Rob Lee was, like David Batty was, like Alan Shearer was, like Patrick Vieira was. All these players were in the back of my mind: ‘If I get a chance I’m going to fucking hit you, of course I am.’”
The passage is typical of the book; forthright, entertaining – and often self-serving.
Yet, the real value is in another perlustration of Keane’s relationship with Ferguson – a man for whom the 43-year-old seemingly has little respect. Would he forgive Ferguson for prior criticism; and for driving the Irishman out of United in 2005?
“Not sure, not sure. Football is a small world, you will cross paths with people again,” said Keane at last week’s book launch. “But to criticise people who have earned him success … would I forgive him? I don’t know. When you think what he made out of it, millions of pounds, statues. Lots of stuff I let go, but eventually you have to go, enough is enough. You have to defend yourself.”
This is Ferguson characterised no longer as the father-figure of lore, but as a duplicitous control-freak; untrustworthy and ungrateful. And where self-interest comes to the fore it is worth noting Keane’s admission to profiting from the 2005 Glazer takeover. The Irishman owned “a few” shares as part of his package and – like more than 30,000 small-holding supporters (Rant included) – had no choice but to sell when the Board accepted the Americans’ 300p-per-share offer.
It opens up an interesting question: whether Ferguson also owned shares as part of his compensation pre-2005 and, more importantly, whether profit influenced the Scot’s decision not to speak out against the takeover. It is certainly a nuanced argument; one that has admittedly been raging without resolution for nine years.
The Second Half offers no further clue, although Keane’s defenestration of Ferguson’s character and motives is complete. Not least in the description of the end-game, after 12 years as a United player. Did that MUTV interview really end more than a decade’s service at Old Trafford? No, says the Irishman – it was a decision driven by personality clash above all.
“Even now people still say: ‘The video had to be destroyed.’ Like it was a nuclear weapon or something,” writes Keane. “Did someone drive out to the countryside and bury it in the f*cking ground? Or did a bomb disposal unit come and explode it? It had to be destroyed.
“I wasn’t worried about the dressing room. It was getting a bit silly so I got the players together in the dressing room and told them it was f*cking nonsense. Not one of them had an issue. Not one.”
In this The Second Half reflects Keane the post-United personality more than Keane the player. The Irishman’s tough talk as a pundit on ITV has often demonstrated less bite than his tackling. Somehow, after largely failing as a manager, Keane became a parody – those piercing eyes and unrelenting intensity failing to find the right balance between critique and analysis required of top pundits. Not that many reach that rare status.
The enduring impression that The Second Half brings is of a man who regrets little, but still holds a keen sense of injustice. “The hardest part of Roy Keane is his tongue,” wrote Ferguson in 2013’s My Autobiography. There is something in the analysis even if Ferguson’s quip is not entirely true. Yet, at no point does The Second Half descend into petty one-upmanship in the manner of Ferguson’s error-filled, narcissistic, tome.
One nil to Keane? Perhaps so.
The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle is published by W&N Books.
The competition on the pitch at Euro 2012 has been fierce, sometimes more than a little dramatic and, yes, refreshingly attacking. About time after the negativity of World Cup 2010 in South Africa, where defences ruled and entertainment failed. While the distances between games at the Euros has sometimes been significant, travel notoriously difficult and hotels rabidly expensive, the tournament has largely taken place against a positive backdrop, incidents of racism and violence in the streets excepted.
Yet, while the football has been predominantly high-quality, and the atmosphere mostly positive, the same cannot always be said for the UK’s broadcasters; Sky’s normally outstanding Premier League coverage having been replaced for three weeks by the best on offer from the UK’s free-to-air channels.
After the distance, and not inconsiderable expense, of outside broadcast across 10 South Africa cities two years ago, how would BBC and ITV approach the logistically difficult tournament? Reluctantly, it seems.
Gone are the stunning vistas of South Africa, replaced in ITV’s case with a semi-permanent on-site studio built in an attractive, if modest, Warsaw square. The back-drop is no Table Mountain, but Warsaw’s National Stadium has sat, colourfully lit for most of the week, just over pundit Roy Keane’s right shoulder.
ITV’s studio is a modern effort, wrapped in edge-to-edge glass, if lacking any obvious tie to the domestic audience, given that England’s base in Krakow is some 300 kilometres south, and all group games hundreds more east in Ukraine. It’s unfortunately tragi-comic – born of the broadcaster’s logistical planning more than two years in the making. At least presenter Adrian Chiles has been kept honest by a stream of old town late-night revellers.
The BBC, meanwhile, stung by criticism of its extravagant £2 million Cape Town base at the previous World Cup – that of the awesome Table Mountain landscape – has retrenched into a minimalist Salford studio, replete with no vista at all, save for levitating computer-generated team graphics. This, in a time of austerity conscious penny-pinching, is the price of keeping the Daily Mail onside it seems. Still, critics might still point to the £70 million cost of broadcast rights, split between BBC and ITV.
What the Beeb has lacked in outside broadcast atmosphere the organisation has attempted to fill with an extensive roster of pundits. Accused of a back-slapping know-it-all-yet-deliver-little attitude at the World Cup, Aunty has employed a plethora of managers and ex-players to fill in the knowledge gap. Match of the Day could do with the same refresh.
Not that the core team has been knocked back, with Mark Lawrenson and Alan Shearer on location, and Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon joined by lead presenter Gary Linekar back in Salford. Melancholy’s Lawrenson, who’s knowing inner-pain has tormented the viewing public for nigh-on two decades, has taken up co-commentator duties alongside BBC regulars Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce, and Simon Brotherton.
