Wily Keane proves he’s far from yesterday’s man

It’s almost three years to the day that ESPN’s fabulous 30 for 30 series came into this column’s life.

That stable’s channels on this side of the world were running them back to back for us to gorge over the festive period, and gorge we did with some of the best sporting documentaries ever made. About the only downside was that it highlighted the paucity of programmes of that nature and calibre made on this side of the world.

Things seem to be changing. Here in Ireland there have been some fine sports documentaries made in the last couple of years, most notably by Motive TV. In Britain, they’re likewise waking up to what Bill Simmons and his colleagues Stateside did some time ago: people love sport and nostalgia and revisiting moments and characters big enough, recent enough (to have footage) yet long ago enough to revisit again.

Tomorrow night at 9.55pm, RTÉ2 show one of the best of this recent vintage: the intriguing Keane And Vieira: The Best of Enemies, as shown on ITV4 last week.

You have to hand it to Roy. Back around the time he packed up his bags in Saipan, his old pal Jason McAteer observed just how transient a football man’s lot can be.

For 30 years, Kenny Dalglish had played or managed at the highest level but his involvement in football was now minimal. In McAteer’s blunt assessment he was “a yesterday’s man”. While Dalglish would later return to big-time management he would soon return to being a yesterday’s man. Up in that gantry with him for awhile was Keane himself.

For 21 years he was the story that kept on giving like no other in Irish sport. Then, after Ipswich, it dried up. Work dried up. As a manager he was unemployed, bordering unemployable. Basically irrelevant. A yesterday’s man.

You can’t say that about him now. Not with him back with Ireland, and not after what he has to say for himself in Best of Enemies.

It would be wrong to say here is Keane in all his brilliance and complexity — you would need a whole 30 for 30 to cover that — but what it does give is a fuller insight into the man.

We get a deeper appreciation of his wit (at the cost of Dennis Bergkamp, for one). We get reminded of why we once thought he’d make a better pundit than Gary Neville, with some great lines about why Ryan Giggs has been overrated and Ruud van Nistelrooy underrated. We get a greater understanding of his huge sense of pride and responsibility.

“I had to keep you down,” he tells Vieira, just like he had to inform Batty before him and Gerrard after him who was the central midfielder on the block, while in another segment he says the primary function of being captain was “to be the best player on the team.”

In parts, too, he comes across as a very fair man. He gives his Arsenal opponents due credits, especially Vieira.

It’s not so much a love-in as a grown-up conversation between two men who know that a large part of their achievement was beating the other; how can you diminish such an opponent when he was your achievement?

We like too how Keane paid tribute to the United team he joined; with the exception of omitting Gary Neville, his best XI selection is less a slight on the Class of ’92 as a nod to the breakthrough team of ’93; before Scholes and Giggs could ever win European Cups, first men like Ince and Cantona had the more difficult job of getting United to qualify for European Cups.

Sometimes though Keane can’t resist playing to a certain public self: the insatiable winner, the unsentimental hardman. In the past, that meant having no regrets about Saipan and claiming he didn’t deserve a Champions League medal in ’99. Now he’s matured and mellowed he’s changed his views on both. Sadly, he’s changed his tune on Alex Ferguson.

The man he lauded so generously in his own book is swiped at repeatedly and pettily in this film. Ferguson’s tribute to his ’99 Juventus performance is dismissed as patronising, Keane choosing not to factor in that Ferguson had factored in that Keane played throughout that game knowing he could not play in the final. Keane says Brian Clough is the best manager he played under. Forest finished 8th, 8th and 22nd in Keane’s and Clough’s last three years there. United never finished outside the top three in Ferguson’s last 22 years there.

If you were to believe some people, Vieira is just an extra here, a lightweight. Far from it. The one World Cup holder at the table comes across as hugely generous, self aware, well adjusted and provides possibly the best line of the programme. “He was my favourite enemy,” he says of Keane. Keane obviously now views Ferguson as an enemy. In time he might realise his old boss should be his favourite too. In the meantime he has one consolation and one thing over Ferguson. He’s no longer the yesterday’s man.

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