Larry Ryan compares Roy Keane’s two autobiographies to see what has changed during his second half.
It's getting too late to be a new man/ It's getting too late to hatch a new plan/ It's getting too late to chase a new star/ It's getting too late to hit a new bar/ There's nothing left to do but to dance
SO go the lyrics of the first single from the new album by Alien Envoy. Singer-songwriter Nick Kelly, once of richly praised, if not rewarded, Dublin band The Fat Lady Sings, is around Roy Keane’s age, a little bit older maybe. He’s around the age, anyway, when men get to thinking a bit differently.
LEARNING TO DANCE
“We have a lot to prove and I’m relishing the challenge. There’s a new coach in Carlos Queiroz, who’s great. Tough. And I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. This time, if we win the treble, we won’t make the same mistakes.”
That’s where we left Roy, in Keane The Autobiography, in autumn 2002. All the frustration, the disgust, the pain of Saipan would be channeled. He was looking beyond another treble. On into the distance to perfection, something he hadn’t encountered that summer.
He signs off The Second Half with a story of Ireland’s trip to the USA this summer. A mishap on a train in New Jersey. Wrong information from the FAI official. Doors close. Himself, Martin, Seamus McDonagh, Aiden McGeady stuck on the train. “The players on the platform were pissing themselves laughing.”
“Eventually got back to Newark, and out to the team bus. The players were sitting there, dead quiet. The two people who organised the travel were pale — white. Everyone was quiet — very tense. Then one of the lads put on the music… I don’t know the name of the band, but the song was ‘Runaway Train’, and they all started singing with it: Runaway train, never going back. Wrong way on a one-way track. It was brilliant.”
A different kind of perfection. How did Roy get here?
A DIFFERENT KIND OF FEAR
“My feeling of exhilaration was laced with sadness. This was a chance of a lifetime, but leaving home was hard. We were a close, loving family who’d stuck by each other through thick and thin.”
“The Great Escape,” as Roy called it then, from Cork to Nottingham Forest. Fear, in a sense, but no hesitation. Exhilaration.
Not like when Madrid called, after United, 15 years later.
“As much as anything else, it was fear that decided me — fear of the unknown. And I threw excuses in front of me — family, language, the kids’ education. I could imagine myself going to Madrid, and into the dressing room. I’d be starting all over again, and I was in no mood to be doing that.”
OWNING YOUR ANGER
Is that what Dr Phil would call it? There was a time when Roy wasn’t scared of anything. Except maybe himself. After he was sent off for throwing a punch at Alan Shearer in 2001, soon after several off-field ‘episodes’, he almost quit.
“Anything would be better than this madness. Getting angry and frustrated. Lashing out. I told him (Alex Ferguson) I wanted to pack it in. I wasn’t scared of life without football.”
He went back. “I did it for Alex Ferguson. He’d stood by me through everything.”
Roy seems to have spent some time getting to know himself since. And discounted reinvention.
“Anger has always been part of my personality. I don’t see it as a bad thing or a bad word. Without a doubt, I get it from my dad. You can see it — a lack of patience, low tolerance levels. I’ve looked at my anger for what it is. It’s just anger; I won’t beat myself up about it.”
SHOVE IT UP YOUR…
He hasn’t gone all melancholy and reflective. There are 30 ‘fucks’ in Keane The Autobiography. In The Second Half, the Kindle stops counting at 100. Roy’s frame of mind or the difference between hanging out with Eamon Dunphy and Roddy Doyle?
SAME OLD ROY
The bits we love. Professionalism expressed as food intolerance. Back then it was cheese sandwiches in the Irish camp before a World Cup qualifier in Holland. “Do you think Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is eating fucking cheese sandwiches or a takeaway fucking pizza tonight?”
This time, Celtic. A nightmare start. Beaten by Clyde in the Scottish Cup.
“When I got on the bus John Hartson, a really good guy, was already sitting there and he was eating a packet of crisps — with a fizzy drink. I said to myself: ‘Welcome to Hell’” Standards.