While Lawrenson suffers on our behalf, Shearer has been offered a new lease-of-life pitchside with the likeable Jake Humphrey. Stripped of the replay monitor, the former Newcstle United striker has been pressed into delivering something other than the bland descriptive – it has almost, if not quite, approached insight. Beeb producers take note.
In the other half of the draw, the choleric Martin Keown has occasionally been joined by former England ‘keeper David James for the BBC. It’s an eclectic mix, with retired ‘keeper James sharp-witted and smartly dressed, to Keown’s wild-eyed morose. It has shown too, with James struggling to contain his frustration at Keown’s unremittingly downbeat stream-of-consciousness.
Had Linekar the wherewithal, after years stuck on the sofa with Lawrenson, he might have been tempted to throw himself out of a Media City studio window; a martyr to the media cause. Except the studio is windowless – a cocooned mausoleum to Lawro’s pain.
Meanwhile, back in the BBC studio former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf has offered a relaxed counter-balance to Hansen’s highly-strung, serial-killer intensity. Seedorf is so laid-back that mere consciousness itself is seemingly an affront to his endless powers of relaxation.
It is not often that ITV out-does it’s publicly funded sibling, but it might just be the case despite the desperately try-hard Chiles doing his level best to cheapen the coverage. There’s chummy, and then there’s Chiles, who’s efforts universally grate over the course of a late afternoon to evening.
Meanwhile, in the commentary box Andy Townsend continues his one-man campaign to ‘end passing’, while Clive Tyldesley struggles on without any obvious link to that night in Barcelona with which to fill dead air.
Yet, on the pundit’s sofa ITV has hit the winning note, pairing off Keane, with his erstwhile rival on the pitch, Patrick Vieira, and the solid, if humdrum, Gareth Southgate. Joining on the suspiciously ethnic-looking cushions – surely a hand-me-down from the World Cup – is the excitable Roberto Martinez, who is both engaging and insightful, while Gordon Strachan remains as spiky as ever.
And the broadcaster struck gold with Jamie Carragher, who’s refreshing honesty chimes the right note, even if the scouse inflection is all-too-painful on the ears.
Yet it is with Keane, the former Manchester United midfielder and captain, that ITV scores the winning runs. Keane, painfully honest and intense, was described by one national magazine of ‘going feral’ this week such is the Irishman’s demented scowl. Like David Brent, Keano is best viewed from behind the safety of the sofa.
Not least if you’re an Irishman, with Keane saving his most delicious barbs for his fellow countrymen. While others praised an Irish support that ran to 20,000, Keane refused to tow a party line, chiding a stunned Chiles that “it’s nonsense to say how great the fans are. The players and supporters have to change their mentality. Let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”
Mind you, Keane once promised he would never take the easy punditry pound. Good for ITV’s Euro 2012 coverage that he did. Unsafe perhaps for the “bemused onlooker” Vieira who’s safety cannot be guaranteed should Keane go fully off reservation.
Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane is to become the highest profile ex-player to take up refereeing, Football Association papers have revealed. Keane, who has taken several refereeing examinations since being sacked by Ipswich in January, could even be fast tracked into the Premier League in time for the 2011/12 season, according the documents seen by United Rant.
Manchester United legend Roy Keane made 480 appearances for the club, scoring 51 goals in the process. Despite numerous midfielders being groomed for Keane’s role since the Irishman’s departure in 2005, it’s arguable whether Sir Alex Ferguson has successfully replaced United’s most successful midfield destroyer.
Ferguson brought Carrick to the club as Keane’s replacement – at cost of £18 million – in 2005 and the former West Ham United player has amassed 158 games, scoring 13 goals. Over the past three Premier League winning seasons Carrick has been hugely influential. Yet both his passing and tackling are underrated by Sir Alex, who has left the England international out of the side on more than one occasion this season. The same is true of Fabio Capello, who may not pick the Geordie for the World Cup in South Africa and appears to prefer Manchester City’s Gareth Barry in the holding role.
Meanwhile Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller, Kleberson, Owen Hargreaves and Anderson have each been given the opportunity to fill Keane’s void. Perhaps only now that Darren Fletcher – the most improved player in world football – is in possession can Ferguson be happy. Even then, the Scot cannot measure up to Keane’s influence at the club.
Hargreaves’ capture in 2007 should have been the answer. The Canadian-born international has the speed and tenacity that marks him out as a World Class player in the defensive midfield position but injuries have placed the former Bayern Munich’s career in doubt. The player’s return in December is welcome but the outcome is uncertain.
Ferguson has also missed out on some high quality midfield players in the transfer market, none more so than Michael Essien. The Chelsea midfielder would walk into the United side. His 12 goals in 113 games for Chelsea is a bonus; more importantly Essien has become the London side’s defensive rock in midfield.
When Ferguson finally moves upstairs a realistic choice for the manager’s post might be Steve Bruce, the former-United defender who is doing an admirable job at Sunderland. If it happens, then the manager should bring Lee Cattermole with him. Bruce, who as a player amassed 309 Premier League games at Old Trafford, did just this when moving from Wigan Athletic in the summer. Cattermole, with 16 under-21 caps, is surely a future England international and one of the best prospects in the Premier League.
The North East-born player, at just 21, is an established Premier League performer alreasdy. With little history of injury problems (until a recent knee problem) the tough-tackling player has the kind of feisty attitude that would allow him to settle among the stars and egos at Old Trafford.
Cattermole has already surpassed the number of appearances Keane made at a similar age. The next step might well be into the Irishman’s boots.