SPOILER ALERT: Contains spoilers for the movie Whiplash
“’Listen lads. Basically, you’re s**t. Try and enjoy the game. You’re probably going to get beat. But just enjoy being s**t.’”
Sunderland manager Roy Keane, December 2007
Roy Keane’s infamous temper has got him into a few headline-grabbing situations over the years, and when he found himself attending Manchester Magistrates Court on road rage charges yesterday, the tabloid press pack were sniffing another one.
Thankfully, the Republic of Ireland assistant was found not guilty of a public order offence. Dismissing the case as being “riddled with inconsistencies and improbabilities”, the District Judge said the Altrincham taxi driver involved came across as a “thwarted fan”, and cleared Keane of causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Keane, who was alleged to have - wait for it - “stared aggressively” at his accuser, made light of his managerial career when asked by the QC, resulting in laughs in court when he described it as “attempted management”.
It was a rare display of humility from the former Sunderland and Ipswich boss, and a sign that he remains desperate to prove himself as a manager after his initial success ended in the controversial manner that many had predicted.
After all, Keane’s relatively fledgling managerial career comprises only four years and two clubs, but that hasn’t stopped the rumour and conjecture surrounding his methods from being numerous enough to fill several footballers’ books with. Did Keane really, as Dwight Yorke claimed, kung-fu kick the tactics board on several occasions? Did the quote above, as Danny Higginbotham wrote in his recent autobiography, really constitute the pre-match teamtalk to a crucial home game?
One thing is for sure, if the stories are good enough to be included in non-fiction, then it’s a caricature worthy of a place in fiction too.
And in the same week as Keane’s trial, the Oscar-winning movie Whiplash was released on DVD. You might think it’s an unlikely connection, but bear in mind that one involves a ruthless and temperamental leader demanding the impossible from those working under him, and the other involves Roy Keane. You get the gist.
As anyone who has seen Damien Chazelle’s excellent film will know, Keane’s ruthless tongue and ferocious man-management comes straight from the school of Terence Fletcher, the cut-throat maestro played to Oscar-winning perfection by JK Simmons.
So as the news of Keane’s trial buzzed through on my phone while watching Whiplash this week, I was reminded of his cruel, cutting, yet paradoxically motivating Sunderland teamtalk. A line that could quite easily have been lifted from Chazelle’s script. And my mind began to wander…
<jazz solo dream sequence…>
Whiplash: starring Roy Keane as Sunderland manager
Original scene: Terence Fletcher humiliates new drummer Andrew Neiman infront of the rest of the band.
New adaptation: Roy Keane humiliates new striker Anthony Stokes infront of the rest of the squad.
Roy Keane was smiling as he stomped over to Anthony Stokes. But his nostrils were flaring. The confident Stokes, described as Keane's "fast-track to promotion" in the press following his £2m move from Arsenal, was enjoying his first training session with Sunderland, though he had just missed a one-on-one chance after skinning Nyron Nosworthy.
Keane's greying beard flickered in the Wearside wind. He was still smiling. This unnerved Stokes.
"We have a squeaker today, boys. His name is Anthony Stokes. He's 18 years old. Isn't he cute?"
The lads didn't respond. A few exchanged uncomfortable glances. Keane's smile disappeared.
"You should have scored there, no?"
"Were you rushing or were you dragging?"
Keane motioned to keeper Darren Ward to stand back in goal, and for Nosworthy to get back on his feet.
Once again, Stokes nutmegged Noz. Once again, he failed to hit the target.
Keane repeated himself: "So then. Were you rushing or were you dragging?"
Stokes daren't admit he didn't have a clue what the boss was talking about. He noticed the wispy ends of Keane’s beard becoming more agitated, almost crackling with static energy.
A couple of stepovers put Nyron on his backside, and Stokes intended to make no mistake this time, thudding his laces into the ball. It flew over the bar. Several of the lads eagerly chased after it, any excuse to escape. Stokes' feeling of dread intensified.
"Rushing or dragging?"
"I don't kn.."
Before he could finish his sentence, he felt a sharp stinging slap across his face.
"Now was I rushing or dragging?"
"I don't… know". Another slap. He could now feel his cheek reddening. None of his teammates dared to meet his desperate, pleading eyes. He was on his own.
"Go again" Keane’s voice remained calm, but he hadn’t blinked for at least two minutes.
This time a Cruyff-turn saw for Noz, but his attempt to dribble round Ward only resulted in tripping over his own feet.
Keane's voice boomed: "Rushing or dragging. Rushing or dragging? RUSHING OR DRAGGING?!"
"RUSHING!" Stokes eventually bellowed, the tears now beginning to appear.
The corners of Keane’s mouth hinted at a returning smile. It didn’t come.
"You are upset. Say it so the whole squad can hear you"
"You are a worthless, friendless piece of s**t who I only brought to the club to keep Celtic from wasting their money on you, and now you're weeping and slobbering all over my training ground like a f***in’ nine-year old girl. So for the final f***in’ time, SAY IT LOUDER"
Stokes felt the top of his lungs burn as he screamed: "I'M UPSET!"
Keane’s smile returned, and he finally blinked. His beard seemed to sigh.
