I woke up the next morning. I kind of vaguely remembered the fight. My hand was really sore and one of my fingers was bent backwards.
So says Roy Keane about his fight with Peter Schmeichel in a Hong Kong hotel, but he thinks there was drink involved. You reckon, Roy? Seriously? Drink?
Of course, Keane was no stranger to taking on guys twice his size, as he showed when Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira had a go at Gary Neville in the tunnel while the two teams were leaving the field at Highbury in 2005. If it had come to a fight, Patrick could probably have killed me, says Roy, and he’s right. Who’s going to tangle with a man the size of Vieira, or with Schmeichel for that matter? Well, Roy Keane would, and to their credit, Schmeichel admitted the fight was his fault, while Vieira laughed as he and Keane talked over the incident in a TV programme last year.
That’s Roy Keane. He doesn’t back down, and as he admits in the new book, The Second Half, he’s usually the loser in the long run, something Vieira pointed out when rejecting Keane’s barb that he should have declared for Senegal, not France. As a man who had walked out on his own country, Keane was in no position to comment on other people’s international commitments, Vieira observed. That must have hurt.
Can anyone deny that Keane was a great player? I think only the most curmudgeonly begrudger would suggest that he was anything other than a great of the game, even though he might not have possessed the smooth wizardry of another great such as, for example, Eric Cantona. Keane was all about determination, control, domination of the midfield, tenacity, driving his team on, never quitting.
You might not like him very much, but the fact remains that he was and is a significant figure in English and world football. Yes, he was a thug, and some would say he’s still a thug, but soccer is a much harder game than people sometimes realise. A violent game, very often. Johnny Giles was a thug and yet he’s a national hero. Vinnie Jones was a complete thug but everyone loves him because he stopped shaving, bought a leather jacket and went into acting. Back in the 70s, Liverpool fans idolised their terrifying sweeper, Tommy Smith, the Aintree Iron, because he was an absolute thug. Norman Hunter. Claudio Gentile. Even the wonderful Zinedine Zidane. None of them strangers to a spot of thuggery, and besides, Keane isn’t even a cannibal like Luis Suarez.
While I’m on the subject, let’s nail the myth that Keane ended Alfie Håland’s career with that tackle in 2001. He did not. Håland finished that game, played an international for Norway and played most of the next league match after Keane’s supposed career-ending tackle. What forced Håland to retire was an old injury to his other knee.
Keane was still a thug of course, and the tackle was savage, but he didn’t end Håland’s career.
Now, what about the Second Civil War?
I’d better be honest and say that I was on his side in the Saipan debacle. I think he calculated correctly that the World Cup was there for the taking and I think he went there to win it. As later events showed, when Ireland lost to Spain 3-2 on penalties, progressing to the knock-out stages was a tangible possibility and if Keane had been playing, we would probably have won the match.
Was it Keane’s fault he wasn’t there? Yes. But it wasn’t solely his fault, because the clue is in Mick McCarthy’s title: Manager. McCarthy failed to manage the resources available to him. He failed to field his strongest possible team. By publicly humiliating Keane in front of his party-mode fellow players, in front of the FAI freeloading blazer-wearing chancers who had flown first class while the players went economy and by dressing him down in front of the ball-boys, McCarthy failed to understand how man-management is supposed to work.
McCarthy, as manager, should have known what made Keane tick. He should have known that presenting the squad with an iron-hard, grassless training pitch, baked in the sun, with no kit preparation and in an obvious party atmosphere, if anyone was going to object it would be Keane. He should have known that, just as he should have known before the Spain match that penalty preparation was essential, even if that preparation amounted to no more than an agreement on a strategy.
Keane’s loss was due as much to McCarthy’s managerial failure as to his own short fuse.
I personally find the new messianic Roy Keane even more frightening than the old skinhead, with the wild grey prophet beard, the mad staring eyes and the fixed frown. He’s not getting angry to get even any more. Nowadays, it’s all righteous wrath, as Jose Mourinho found out last weekend when he tried to commiserate with Roy too soon, but there seems to be a new streak of honesty in the reconstructed Moses-like figure he’s becoming.
That’s the self-destruct button. I don’t know if it’s low self-esteem. Things might be going really well, and I don’t trust it: ‘It’s not going to last,’ or ‘Why am I getting this? Why are things going so well? I’ll fuck things up a little bit, then feel better myself.’ I might be buying a car: ‘Who do you think you are buying a new car?’ And I’ll fuck it up. I’ll drag things down around me.
Keane’s writer, Roddy Doyle, seems to have drawn out these new insights in a way we haven’t seen before, but since very few people have read the book yet, it’s probably time to withhold judgement on that. However, even if we are looking at a new, softer, more reflective Keano, I still wouldn’t want to be the Tesco executive who prematurely stocked the shelves with The Second Half.
Excuse me? My name is Roy Keane and I’d like a word with the manager, please.