We all like to find a little of ourselves in Roy Keane. And there it was.
Roy taking up his new office at Sunderland and finding he had a phone. “A phone with buttons.” And a chair. “A leather chair that swung around, a swivel chair.”
This was my area. A high achiever. Former office champion. A record of 24 full rotations. Until the ankle went. It’s all in the push-off. And some bobsleigh aerodynamics.
Roy will know what I mean.
“For the first few days I used to swing around on it. If any of the players or staff had peeped through the office window and seen me going ‘wheeeh!’”
Yet nobody at the press conference this week found out his personal best. Cowards.
It is an oddly compelling image; Roy careering around in an office chair. A jarring portrait of unexpected giddiness.
A man slightly out of his place, his comfort zone. Yet experiencing just a frisson of that exhilaration he felt when he got the call from Forest 16 years earlier.
Yes, I pulled ‘Roy and chairs’ out of the column sweepstake. There weren’t many options left. Fortunately, we have arrived at a state of affairs where nearly everything about Roy Keane is compelling.
From anger to Abba, drink to Mourinho, mid-life crises to football punditry, if those two can be separated, we must know Roy’s view, so we can see what that says about him and us.
So potent is his cocktail of charisma and disagreeability and achievement and failure that you could probably knock a study of the human condition out of Roy’s experiences with furniture.
800 words? There were no good chairs in the student flat Roy rented in Sunderland. Pot noodles and bed early.
“I wish I’d made more of an effort. I could have got a good telly, a nice sofa.”
Phone and chair aside, that office was just as sparse. “I had one of those electrical picture frames, where the photos are repeated. If things go badly, I want to be able to clear it out pretty quickly. One box.”
A new angle on his old credo. Fail to prepare. Prepare to fail.
But he settled into his chairs, in the north-east of England. Too well at times.
Him and Tony Loughlan being pitched Prozone for a hundred grand by a couple of salesmen. “A big screen in there and comfortable chairs.” Both of them fell asleep in the meeting but bought it anyway. “The lights were out, to be fair.”
There was a bit of that kind of thing going on, at Sunderland and Ipswich. Snap decisions, without thoroughly examining the goods. Buyer remorse. Roy didn’t like the look of Greg Halford, when he sat in that sparse office, in another chair.
“I didn’t like the way he sat down. He was crouched. I didn’t like him after that. I thought, ‘Not for me.’ But I signed him! I should have gone with my gut feeling.”
There is never a sense in The Second Half that Roy trusted his instincts entirely, in management. Maybe it’s the insecurity he mentions. But even when things were going right at Sunderland, he can’t quite put a finger on why. Or at least he doesn’t really tell us.
“The rumour on the street was that we were doing something extraordinary. My training, apparently, was legendary. But we were just doing what I’d done for years.”
What else could it be? “I made the lads wear a shirt and tie.”
All the things Fergie did. Maybe he was relying on someone else’s instincts.
When it went wrong, he kicked furniture. And lashed out. And played up to the image.
“A couple of months later, I was asked about Clive’s heart attack and I said I was surprised they’d found a heart. It was after Clive had said something critical of me — something about me kicking chairs.”
How much of all that is an act? Some anyway, as Sunderland’s kit man knows.
“If I came in angry at half-time, I’d say to him, ‘Cookie, get the tactics board up.’ He’d set it up and I’d kick it over — give it a karate kick.”
“I wanted them to look at me like I’d looked at Ferguson,” he says, of dealing with the players.
As he says, the anger can be useful. After all, he’ll soon have two best-sellers hung round his biggest blow-ups. Like Suarez biting before every big move.
But he has a great line on Luis’s old mentor. “Dr Steve Peters, has written a book called The Chimp Paradox, about the chimp in your head. The chimp is running the show. I tried to read it — I’m open-minded — but my chimp wouldn’t let me.”
Perhaps it is that self-awareness that completes the Keane package. He knows enough about himself to give us enough to keep us in our chairs. It might be what makes him a more compelling character than his old mentor. But will that be enough to see him swivel in another hot-seat?
Neville alone in middle ground
Look what Jaap Stam started, all those years ago.
It is hard to know what it says about some of Alex Ferguson’s great teams, that everyone involved seems to despise one another now. Or maybe it is easy to know, but we shouldn’t speculate.
Perhaps Rio’s discrete, beautifully disguised barb in his book will have cut Roy Keane deepest of all.
“The only thing that I was really gutted about was that I didn’t get to play with Roy during his best years.”
Amid all the jibes and accusations between former Reds, Gary Neville seems keen to remain on reasonable terms with everyone. Had everyone just accepted the Neviller’s even-handed verdict on Rantgate and moved on, we might have none of this venomous momentum that could single-handedly save the publishing and newspaper industries.
“We watched the tape, and, as Roy (pictured) would claim, parts of it had been blown out of all proportion. And as the manager would argue, some of it wasn’t exactly the message you wanted broadcast on MUTV at a time when the team was struggling.”
Amid all the talk of hard tongues and beady eyes and counter-punches about a pack of lies, there’s not a lot in Fergie’s or Keane’s books that adds to that assessment.
Not enough to explain the biggest contradiction about Keane’s publishing career; why a supposedly private man would draw all this palaver on himself.
But then, perhaps the most honest liturgical statement from either party comes in The Second Half, when Roy is trying to deal with the fall-out from his first autobiography.
“I understand that when you publish a book you’re selling something; you’re selling part of yourself.”
Best chance of the pair reconciling? A chance meeting down the bank.
HEROES & VILLAINS
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Martin O’Neill: Certainly needed the patience of a saint this week.
Kevin Pietersen: He might be a bollocx, and not much of a cricketer any more, but nobody is doing more to make cricket box office again.
HELL IN A HANDCART
Sol Campbell: There is nobody more electable than a politician who first finds his political voice over opposition to a mansion tax.
Andy Townsend: Set new standards in patronising during commentary on the “so-called international nation” of San Marino.
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