To any Manchester City supporter Manchester United's Roy Keane is the devil incarnate. A glorified thug who epimitomized everything that was detestable about their hated rivals. But can there also be respect there too?
I am a lifelong City fan who has long held a begrudging respect for Roy Keane. There. I’ve said it. While that humiliating statement lingers in the air like a stale fart I’m going to scour myself with bleach, mutter numerous Hail Marys and flagellate myself in a hairshirt.
This was the man remember who savagely enacted a skewed revenge fantasy upon Alf-Inge Haaland in the Manchester derby, ending his career with a vicious knee-high stomp then showed no remorse whatsoever in his subsequent autobiography with these shocking words – ‘I'd waited long enough. I f-ing hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries’.
It was an admittance of common assault that crippled a fellow human being and deserved a prison sentence.
This is the man who epitomized everything loathsome and rank about Manchester United, particularly from that era when every player seemed to possess the human qualities of Amon Goethe in Schindler’s List. The dressing room back then was a cesspit of thuggish, arrogant, cheating, bullying, despicable individuals – stormtroopers with studs - and Keane was the uber-villain. At least with Gary Neville there was a certain comedy value in his inability to grow a fully formed moustache and his surly demeanour that was reminiscent of a Chuckle Brother who’d downed a bottle of whiskey. Keane’s mien, and all he represented, was always far more noxious and never anything less than serious, brooding psychosis. He was Ferguson’s bitter bile incarnate and as such my hatred knew no bounds. Seeing him on A Question Of Sport was as surreal as viewing Gary Glitter on I’m A Celebrity. Watching him walk Bouncer from Neighbours down Cheshire lanes after yet another fresh controversy would never fail to get my teeth grinding with vexation. Dog lover? Pah, even Hitler adored canines.
Winning wasn’t just an insatiable desire; it was a necessity to briefly quell a deep-rooted demonic obsession.
Alas, despite me regarding the man as perhaps the biggest tool to ever sully my television screen or newspaper, he was also a truly incredible footballer. We have not, nor are we ever again likely to see, a player channel such incredible reserves of commitment into every performance; every challenge; every run he made. Keane was a phenomenon. A freak. A powerful, unrelenting turbine of ferociousness and energy who hauled, cajoled and intimidated his team-mates to glory whether it be on the lush green turf of Old Trafford or a 5-a-side kickabout at Carrington. Winning wasn’t just an insatiable desire; it was a necessity to briefly quell a deep-rooted demonic obsession. Once that glory was attained it instantly meant nothing at all.
Anyone who witnessed his majestic performance against Juventus in the semi-final of the Champions League in ’99 – during which he knew he would subsequently miss the final through suspension – couldn’t help but marvel in genuine admiration at such an extraordinary display of brimstone and belief. There was uncharacteristic fear amongst some of the Manchester United team that night. Being so close to their dream yet requiring a triumph in Turin – it seemed maybe a step too far for some. It was Keane and Keane alone who dragged them there – and ultimately the treble - with the same grim determination of a parent making sure his children go through the gates on their first day of school.
The Irishman’s complicated character flaws off-the-pitch made him the player he was on it. Although football heightened his moody, driven lunacy (it’s a delicious thought but its hard to imagine him being so possessed at home making beans on toast) it also made sense of it. It was an outlet for his demons. Yet once the whistle blew he remained the tyrannical leader, venting his outspoken derision on targets usually deemed off-limits to most. There was the famous ‘prawn sandwiches’ outburst aimed at his own supporters. The scorn directed at his own Manchester United team-mates for daring to celebrate a league title. He demanded an exceptional standard of excellence from everyone and everything around him and if such standards were met then congratulatory back-slaps were redundant because meeting such targets was the norm wasn’t it? Keane was an impossible man to please yet his fearful colleagues never stopped trying.
After all, the greatest Ferrari ever made is simply a lump of metal without an engine.
As such he perfectly embodied his manager’s personality on the field of play, a forceful iron will that was almost a ghostly possession. Ferguson has always understood and tolerated the need for mavericks but he has never countenanced anyone believing they are bigger than the club or detached from its group mentality. When Stam – at that point arguably the best central defender around – made some relatively harmless remarks in his book he was swiftly turfed out. When Ince hilariously declared himself the ‘Guvnor’ he was soon doing that weird style of running that looks like he’s messed himself in Italy.
Keane – until his persona grew a little too out of control and his legs became weary – was always the solitary exception.
I would not hesitate in selecting him in my all-time Premier League XI and would even consider his inclusion in more exalted company amongst the Maradonas and Peles in an all-time dream-team. After all, the greatest Ferrari ever made is simply a lump of metal without an engine.
So do I like the guy? Certainly not. But that, in no way, impinges upon the enormous respect I have for his ability and achievements. I am a staunch republican yet I revere the Queen for the manner in which she has conducted herself down the years. I admire Simon Cowell’s business acumen yet I’d happily pummel his smug face until my fists fell off.
There was no such confliction of interests once Keane retired however and I’ve since taken great delight in watching his managerial aspirations come unstuck (just how many times can one person sign Carlos Edwards?) and detecting a noticeable disenchantment with his lot.
I wish him nothing but unhappiness. I hope agonizing arthritis one day strikes the same knee that did for Haaland. A pox upon thee.
He was still some player though.
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