Sport Soccer

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Comment: The footballing world was once the last bastion of macho men

Assistant Ireland manager Roy Keane's expletives are fairly tame compared to his own baptism of fire, writes Niamh Horan

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

In 1991, a young Roy Keane was playing in an FA Cup match for Nottingham Forest against Crystal Palace.

Despite the 19-year-old's regular good form, he under hit a back-pass that caused a Palace goal.

Afterwards, his manager Brian Clough, took him to one side and punched him full force in the chest. As he lay sprawled out on the ground, Clough stood over him and roared: "Don't pass the ball back to the goalkeeper."

It was a wake-up call and the end of his honeymoon at Nottingham Forest.

But Keane never held it against his boss. In fact, years later, he said: "I never felt bad about it; I never thought what he had done to me was wrong… I wasn't angry towards him… I just dealt with it."

Now consider the furore around Roy Keane and Harry Arter.

Assistant Ireland manager, Keane verbally lashed out at Arter - calling him "a w**ker and a p***k" when he felt the lad should play, rather than sit out a training session due to injury. He accused the player of not caring about the team.

In return Arter decided to walk from playing for his country.

Rather than vow to prove Keane wrong on the pitch, Arter's response was to tell Keane: "You're not the manager. You can't say anything to me."

Incorrect protocol? Did we ever think we would see the day that a footballer would use that defence when questioned about his performance. It's a step away from threatening to go to human resources.

And that's the point. Football isn't like the normal workplace. No one is saying people should accept abuse in any line of work but the footballing world always seemed to be the last bastion of macho men - a world away from political correctness and snowflake attitudes - where people were made of tougher stuff.

The kind of players that Keane flourished among in the 1990s - Patrick Vieira, Jaap Stam, Vinnie Jones and Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce, when tough tackles and bust-ups were par for the course. Do you think any of those would let a few expletives get in the way of pulling on their jersey in a job most kids can only dream of?

Keane has faced a lot of criticism in the past week for his tough managerial approach, but no one can argue he is on his own.

In fact, compared to some of his contemporaries, his verbal lambasting seems mild. Paolo Di Canio didn't shy away from confrontation and refused to play players if they went against him. He wouldn't even allow Sunderland players to smile or laugh in training. Former German manager Felix Magath was even called a "dictator" by his team.

As for the generation before, it was even worse.

Former Leeds boss, Major Frank Buckley was a military man and paved the way for the likes of Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson - he once made a young Jack Charlton weed the Elland Road pitch. Former legendary Celtic and Scotland manager Jock Stein kept news of John Hughes's wife's miscarriage from the player on a pre-season tour. When he eventually filled him in at the end of the tour, he told him: "Ach, what could you do about it, anyway? You're here and she's there."

O'Neill also came up under Brian Clough, who was said to have been the only person who could "chop him down to size". Alex Ferguson got away with an apology after kicking a boot that hit David Beckham's head. So talk of making Keane pack his bags because of some harsh words is ridiculous. It's no wonder O'Neill stood by his number two.

Keane is passionate about Ireland. And the players should know it's not personal; he just wants a team to perform at the highest possible standard. And even if he has a disagreement with one - which is bound to happen - it doesn't mean the rest don't want to learn from him.

"He's always in your ear, giving words of advice," said Conor Hourihane after the Arter row. "If you let standards go a little bit, he's on the case, so that's fantastic to have as well, he keeps you on your toes."

Sure, he may need to learn to communicate his frustration better but it has to be remembered, he's part of a different breed who grew up in a different time (he witnessed Ferguson's hairdryer treatment for 12 years) and if every dressing room expletive is going to be met with a player storming off offended, a match would never get played.

What no one wants is a snowflake generation of footballers feeling self-righteous and easily offended at criticism. It doesn't do anyone any favours, on or off the pitch.

As former England captain Terry Butcher said you have to know how to take it on the chin: "[Keane] shoots from the lip and at the end of the day you just have to accept it for what it is and just move on.

"There's always been with Roy this and that in the press because he does speak his mind. He's an honest man and sometimes you don't agree with his opinions. But it's football, and that's what football is all about - opinions."

Perhaps then, Arter and his teammates would do well to follow the words of Mark Manson. Author of a counter-intuitive approach to living a good life, he says people are always choosing: "[In life] pain of one sort or another is inevitable… but we get to choose what it means." He explains how the concept of fault and responsibility are two different things: "You might not be at fault for what happened, but it is still your responsibility to choose your response."

It's the reason the same event can make or break two different people. And we all know how Keane's decision to get up and dust himself off eventually turned out.

On another occasion, as it was becoming clear Roy was turning into something really special, he was spared Clough's wrath. As the manager stalked the dressing room in a temper, he had a different insult for every player. Accusations of laziness and complacency went flying. He even told goalkeeper and Yorkshireman Mark Crossley to "buy a house in Nottingham or f**k off and play for Barnsley".

When he reached Keane, his face softened at the sight of his protege who, at this stage, was coming up trumps. His only words? "I love you, Irishman."

No hard feelings then.

Sunday Independent

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