Amid all the brouhaha surrounding England‘s do-or-die Euro 2016 qualifiers against the might of San Marino and Estonia, news of the release of Roy Keane’s most recent autobiography, The Second Half, may have evaded the attention of many followers of the game.
Quiet, friendly and averse to confrontation, Keane’s revised reminisces were never expected to raise many eyebrows, with his sitting-on-the-fence approach and his inoffensive anecdotes being derided as nothing more than the actions of a dull footballer transcribing his dull life into literary form.
This is a pile of codswallop, of course, as Keane’s book – the most eagerly awaited sports autobiography since that of his boss-turned-nemesis, Alex Ferguson – has come at an ideal time for media outlets desperately searching for newsworthy material during a particularly uninspiring international break when headline-grabbing stories were always going to be thin on the ground. For the past week, the public – football-loving or otherwise – has been treated like some poor soul strapped onto an operating table in the lair of a crazed, demented professor, forcibly drip-fed an intoxicating mix of accusation upon accusation, tirade upon tirade and scathing criticism upon scathing criticism by delirious newspapers, websites and news channels who have plundered the former Manchester United midfielder’s explosive memoirs with glee.
The daily dosage of revelations on the back pages has been like some perverse form of opening an advent calendar over Christmas; instead of a snowman-shaped chocolate or a similarly dainty confectionery, the reader is treated every day to a brand-spanking new Keaneism, accompanied by the haunting image of the Irishman’s bewhiskered, sunken-eyed face – his cold, lifeless gaze akin to that of a man who walks by unperturbed after witnessing the neighbour’s cat being run over by a van.
Regardless of how tiresome and drawn-out the coverage of Keane’s autobiography may or may not be, there is no denying that the man is a compelling figure. The way in which his relationship with Ferguson has deteriorated from being one which enjoyed considerable and consistent success at United to one which is fuelled by bitterness and resentment gives us a fascinating insight into what happens when a manager and his captain – both equally as ambitious, strong-willed and obstinate – come to blows.
That said, his obsession with Ferguson also occasionally borders on the comical. In a recent interview conducted by Kevin Kilbane for BBC Sport, Keane only really becomes animated when he starts talking about his former boss. His unshakeable refusal to let bygones be bygones – he states that he’d “probably have a go” at Ferguson if he met him – is highly humorous, as is his scornful, desert-dry wit in general. Keane says further on in the interview that he is giving up on punditry, which is a crying shame as his brutal put-downs of players, managers and even entire teams – his claim that Tottenham will always let you down stands out as a particularly memorable example – were at times more entertaining than the matches themselves during his time as a pundit on ITV.
In an age where footballers – understandably, one might argue – saturate interviews and public appearances with cliché and vacuous pleasantries for fear of getting punished for stepping even slightly out of line, Keane is a welcome maverick. Football is entertainment, and the Irishman is infinitely entertaining. His aura makes his every word worth listening to, much like a certain Brian Clough – another of his former bosses during his playing days.
Roy Keane is a treasure of the game; love him or hate him, football would be all the poorer without his loveably, uniquely scathing presence.