THE MISSING LINK?
“There is a pattern here, the story of me, drink and cities: Cork, Dublin, Nottingham, Manchester. It adds up to aggravation.”
Somewhere, towards the end of the period covered by Keane: The Autobiography, Roy gave up the drink. And some of the aggravation.
Of the fallout from that book, he says: “I understand that when you publish a book you’re selling something; you’re selling part of yourself.”
Only part. Roy pays that other place a visit, but doesn’t stay long.
“With my drinking, I used to go missing for a few days. I think it was my way of switching off, never mind the consequences. It was my time. It was self-destructive, I can see that, but I’m still drawn to it. Not the drink — but the bit of madness, the irresponsibility. I can be sitting at home, the most contented man on the planet. An hour later, I go, ‘Jesus — it’s hard work, this.’”
R E S P E C T
He almost called it, back then, after Saipan.
“People say you’d never speak to Alex Ferguson like that. Wrong. If Alex Ferguson accused me of faking injury to get out of games, I would tell him where to go.”
Ferguson didn’t quite do that. But after Roy fell out with Carlos Queiroz, and ranted on MUTV, Ferguson was no longer standing by him through everything.
The big blow-up. “It was Saipan Mark 2. A heated discussion — nothing unusual in sport, and what should have been a private conversation — all out of control. There was probably no going back.”
Something similar, later, at Sunderland, if not as explosive. Owner Ellis Short on the phone, calling the shots, demanding Keane move to the area.
“I thought he was talking down to me; he spoke to me like I was something on the bottom of his shoe.” The end.
BOYS DON’T CRY?
“Raimond van der Gouw never let us down. At 38, he’s been let go. Had to tell his wife Marita and kids. They were heartbroken. His wife cried. Cruel is football.”
Roy knows that better now, after his own exit from Old Trafford.
“I got into my car and drove out of the training ground. I pulled over just outside and cried for a couple of minutes. I just thought, ‘It’s over.’”
AT THE END OF THE DAY
Roy doesn’t mention punditry once in Keane: The Autobiography. It is a world away. Not a concern. Later, he vows never to do it. He’d rather visit the dentist. He did it, partly, to avoid the circuit of nonsense. “I just didn’t want to end up playing football with fuckin’ JLS. That was never my master plan.”
He dismisses it now, gone full circle. “I was only talking bullshit, like the rest of them. Hopefully, my bullshit was a bit better.”
He knows it was. But maybe that ended like other chapters. In disrespect, perceived or otherwise. During the Champions League final, Adrian Chiles badgering him about missing one, like Xabi Alonso.
“Now I was being asked the question again. I just thought, ‘Not again.’ I felt like saying, ‘Adrian — fuck you.’ I didn’t say it, obviously, although it was after 10 o’clock, after the watershed, so I might have got away with it. I don’t like it when companies become too comfortable with me. I don’t like feeling owned — it tightens the chest.
“After the game, the producer, Mark — a good lad — said, ‘Everything all right?’ And I said, ‘No, Mark — I’m finished with TV. Forget about the World Cup. I’m not going.’
Anger under control. Self-respect intact. But another ending.
HAPPY EVER AFTER?
“I feel very happy with life, I do.”
That hung out there, in the first book, like a protest.
Now, he’s candid. “Maybe I’m like every man on the planet — I don’t know; I want a bit more than what’s on offer. My mid-life crisis has been going on for years.”
“My wife said to me, ‘I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time. Why jeopardise that?’ You need challenges and stresses, but all my life I’ve been chasing contentment. I was happy when I won trophies, but that kind of satisfaction doesn’t last long. Contentment — a sense of relaxation — feels strange. It’s almost like I’m missing a bit of chaos.”
A word on the jobs. “When you’re the assistant you can’t make those (big) calls, and I think, ultimately, that it might eventually frustrate me.”
It’s not really that late. For how long will he dance?
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