"Start practicing harder, Stokes."
Keane turned away and walked off towards the car park, but not before casting a final disgusted glance at Nosworthy, who was still lying prone on the deck.
Original scene: Terence Fletcher notices an out-of-tune member of the band, and sets out to punish the culprit.
New adaptation: Roy Keane notices a player failing to adhere to pre-match instructions, and sets out to punish the culprit.
It was full time at St Andrews, where a last-minute Stern John equalizer had earned Sunderland a point after twice coming from behind in a 2-2 draw. The lads were suitably buzzing – it had followed a 1-0 win over Spurs in the season opener. After sealing promotion in his first season in charge, Keane’s Sunderland had made a very promising start on their Premier League return.
But when assistant manager Tony Loughlan entered the changing room with the tactics board and DVD player, the mood quickly changed. Keane then came in smiling. Shit.
Within five seconds, the tactics board was lying on the deck in two, courtesy of a flying karate kick from the gaffer.
"Now this one really upsets me.”
“We've practised man-marking on corners all week. And one of you is still doing zonal. Does that player want to do the right thing and reveal himself?”
"Ok. Well maybe I got it wrong. Just to be sure, Tony play the tape."
It was a replay of a corner in the 16th minute, before any of the goals had been scored. Craig Gordon had come and collected the ball unchallenged, Birmingham hadn't come close to scoring. The lads looked perplexed. One player bowed his head.
"One of their players is definitely umarked in there. Whoever’s responsible, this is your last chance."
Keane paced the room. Still nothing.
“Either you know you are doing zonal, and are therefore deliberately sabotaging my team, or you do not know you're doing zonal - which I'm afraid is even worse.”
Keane’s glare focused on Nyron Nosworthy. Noz didn’t flinch.
He then stood beside Dean Whitehead. The captain shook his head.
The boss then looked at Paul McShane. McShane didn't meet his gaze, his eyes still staring at the floor.
"Tell me it's not you, Ron Weasley."
McShane failed to respond. Trembling, on the brink of tears.
"It's ok Paul. Tell me it wasn't you. Tell me you had your man Forssell there at the front post"
McShane, terrified, couldn't bring himself to look up.
“What are you looking at? Look up here, look at me. Were you doing zonal?"
"THEN WHY THE F**K DIDN'T YOU SAY SO?"
"I've been carrying your ginger b****cks for too long, McShane. I will not let you cost us a place in this league because your mind's on a f***in’ Guinness and not on the pitch.”
“Jonny Evans, congratulations, you're now our new centre-half. McShane, get out."
Still trembling, tears streaming down his face, which was now as red as his hair, McShane picked up his boots and trudged out the changing room. The door closed, the silence only broken by the sound of Loughlan sweeping up the tactics board.
"For the record", Keane added, "McShane wasn't the man doing zonal. You were, Nosworthy.”
“But McShane didn't know it. And that's bad enough."
Original scene: Terence Fletcher describes the violent incident (a flying Jo Jones cymbal) that inspired Charlie Parker to become the great that he was.
New adaptation: Keane describes the violent incident (a flying Brian Clough fist) that inspired him to become the great he was.
Roy Keane was sitting in his Durham home with the lights off. His beard had never been as long, as grey or as unkempt as it was at this moment. He’d just texted Niall Quinn his resignation as manager of Sunderland, and he had no intention of speaking to anyone. Anyone human, anyway. He did at least have the company of his trusty labrador retriever.
He poured himself a whiskey, and looked at Triggs.
“The truth is, I don't think people understood what it was I was trying to do at Sunderland. I wasn't there to manage. Any idiot can write 11 names on a teamsheet, put a few cones out.”
“No. It's about pushing people beyond what's expected of them. And I believe that is a necessity. Because without it you're depriving the world of its next Keane. Why did Roy Keane become Roy Keane after all?”
His loyal dog sat there patiently. The fact his master had switched to referring to himself in the third person didn't concern him. He'd heard it all before. But the quicker it was retold, the quicker he’d be going for his evening walk.
"…It's because Brian Clough punched me. I was a young kid at Forest, coming through the ranks, and I underhit a backpass in an FA Cup third round tie against Crystal Palace. Gifted them a goal.”
“After the game back in the dressing room, Clough punched me in the face. I cried myself to sleep that night. But the next morning, what did I do? I trained. And trained and trained. With one goal in mind: that I never ever let my team down again.”
“A year later, we made the FA Cup Final. A year after that, I was bought by Manchester United.”
Triggs stared obediently at his master. He knew it was nearly over.
“Now imagine if Clough had just patted young Keano on the head and said ‘good job’. I would have said to myself, ‘well yeah, bar the backpass, I did do a good job’. And that'd be that. No move to United. No league titles, no Champions League. Tragedy right?”
“Take it from me, Triggs. There are no two words more harmful in the entire English language than ‘good job’.”
And with that, Keane leaned back in his chair, stroked his beard, and downed his Jamesons.
"Right. Let's go for a walk. Just make sure you keep up with me. You’ll need to be quick to avoid the f***in’ press and photographers. Last time you were dragging…”
“…Not quite my tempo”.