Wednesday 22 January 2020

Roy's rage against the machine always comes down to himself

Dion Fanning

Roy Keane was right again last week. It may, perhaps, be his only consolation as he considers his future life as a TV pundit. Being right may be the only satisfaction he gets in a world in which he stands to lose out to Phil Brown for work. He can retreat knowing he is right, nearly always right about everything but not necessarily happy.

His essential rightness could never be confused for a Happiness Index, but Roy would be right in thinking that happiness is not the point of life. Being right may or may not be the point but there was a time when Keane's life seemed to have more purpose.

His interview with David Walsh last weekend may have captured the headlines for its attack on Alex Ferguson, but most observers of Keane's behaviour would have been most entertained, if also saddened, by his story of trying to buy a ticket at Wigan.

Keane was driven by all the right instincts in refusing to play football's game of gladhandling and banter when he went to watch a game at Wigan. Instead of sitting in the main stand, he tried to but a ticket on his own at the far side of the ground. There was a trademark Keane moment too as he quoted Wigan's exact debt -£37 million-as he encountered problems at the ticket office. Shortly after this he was led away by security. He was right again. Wigan's ticketing system is preposterous, and he undoubtedly came up with many solutions on the long drive home alone.

There is nothing wrong with Roy Keane's worldview. He is right about many things and last week he was right about Alex Ferguson and right about the curse of small talk.

There was a time when Keane was wrong about many of those things as well but that doesn't matter now.

Last week's offering was another riveting piece on the subject of himself. It seemed once that Keane was an interesting person, full of perceptive views and challenging opinions. It turns out that interesting things were merely happening in his orbit. As they have slowly disappeared he has become less and less interesting. As Brando said of actors, "If you ain't talking about him, he ain't listening."

When Keane wants to talk about himself, he makes sure everyone listens. Last week it was time for him to take on Alex Ferguson.

There was a lot in what Keane said that many would agree with. The idea of a band of managers scuttling around Ferguson like 'lapdogs' is not new. It's hard to know if it's more or less powerful when Keane makes the observation, instead of Roberto Martinez or Rafa Benitez.

He knows of his capacity to wound and he feels it is necessary because in Ferguson's clinical dismissal of Keane's recent criticism, the Manchester United manager demonstrated his power.

Still he wrestles in the most over-wrought way with his exit from Manchester United. "Football is cruel, life is cruel," is his lachrymose summary of those days.

He was dismissed from Manchester United after they took the entirely sensible view that there was no purpose in having an ageing player going around telling the next generation how useless they were all the time

He is like O'Banion in Dazed and Confused after the kids douse him with paint. He has spent his life shoving people around and now here are all these people laughing at him. Oh, how life is cruel.

He hasn't gone back to Old Trafford to watch a game because of this brutal ending. Keane may be the personality type that fears change and he can't reconcile with endings, unless they are on his terms. In life he may have had success dealing with things he can't control, but in football he has found it more difficult. Keane demonstrated in his interview his fearlessness in taking on those who have wounded him. He is a deeply sensitive man, once his own feelings are the ones being trampled on. Then he gains perspective.

Ferguson told him before he left Old Trafford that 'power and control' were what mattered in management. Keane never seemed to think it would apply to him.

He tried his own version of power and control and so far it hasn't worked. Keane is giving every indication that he doesn't have what it takes to be a top-class manager.

It has nothing to do with his refusal to play the game, to sit in the stand with Sam Allardyce or Phil Brown or to wear a pastel jumper on Sunday morning tv, bantering with Chris Kamara.

His refusal to engage with all that is mediocre in football should give him an advantage, but instead he stumbles. There is an ordinariness to his opinions, an absolute lack of understanding for another's point of view and an intense pity for the suffering of himself.

He represents Larkin's line, 'Your life is the harder course I see, on the other mine is happening to me' with the bit about 'yours is the harder course I see' removed. Everything is happening to him and he remains entrenched in his worldview, confusing compromise with perception and pragmatism with understanding.

His management career has been a study in alienation. When he stands as a pundit on the sideline for ITV, he usually speaks in banalities, unable to offer insight. Then the failings of Manchester United, a subject that is essentially about himself, came up and he lashed out.

We all think mainly of ourselves and we all can talk endlessly about our own problems. Keane has dressed up his self-obsession as a crusade. Last week he was crusading against Ferguson, small talk and the Wigan ticket office but, as always, he was talking about himself.

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