Thursday 13 December 2018

The Keane that is, and that might have been

Martin O’Neill looks on as Roy Keane greets his old Man Utd teammate and now Wales manager Ryan Giggs ahead of Ireland’s 4-1 defeat by Wales last week. Photo: AFP
Martin O’Neill looks on as Roy Keane greets his old Man Utd teammate and now Wales manager Ryan Giggs ahead of Ireland’s 4-1 defeat by Wales last week. Photo: AFP

Declan Lynch's Diary

You could say that this is the archetypal story of the innovator who eventually becomes the daft old geezer.

In this version, Roy Keane was once the man trying to shake Irish football out of its culture of mediocrity - until eventually he assumed a position of some authority himself, and could find no way to connect with the better nature of his young players, to lift them out of their ordinariness.

Yes, in the telling of this part of the Keane saga, he has become the kind of senior citizen that his younger self might have scorned - indulging in displays of belligerence which only drive away some of the half-decent players that we have. His "altercation" with Harry Arter sounds like the sort of thing which might have worked in olden days, and we are reminded of the idiosyncracies of Keane's and Martin O'Neill's old gaffer Brian Clough - with the slight difference that Cloughie was successful.

And there was the odd spectacle of Keane as a World Cup pundit, holding forth as he had always done, having just emerged from a defeat of his own side by Denmark which had at times made the Danes look like Brazil circa 1970 - when in truth they are just… Denmark.

Again, he seemed somewhat disconnected from that reality - the way it can be for the old-fashioned person.

So that's the kind of chatter that is going around now about Keane - but personally I wouldn't be all that interested in it. Maybe I just don't care about that stuff any more.

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

There are two things about Roy Keane that are enormously interesting, and that do I care about - he was an absolutely great footballer; and he used to drink too much, but then he stopped.

It has always seemed to me that these were the two essential ingredients in the catastrophe of Saipan, though much of the analysis of those events leaves out the second part - leaves out the fact that the main player at that time had given up alcohol, something which potentially at least separated him from his team mates who were carrying on as usual.

And this is why Saipan continues to drive people mad - it could not be otherwise, when one of our great national tragedies has this hole in it the size of the Western Pacific. It drives people mad because they know intuitively they are getting mainly shallowness and superficiality, that there must be something more interesting at the root of this than a dispute about bad pitches and training bibs, something that isn't talked about - not enough anyway.

Well, Keane has talked about it, to some extent. He has described it as a lifestyle change, something he did to prolong his career, following the example of the foreign players who were better at looking after themselves than the "British" lads.

American footballer Colin Kaepernick
American footballer Colin Kaepernick

"The self-destruct button is definitely there. And I suffer for it," he said in the past. "With my drinking, I used to go missing for a few days. I think it was my way of switching off, never mind the consequences - it was my time.

"It was self-destructive, I can see that, but I'm still drawn to it. Not the drink - but the madness, the irresponsibility."

Keane has chosen to speak about his lifestyle choices in the way that he does, and he is perfectly entitled to that position.Unfortunately, it also turns this fascinating aspect of his personality into a non-event in the public realm.

All we can do is wonder what an amazing thing it would have been, if Roy had somehow found a way to talk about these matters in a compelling style, if he had been able to pass on some of the wisdom he acquired along the way. Yes, what a thing that would have been.

Then again, he has not been able to convey much of the pleasure of his other major distinction - his greatness as a footballer. It all ended horribly at United, and you get no sense from him of the kind of peace that other great players exude, knowing that they did all that they could with their talents.

If he does feel that profound satisfaction, again he has found no means of sharing it. Which leaves us with these stories of a cranky middle-aged man getting into "altercations" with players for whom he is supposed to be an inspiration. Of what is, and again, what might have been.

We need a new radical like the old Cruiser

It's most enjoyable for Ireland to assume the role of the grown-up in our relationship with Britain. After so many years of dependency we are starting to see ourselves in the unfamiliar position of the designated driver, wearily accepting the duty of keeping an eye on these hopeless delinquents, and if necessary, giving them a ride home.

We're even wondering if there's anything at all we can do to save America from itself, tormented as it is by similar forces of white nationalism which are destroying Britain.

And as we settle into this feeling of superiority, even of aloofness from the more grotesque aspects of these terrible stories, we seem to have forgotten that we ourselves have a bit of form in this general area of nationalism.

We recently had a kind of a war about it, if truth be told - so it seems strange that we are not making these obvious connections between our nationalists and their nationalists.

How easy-going we have become about it all. But then our green nationalism is different to all that white nationalism, we don't need to be worrying ourselves like the Brits and the Americans and the Germans and the French - they all seem to have the bad kind of nationalism, the wrong colour, whatever it is.

Nor is it recognised that these great arguments about "de-platforming" the likes of Steve Bannon or Marine Le Pen are extraordinarily similar to the ones that we used to have about this thing called Section 31 - the broadcasting ban on extremist organisations, most notably the IRA.

When The New Yorker magazine uninvited Bannon last week, I found myself reading these learned articles which sought to explain why even the most rigorous of journalists, using all their interviewing skills, are never going to "expose" or "defeat" a determined nationalist agitator.

Oh how familiar it seemed, reading this stuff about the fundamental difference between the job the journalist is trying to do (which is about asserting the power of reason) and the mission of the nationalist, which is to connect with energies of a different order, with unreason and chaos.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, the minister mainly associated with Section 31, and the few who openly supported him, were convinced that de-platforming the Provos was the only sane option - though it was a position fiercely opposed by many distinguished commentators who were either offended that their own brilliance as interrogators was being doubted, or who didn't actually believe the Provos were such a bad thing anyway.

I have no doubt that many of these same commentators would now be deeply opposed to the far-right ravings of Bannon being given an audience by The New Yorker, and that they would have been equally in favour of Paddy Cosgrave's eventual decision to un-invite Marine Le Pen from the Web Summit.

But I don't think they'd see any inconsistency in their own position, because... well, I guess they just don't see these things.

Not for them the realisation that maybe the old Cruiser was about 40 years ahead of the curve on this one.

Trumper slighted as Nike honours Colin

Part of the problem that the American footballer Colin Kaepernick faced, when he "took the knee" during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner, was the perception that he was being "political" - whereas those who had nothing to say about this issue of police brutality towards black people, were apparently not being political at all. They were only obeying the laws of nature, which just happen to coincide with the "conservative" position on all matters.

For example, the golfer Davis Love III could argue that "there is a time for protest, and it probably isn't during the national anthem", and nobody called him a creature of the right, who pledges his allegiance to the PGA, which every week endorses the values of Corporate America and of unfettered militarism.

Worse still, Tiger Woods has effectively spoken up for Trump by stating that the "office" of the president should always be respected, which is perhaps the only wrong thing that Tiger has ever done, in my eyes - but which again is not regarded as "political", in the Kaepernick sense. Moreover, being political in that sense, is to be seen as the worst of all things - a loser.

So when Kaepernick was announced as the new face of Nike, it seemed that the corporation was going against nature itself, except for one thing - with this transformative act, it had turned Kaepernick into a winner.

Indeed not only was Nike saying that his idea of America would ultimately prevail, that his excoriation by Trump didn't matter, it also wanted a piece of the action.

A lot of bad things happened to the Trumper last week, but this is one which may have truly rattled him - a rapacious corporation, his type of people, declaring that Kaepernick is winning, is also declaring that Trump is losing.

With a swoosh.

Sunday Independent

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