The release of another ex-Man United star’s autobiography has come and gone but it makes you wonder why it really needed a big launch party at a swanky London hotel with a load of Y-list ‘celebs’ and media groupies present — is the content so lacking?
But whilst Rio Ferdinand might have needed such gimmicks to promote his own tale last week (what do you mean you didn’t even realise?) the headlines which greeted Roy Keane’s The Second Half show that true star quality doesn’t come manufactured.
The fights and bust-ups gained most of the media attention but tales of Keane’s fall-outs with Peter Schmeichel, Carlos Queiroz and Alex Ferguson are by now old hat to seasoned United watchers. What’s interesting is to compare Keane’s version with that in Fergie’s book: both are actually fairly similar but with the obvious difference that in Fergie’s, he renders himself all but blameless. Where does the truth lie?
One ex-United team-mate of Keane’s rang me on Monday evening eager to find out what had been said about him and when I replied, “Well, you’re mentioned in this bit…”, he reeled off the tale almost exactly as Keane — not Fergie — had described it.
Obviously Keane has an advantage in being able to ‘reply’ to earlier accusations. Take Fergie’s description of his captain’s waning powers: “We tried to alter his role by discouraging him from charging all over the pitch. He could see the truth of [it] but to surrender to it was too threatening to his pride.”
In The Second Half Keane insists: “My role was changing. I was now more the sitting midfielder. I think the manager and Queiroz might have had their doubts about whether I had the discipline to do the job […] but I was comfortable in the position.”
Throughout Fergie’s book there ran a pitch for work on the lecture circuit: managing change. The Second Half is similar in that Keane is pitching for future employment too; he seems desperate to try and convince everyone that there’s more to him than just the thuggish footballer that he’s often portrayed as. This is evident right from the start: the lawyer who nailed him on the FA’s disrepute charge following his 2002 book was “absolutely brilliant; he had me on toast”. In the toilet beforehand “he was dead polite” — it was all just ‘business’ even if it was brutal, just as Keane’s own hard man image and behaviour on the pitch had been. The continual underlying message being ‘there’s more to me than just a ranter and raver, Mr Chairman. I’m not really just some loose cannon y’know’.
Also apparent is Keane’s vulnerability and insecurity. A surprising obsession with money comes to the fore, as does his constant feeling that he isn’t good enough and always has to prove himself. There’s a brilliant insight into Keane’s mindset in passages describing his angst and self-destructiveness: “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.”
Part of that will also see his humour at play, something that’s sprinkled throughout but will often pass undetected. One instance comes after Bobby Charlton witnessed a late-night hotel brawl he had with Schmeichel, for which Fergie carpeted them. “[Charlton] could have tried to break it up” is Keane’s deadpan line.
Despite the many fascinating snippets there remains a feeling that there should’ve been many more. There are only 11 lines on the Coolmore-Rock Of Gibraltar affair (albeit containing a hint of menace) and the chapters on his time in management too often just read as a boring run through of games and results. It’s interesting that the defeats come with a notable degree of blame or “bad luck” attached — not something Keane the player would’ve subscribed too. You sense that he’s lost, or at least contained, much of his venom — almost everyone is “a nice lad” or someone “I liked” — and he gives the impression of having found an inner peace and being happy in his new roles with Ireland and Villa.
So we end with Keane back in his footballing comfort zone, where he also stayed when opting for Celtic after Real Madrid came calling in 2005. Sometimes you wish he’d take a different path and branch out into other things, and really give himself one of those challenges he likes so much.
Unlike with Rio, you sense it wouldn’t end up with him promoting daft ‘5’ baseball caps.
— Roy Keane’s ‘The Second Half’, published by Orion, and co-written by Roddy Doyle, is launched today in Dublin.
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