Roy Keane belongs on the stage, but he is happier off it
As road rage claims surface, Dion Fanning says former star is a mass of contradictions
On a Saturday evening last October, Roy Keane appeared at the London Sports Writing Festival in the Thomas Lord suite at Lord's Cricket Ground in St John's Wood.
He and his ghostwriter Roddy Doyle had made a series of public appearances to promote the autobiography they had collaborated on. They had taken part in similar events in Dublin, Manchester and London.
On stage, Doyle that he was "sick of the book at this stage. I'm glad this is our last hurrah". If he seemed weary, Keane didn't, even if he said towards the end of the evening that he wasn't comfortable doing this kind of thing.
"I don't like being in the public eye," he told the crowd. "This is our last gig tonight, thank God." If that was the truth there was another one in evidence as well.
Keane, to nobody's surprise, was a natural. He might not have enjoyed being on a stage talking about himself, but he overcame those private doubts as all great entertainers do. Keane has always seemed addicted to drama, and these public events provided an ordered and well-timetabled injection of adrenaline. "Some writers take to drink," Gore Vidal once said, "others take to audiences." Keane had his time with drink and here he had taken to an audience, whatever his ambivalence.
The book and the tour of events had been a success. Keane had, in part, written the book to alter the image of him. "There comes a point where you say enough is enough," he said on the day he launched it. "I'm not going to go into great detail about who said what. It was blatant lies. If you were looking at it from the outside, you'd say, 'I wouldn't touch him'."
The objective of the book was to make football look fondly on Keane again. Doyle said he wasn't interested in Keane's private life, so issues such as his relationship with alcohol were barely explored. Even as he was grabbing back pages with his views on Jose Mourinho and his unaltered opinion of Alex Ferguson, Keane's public image was changing thanks to the new autobiography. The more complete version was closer to the true picture of the man.
When Roy Keane gives his version of the events that he has been involved in since he last talked to the press - which was a happening in its own right - he will most likely talk about media exaggeration, and he may even have a point.
In the months since the book launch, he has had a chance to work quietly, but instead the stories have been familiar ones involving an angry man who is blasting and slamming.
There is currently only one side to Friday's reports about Keane "launching a foul-mouthed tirade" against a motorist, and few would be surprised that his response to a reporter who approached him at his home was unwelcoming. "What are you talking about?" the Manchester Evening News quoted Keane as saying. "What are you saying? Believe what you want. I can tell what you want from me, you just want a quote. Now get the f*** away from me. Get the f*** away from me now."
In Keane's eyes, newspapers just want a quote and they just want an angle, however insignificant it truly is. He might agree with Paul Lambert's line that, "If Roy Keane took a strand from his beard, it would be a story".
When he next talks to the media, Keane might also offer some context to his visit to Tom Cleverley at Cleverley's home - a visit that was reported as a "showdown". Keane has pointed out that everything he says appears in the press as a "blast" or a "slam", and again he has a case. Yet he understands how an incident like the visit to Cleverley's house will be reported and, consequently, how it will shape the public's view of him.
Keane knows how football works. He has set himself in opposition to its workings, and even if it is a noble fight, it is a fight he cannot win. He knows that nearly every newspaper story about him results in him being viewed once again as nothing but a caricature. There may be nothing in these stories, but recently there have been too many stories, some of them unnecessary like the Cleverley incident, no matter what the truth is.
Once the book tour ended, Keane returned to his life as assistant to Martin O'Neill and Paul Lambert. He would get up early and leave his Cheshire home every morning to reach Aston Villa's training ground. "Every morning around six when I'm sitting on the M6, I'm asking myself, 'Is this what I really want to do?' To be honest, I'm still not sure what I want to do," Keane said at Lord's. If he craved a quiet and anonymous life, he would never have had a better opportunity than as Paul Lambert's assistant. A month after the end of his book tour, he decided he didn't want to be Aston Villa's assistant manager any more.
He had been away with Ireland in the meantime, becoming involved in an altercation with a supporter which again may not have been all it was reported. He then argued with journalists who asked him if he was in danger of becoming a distraction.
Keane has spoken about how his return to Ireland with Martin O'Neill allowed him to rediscover his love for the game. His success in that job will determine if he has a future in management - if he wants one. But other factors will also be important.
"You're making out I'm bringing all these distractions on," Keane said as he argued with Irish journalists in November before he called out friends of Mick McCarthy and talked about the lies that had been written about him. "You couldn't get enough of it," he said.
He was right again. He so often is, but he knows that righteousness is the worst protection against self-destruction. "The worst anger for me is justified anger," he told the London audience that night in October. "When you think, 'Somebody has really wronged me' . . . if you feel wronged, then it's very hard. It's all right for me sitting with Roddy writing all that down and going, 'Listen, next time I'll be different'. I don't know, I think it could happen tonight, it could happen tomorrow."
Keane is more complex than the weekend's screaming headlines, but they are not reports of an unrecognisable man either - they also contain a truth. He belongs on the stage, yet he is happier off it, and he is still trying to accommodate these contradictions and ambivalences. The truth, as another complex man wrote, is rarely pure and never simple.
Sunday Indo Sport