Philosopher-warrior just can't back down in battle for truth
To the list of things Roy Keane is right about we can now add Denis Irwin. Keane is right about so many things but this has never come with the dividend of great contentment. As he argued about Irwin with Patrick Vieira on ITV's documentary last week, he was right again and even in this artificial construction he was agitated, if amused, by those who can't see how right he is.
He would argue too about Dennis Bergkamp and his inclusion in the imaginary team of Arsenal and Manchester United players, wondering how a player who didn't fly could take part in imaginary pre-season tours for the imaginary team. If the cameras had rolled a little longer, he may have produced an imaginary fixture list and highlighted an imaginary game in, say, Istanbul when the imaginary team might need Bergkamp but he wouldn't be there because he refused to fly.
This was Keane being right again, at least from the viewpoint of the extreme professional, and as he argued we saw that while it was bringing him some enjoyment on the night, it again was leaving him short of what we might understand as conventional happiness.
The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing, the poet said. Keane is right about so many things but he knows one big thing.
In recent years, this knowledge has focused on one man with whom he shared so much, who seemed to be so similar to himself even if Keane could be said to be the more rounded figure, solely because he appears at times to be as disdainful of his own achievements as he is of others' accomplishments. Keane's whole life appears to have been a preparation for this feud, a feud which, in part, reflects Keane's outrage that the things that happened to other people could happen to him.
He has spent a lifetime developing his core beliefs: there are no friends in football (although it could be argued that there are too many friends in football, but Keane is not part of the clique), loyalty is a sham and, as he told Paul Kimmage in Saipan, "there are always hidden agendas, always, always hidden agendas". In these years of preparation, he was acquiring the knowledge of this one big thing.
A few years ago, it was inconceivable that Keane would be a TV pundit and now he is making documentaries. It is just about possible to imagine Keane appearing on Celebrity Masterchef at some time in the distant future and, as he crafts his soft shell crab in parmesan batter with a fennel salad, turning the conversation away from the correct technique needed to produce a perfect batter, broadening it out to talk about loyalty in the kitchen before ending with a chilling lament on the many forms of ruthlessness of which Alex Ferguson is capable.
He turned the documentary about his rivalry with Vieira into a discussion of these greater themes and what we talk about when we talk about Roy Keane's Manchester United Dream XI.
Keane took the programme places it cannot have imagined it would have gone. In many ways, it was a clichéd premise: two warriors reminiscing about the past over footage of their battles and achievements. Keane is not a nostalgist, although when he stated that he had enjoyed every minute of his time at Manchester United he could be accused of sentimentalising the past.
His secret was that he appeared to enjoy no minutes of his time at Manchester United, certainly not consecutive minutes.
The wisest minds will state that happiness is more likely to be achieved when it isn't pursued than when it is. Keane has, in his own way, always achieved something by pursuing something else. Even his famous devotion to high standards in professional life was a consequence of a more profound change in his life which altered everything.
There was a time when Keane drank and now there is a time when he doesn't. This everyday miracle is arguably at the heart of all his greatest moments and some of his profoundest regrets. Yet it is still common to hear people babble about Keane's desire for excellence as if he was a particularly fastidious inspector at the Department of Forestry and Fisheries rather than a philosopher-warrior with great contradictions.
He wouldn't be as fascinating if he was as constant as the superficial portrait of a jobsworth with high standards suggests. The Keane who was out drinking a few days before his tangle with Alf-Inge Haaland in 1997 had to exist for the Keane who came later to have true purpose. Equally, the later Keane gave meaning to the Keane who drank and fought, because there have been thousands of those.
If the programme-makers were unaware of Keane's core truth he let them know about it anyway, an act of generosity for which they must have been profoundly grateful.
Without Keane's determination to drive the programme where he wanted it to go, it could have quickly become insignificant, a companion piece to Football's Hardest Men or other stocking-fillers.
Instead, Keane's determination to take the fight to Ferguson made it gripping. He refuses to accept that his time had gone as a player when he left Manchester United. He wasn't the player he once was but he was probably still a better midfielder than Liam Miller or Alan Smith.
Keane has made peace before and he can make peace again. John Delaney, with whom he shares very little, is now an employer while Ferguson, with whom he achieved so much, is the man he is prepared to question, the man he will answer back believing that surrender now is not a victory.
Roy Keane knows one big thing. The one big thing could be that people are bastards, life is hell or everything is bullshit. Today the one big thing has a human face and Keane believes he knows it like he has known nothing else: Alex Ferguson will do you in the end.