James Lawton: Vindictive Roy Keane just can't get over his Manchester United exit
After the thin years in the manager's office, Roy Keane is back where he used to be so frequently. He is at the heart of controversy in English football, reviled by the old guard of Manchester United but more widely hailed as a TV analyst of new-found and brilliant edge.
One weighty London newspaper declared that Keane had "come of age as a pundit."
Some might argue that Keane's attention-grabbing onslaught on the reaction of his old club to the red card administered to Nani, and which so distorted the course of United's Champions League round of 16 defeat by Real Madrid, was the contrivance of someone looking for some timely impact.
Pretty much the same motivation might have been attributed to his historic take on the Wayne Rooney sensation, when he suggested that the player's exclusion was not about a run of poor form but the revenge of manager Alex Ferguson for that 2010 transfer rebellion.
However, there was another interpretation, and had it nothing to do with a belief that Keane was maturing in his new role and that he was indeed emerging as a challenger to such icons of the business as John Giles and Graeme Souness. It was precisely the opposite.
According to this theory Keane wasn't so much finding new critical acumen as regressing ever deeper into the bitter residue of his parting with the club he served so superbly, if often controversially, for so long.
Most striking, it seemed, was an implacable, and some might say irrational, objection to any position taken by his former manager and mentor Ferguson.
Back in 2010 Keane enthusiastically supported Rooney's rebellion, when the player demanded a transfer request on the grounds that United's signings, and their new financial limitations, could no longer properly support his personal ambitions.
This was, of course, the familiar accompaniment to the most routine of money-grabs orchestrated by the agents of leading players, but what was remarkable on this occasion was that it came while Rooney's form could hardly have been more wretched.
It also followed his catastrophic World Cup campaign and the fall-out from revelations of his dalliance with a prostitute while his wife Coleen was pregnant.
It was not perhaps the firmest foundation for the kind of position Rooney and his agent had adopted, but Keane offered his most enthusiastic backing.
He declared that Rooney was right to make his move because it meant that he had come to understand that even the most talented players would always be seen as 'pieces of meat.'
That some United fans registered their anger by donning balaclavas and assembling outside Rooney's Cheshire mansion, and that the player had been so recently reported to have tipped a hotel porter £200 for providing him with a packet of cigarettes, were ironies pointedly excluded from Keane's analysis.
So too was the fact that in the worst days of his career and his adult life, Ferguson's support to that point had been unstinting.
This week Keane's anti-Ferguson tone was set before the kick-off with Real Madrid.
He said that Rooney was paying not for a prolonged run of indifferent form, and a first-leg performance against Real that never rose above the workaday, but that old transfer rebellion.
The implication was unavoidable. Ferguson had been storing up his revenge and the writing that had been on the wall had come to pass.
Some might say that here Keane was at least touching upon an area which he had never been shy to occupy, not least when he committed his unforgettably notorious tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland. Keane did it and insisted that it was his opponent's due.
Maybe it was the memory of this that made Keane's verdict on Nani's red card quite so stunning. The assassin of Haaland was now the passionate critic of dangerous play. His declaration could hardly have been more zealous.
No matter that there was a complete absence of any evidence of malignant intent by the Portuguese, that the victim Alvaro Arbeloa had plenty of time and space to avoid such a direct collision, Keane was adamant.
He declared: "I think the referee has made the right call. Everybody's upset about it and it's slightly unlucky but it's dangerous play and whether he meant it or not is irrelevant.
"It's dangerous play and a red card. You have to be aware of other players on the pitch. Does he think he's going to have 20 yards to himself?"
There was also another imperious touch from the new super-analyst, though some of his less committed admirers might have questioned its relevance as hard as he had the fact that Nani's offence was so clearly accidental.
"Nani's quick to go down, anyway," said Keane. "He's not the bravest player on the planet."
On this occasion some TV critics might have similarly criticised the Corkman's studio companion and former opponent Gareth Southgate, who offered only token resistance to the Keane arguments.
It was a case that seemed to be informed less by logic than a desire to launch blows at the manager and the club with whom he enjoyed so many of the pinnacles of his career.
As he pressed his argument, it was hard not see a hundred hurts coming to the surface.
Ferguson was filled with vengeance. Nani was negligent about the safety of his fellow workers – and also a coward.
It was "slightly unlucky" that one of United's better players had, without displaying a hint of malice or dangerous intent, been banished at a time when Keane's old club – the one he had fought for so prodigiously on so many occasions – were within touching distance of one of their greatest victories.
This, we have been told quite emphatically, represented the emergence of a new and vital voice of football.
It was stringent about the rule of football law, we were also told, or at least one interpretation of it, and never mind that on this occasion it was an ass that had ruined a superb contest between two of the best teams in Europe.
There has to be, though, alternative reactions and one of them is that perhaps Giles and Souness should be in no hurry to leave the box.
A clear and independent voice is no doubt a valuable gift to football. A steady drip of vindictive partiality is maybe rather another.