Sunday 22 October 2017

No victim safe in self-pity city when Inspector Roy's on duty

Dion Fanning

Roy Keane sprung into action last week, flinging a pen in disgust in reaction to the comments of Lee Dixon at the end of England's game in Montenegro.

Traditionally, it has fallen to the biographer to convey the personality of his subject so it was something of a surprise for Roy to channel the spirit of his ghostwriter Eamon Dunphy in this way.

Dunphy flung a pen in disgust during Italia '90 when he felt that Ireland's performance against Egypt had been a betrayal of all the great Irish players and even some of the ordinary ones.

At that time, we were either appalled or supportive but we were all innocent. Now we know that this is one of his familiar riffs – at times his only riff: the sacrifice of noble football men by those in authority who do not appreciate them.

Keane's unconscious nod to Dunphy would have resonated deeply with any Irish viewer, understanding as they do the deep cultural significance behind any throwing of a pen. A pen-throw is never merely a pen-throw but instead it symbolises man's refusal to conform to the mores of conventional society and certainly the mores of ITV.

Roy might have been frustrated with Dixon's banal point but he was also making a declaration, just as he did when he refused to join in with the idea that Manchester United had been the victims of a gross miscarriage of justice when Nani was sent off against Real Madrid.

When Keane declared that Nani had only himself to blame, there were some who felt that he was revealing his ongoing resentment towards Alex Ferguson. Last week, there may have been those who thought he was now displaying anti-Englishness as he told Dixon, Chiles and the audience that England "don't know how to win big matches and that's a major problem".

In fact, when, Keane takes these stances, he is dealing with the great themes which have governed his life. He is continuing to wage war against certain ideas in an ITV studio set up for cosiness. Keane rejects the comfort of the consensus, railing instead against his great enemies – mediocrity, self-pity, acceptance and banter.

Roy was angry at Dixon for suggesting that a time may come when England's point would be seen as a good point. There are no good points in Roy's world and very few good victories, a relentlessly austere approach to football but one which can be preferable to the alternative.

In this he would probably differ from Roy Hodgson, a man who seems to be always pleased with a point, especially as he accommodates a simultaneous fear of what victory might do to expectations. Hodgson insisted England's draw was "not a bad result" and when he returned to Burton-upon-Trent for the debriefing session, he may well have been among like-minded people who felt that, with time, it would look like a good point. They are all good points in Burton-upon-Trent.

At Burton-upon-Trent, where the English FA are coaching the coaches, they will probably be impressed by Hodgson's ability to deconstruct a performance. His debriefings are, I'm sure, peppered with some educated jokes about Kundera and the flat back four.

They will tell you that Hodgson's sides are "always well-organised" even if they often appear best organised for the retreat. For some, it will be enough that they are well-organised even though it makes them sound like Bishop's Stortford taking on Chelsea in the FA Cup.

So it is fitting that Keane will be present during England's campaign, an awkward presence and an essential counterpoint. He warned that England needed a "reality check" and Keane will be doing the checking, checking for reality with the thoroughness of an El Al security man rifling through Abu Hamza's carry-on luggage.

If the acceptance of mediocrity had prompted him to throw down his pen in Podgorica, Keane knew something more profound was being offered when United lost to Madrid: victimhood.

They were planning to throw a pity party and you don't invite Roy to those. As a pundit, Keane can often be deeply uninteresting. He has little to bring to a discussion on, say, how a team will play or what they might do tactically to change the game, but he is not there for those moments. He is there to respond when the subject turns to the great struggles that have consumed his entire life.

When the memories of all he has fought against are triggered by a Nani sending-off or the comments of Phil Jones, he is transformed. He has a personal stake in taking on these comforting banalities and he has never forgotten how he has suffered at the hands of the mediocre.

Roy Keane's punditry is, in essence, Roy Keane's life story. He is not there to analyse zonal marking, but to explain why some men fail and some succeed.

His career as a pundit reveals why management hasn't worked for him yet and why maybe it still could. He may triumph yet at international level or among a group of players who need to be reminded of their abilities, the way a jockey might remind a horse. He is less likely to succeed when the job requires methodical and painstaking work and an ability to see the good in everyone. Keane is at his best pointing out the worst in those who are most pleased with themselves.

Keane responds to nothing as he responds to others being the victim. He can sometimes be unaware of the paradoxes as he dismisses an incident that took place a few minutes before but recalls with forensic accuracy an event that occurred in his own life 20 years previously.

But will we forgive these inconsistencies even though we know he would also despise us for our charity.

Roy patrols the streets of self-pity city, always vigilant for vagabonds and thieves who will deprive us of liberty and excellence. He is the world's policeman and he never sleeps.

dfanning@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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