Wednesday 16 October 2019

Master of grudges just can't let it go

Dermot Crowe

Roy Keane's latest confrontation with Alex Ferguson, an interview he initiated, reads like a retaliatory tackle from his playing days: pre-meditated, calculating, designed to inflict pain and vengeance.

On this occasion revenge is dished out from the comfort of a hotel room rather than the football ground, but his motives are in conflict with the relaxed surroundings and the calm manner in which the message is delivered. He sought the interview after all, and did not do so with charitable intentions but to unceremoniously put the boot in, studs showing.

Keane's tale-telling bolsters the prevailing view of Ferguson as a single-minded, ruthless forager. Ferguson rules by fear, to a large extent, and bullish authority -- Keane's insights shine some more light on his personality and life at Old Trafford during the Ferguson monarchy. But we knew or suspected much of that already. Ferguson, even ardent United fans admit, is an abrasive and unsentimental character. The most casual train-spotter will see the strain and sighing contrivance in the happy public face but now and then the mask drops and the visage morphs into a glowering and seething sulk-puss that could sink a thousand ships at the old Govan shipyards. Witness the Fergie face after United conceded the goal that put them out of the Champions League to Basel.

The interview Keane gave on Sunday last told us more about him than Ferguson and yet only confirmed, too, what we already knew. Keane is a grudge-holder nonpareil and his combustible nature frequently elevates these grudges into causes beyond all reason.

In 2002, he decided that the cause of Irish football was better served if he left a World Cup tournament where there was an unhealthy dependency on him to stay and play. What cause did his dramatic exit serve? The pat answer is that it showed Roy rising above the risible governance of the FAI and the hokey, simpleton ambitions of the players and fans. That is a very selective interpretation of events -- his behaviour made his position untenable and his heart was clearly not in it. Saipan is not irrelevant to the Keane of today. The wishes of his team-mates and thousands of followers were regarded as secondary to the issue of what was good for Roy Keane. To see the great lengths his apologists go to to find reasons to explain the selflessness in this ultimate personal sacrifice is to appreciate the "power and influence" (to coin a phrase) of player adulation and the cult status which Keane had established, only some of it his own making.

Eamon Dunphy essentially rewrote Only a Game, a fine work, when he delivered Keane's autobiography in the wake of all the Saipan dysfunction and madness. He used Keane as the vehicle and the voice to reheat old philosophies about player rights and the evils of the establishment that he had been peddling back in the 1970s. All those points were well and reasonably argued in Only a Game by Dunphy, who is an able polemicist when he wants to be. But in Keane's autobiography he did neither the player nor the cause justice by confusing the two and depicting Saipan as Keane's Via Dolorosa. It was a fantastical presentation and wonderfully deluded.

That this latest outburst from Roy Keane, interesting and compelling as it invariably is, happened to be instigated by him using the services of the Fourth Estate can't be ignored in making an evaluation. Soured references in a match programme by Ferguson in response to Keane's unflattering comments on United's European exit inflamed him and set in train the latest outburst and another declaration of war on superficiality and celebrity culture. What is there to like about celebrity culture -- hats off to Keane for that -- but the relentless search for this truth that he appears engaged in must not lose sight of his own authenticity and credibility as a proclaimer of this refreshing new creed.

There is a great degree of narcissism in his outpourings and often the favourably espoused portrait of Keane abandoning ego and rejecting Satan and all his works doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Man United's threat to sue him was horrendously callous and insensitive but his reaction to Ferguson's programme notes sees Keane still susceptible to his old gaffer's "power and influence" six years on.

What probably comes across most emphatically is that here is a man with too little to do. So far management hasn't been a reliable outlet for that pent-up energy. While Keane may be relaxed and convey -- as he did way back then with Tommie Gorman -- a perfectly calm and reasonable position, the actions and words suggest otherwise. As for loyalty from managers, and the absence of same in Ferguson when his United career was ending, he might recall how Ferguson gazumped Kenny Dalglish who was poised to sign Keane to Blackburn.

It is a nasty old business -- where's the news in that? Keane didn't have any misgivings about such sharp practice then or, if he did, he took them as part of the deal. Keane ultimately proved a very difficult player to manage. He did not score highly in man-management either, not in the long run. Sooner or later something goes off and a situation will develop that becomes irretrievable.

Ronnie Whelan was chucked out of Liverpool, as his recent autobiography illustrates, as heartlessly as Keane at United and even worse in that he didn't seek to challenge the way they ran things. The day came when he was surplus to requirements.

Football, Keane rightly attests, is cruel and he is entitled to feel let down by the nature of his leavetaking. But Alfie Haaland might say it is cruel too, might he not, with at least as good reason. If not a great deal more.

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