The first thing about Roy Keane’s latest book is that it’s brilliant. Or since it was Roddy Doyle who ghosted it, and not our old mentor Cormac MacConnell, it’s f**king brilliant, deadly altogether, writes Kieran Shannon.
Some will be disappointed that there isn’t even more in this. That he doesn’t explore why he stopped drinking, like he would were this book in the hands of a Paul Kimmage, that with such a proven and exceptional ghostwriter, we’d get to know a lot more about the man away from football whereas here only one of his children is even named for the reason she shares the same name as one of Martin O’Neill’s.
But this isn’t Full Time. It is The Second Half. It is not Keane’s autobiography but rather a memoir, documenting 12 years of his career, starting right where his last book left off. While he may have kept some things to himself, he is still plenty generous to the reader.
Clearly he wants to manage again and here he positions himself accordingly, by challenging some of Alex Ferguson’s assertions and detailing what he did well and most tellingly what he learned from his time at Sunderland and Ipswich.
That’s what makes The Second Half — especially its second half — so good, so distinctive.
There have been plenty of confessional sports autobiographies, multiple books from top coaches and managers revealing the secrets and principles of their success. Keane goes here where very few others have gone before.
Here is a manager who so far, at best, has had mixed success. You rarely hear such a story, at least from the subject, and where he went wrong. Keane may still take throw plenty of elbows at others but he’s particularly critical of himself. Any aspiring coach or manager should read this and learn from his rookie mistakes. As for the rest of us, we can simply enjoy them.
Even Keane can laugh at how he at times resembled Mike Bassett. An Ipswich pre-season commando training camp doesn’t quite work. “Every time I saw a face sticking out of the tent, the expression told me, ‘If you think we’re getting promoted on this, you’re in f**king trouble.”
He’s suitably self-deprecating throughout. But more so, he’s self-critical, and to a perhaps surprising extent, impressively self-aware.
Already you can see that he’s applying some lessons. Last Sunday he highlighted the value of Robbie Keane, that instead of everyone zoning in on what he can’t do, look at what he can do — put the ball in the net, the toughest thing in football.
Creating a positive coaching self-fulfilling prophesy is something that Roy could have learned from studying Brian Clough a bit more — “I used to look at what they got!” Clough once said.
“John Robertson couldn’t run 20 yards, he was fatter than me. You give him a ball with a yard of grass, he’s the best player in the country!” — but having prematurely sold another goalscorer in Jordan Rhodes, it’s something Keane learned the hard way at Ipswich.
Other things he learned that are brilliantly discussed in the book. Next time, don’t get so hung up on whether people call you Gaffer; it’s only a football thing and shouldn’t even be a football thing. Get over defeats quicker. Enjoy victories like Sunderland’s promotion more. Get the chief executive and owner and himself into the same room so they can get on the same wavelength — he never did that at Ipswich, whereas it isn’t lost on him how Steve Bruce works so well with his employers.
Be more tactically adaptable and defensive against the bigger teams, even at home; a sitting midfielder is not raising the white flag. Always bring in three or four of your own staff, so that way it’s more trouble and expensive for a club like Ipswich to sack you. Give that staff their win bonus after a game rather than withhold it until the end of the season because their pockets and morale need it quickly.
Insist on signing veterans and characters in the Championship like you did at Sunderland rather than putting up with only kids like you allowed at Ipswich.
And above all, be a bit looser. “Ancelotti can coach Real Madrid and be a good guy.”
The Second Half is much more than a coaching manual. Like the best sports books, it brings us into places we’re less familiar with, in this case the opposing manager’s room after a game. We get a better understanding of just how painful it was playing with injury in his final years. But it’s essentially about an aspiring, frustrated, promising coach.
For all his barbs at Ferguson there is begrudging but full acknowledgement of Ferguson’s brilliance. His team talk before the 2004 FA Cup final. His team talk before all 500-plus games Keane played for United; fresh angle every time. “Amazing.”
And he also realises that fella Keane wasn’t a bad manager either, he just managed badly at Ipswich. ‘People often say the Championship is one of the toughest leagues in the world,” he notes reflecting on Sunderland’s 2006-7 season. “I won it as a manager — I have to say that. No one else ever does.”
For sure he has to cop on some more, like getting over his dislike of coaching teams with blue; a look at the identity of prospective clubs down the line suggests he’ll need to. But he’s better with players and people than people think, and he’s sure he’ll be even better again. He’ll be better tactically for the hours clocked up at Villa and Ireland, as well as his time at Ipswich and Sunderland.
For all his mistakes, he seems suitably humble to learn from them, suitably ambitious to apply them, while suitably patient to serve and learn some more as a number two.
The book’s message and theme song is resounding. He may once have cringed upon hearing ABBA’s Dancing Queen in a Sunderland dressing room but here, he’s like Pierce Brosnan belting out to any prospective chairman: Take A Chance On Me.
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