Behind all the bonhomie and judicious score-settling, Roy Keane’s books are discreetly aimed at Premier League bosses, says Michael Clifford
IS there less to Roy than meets the eye? There’s certainly no other Irish figure this side of Bono who could have attracted a crowd of upwards of 2,000 for a banal public interview, as Roy Keane did last Wednesday. And even if Bono managed it, a share of the gathering would be present to slag him off, or throw the odd chair at his head.
Not Roy. They descended on the RDS in Dublin from the four corners, materialising out of the Ballsbridge night to hear the truth, as handed down in tablets by this enigmatic sportsman.
Crash barriers had been erected to keep the faithful in check, but the organisers had overestimated Roy’s appeal. No crowd control was required. Instead, they marched towards the venue in twos and threes, their progress tracked by a sense of purpose. If they weren’t there to worship, they were certainly intent on swooning.
The occasion was a stop on Keane’s book tour to publicise his latest memoir, The Second Half, ghosted by Roddy Doyle. For nearly the previous three weeks, Roy and the buke were never far from the headlines. First, there was the book leak, from a store in north England. Then there was the book launch at the Aviva Stadium. Media interviews about the book followed. Roy was asked to proffer some meditations on life as he saw it, and, more importantly, how he viewed us, the Irish, his tribe, and our place in the world.
At the outset of the recent ‘Roy Weeks’, he wore a beard that evoked images of figures such as Moses and Saddam Hussain, neither of whom had ever dominated the middle of the park.
But at the height of the frenzy, he shaved it off. Just like that, gone in an existential flourish.
Then there were the qualifying games for the Republic Of Ireland, where he sat in Martin O’Neill’s shadow, doing for assistant managers what Elvis did for rock ‘n’ roll. For the last week, he was again in the news, as words of his wisdom on the book tour seeped out from gatherings in England.
On Wednesday, he finally touched down at the RDS. He was accompanied onstage by Roddy Doyle. The questions were posed by RTÉ’s Hugh Cahill, who appeared to be thrilled with the occasion. Cahill introduced the duo and, as Keane mounted the stage, the gathering got to their feet, applause rang out and the inevitable chant of “Keano, Keano” went up. Roy looked slightly embarrassed. Roddy looked bemused to find himself at the centre of a book tour that had the character of a cultish rally. So what have we learned from it all about this enigmatic man at this stage of his journey towards destiny (Apparently, he doesn’t like the fashionable term “journey” which is hugely to his credit).
Keane was an amazing player, capable of dragging a team to victory by his presence and application rather than any technical gifts. But he stopped playing nine years ago.
He did a fine job managing Sunderland, but was only at the helm in the Premier League for just over a year. He did a poor job at his next posting of Ipswich. He is currently an assistant manager, at both the Republic and Aston Villa. He’s no Alex Ferguson, as he’d tell you himself, but neither is he José Mourinho.
Yet, the fascination with him endures. The Second Half topped the bestseller lists in both Ireland and the UK. Notwithstanding Doyle’s excellent ghosting job, and the odd insight apart, it’s far from the front rank of sports biographies. In terms of insight into its subject, it falls far short of memoirs from the likes of André Agassi, Paul McGrath, Paul Kimmage, or even Tony Cascarino.
To be fair, though, The Second Half reads like War And Peace compared to Brian O’Driscoll’s just-released tome, where the retired rugby player ruminates on matters such as getting a hot tub installed in his back garden.
This is Keane’s second autobiography, and he’s not yet 45. “I’d no real interest in doing a book,” he told Cahill. “I was just getting over the last one.” Then Ferguson’s memoir was published and he wasn’t very nice to Roy and Roy felt the urge to lash back. Some public figures spar in the media; This pair of alpha millionaires resort to throwing digs in books.
His account of the leaving of Manchester is compelling. But despite his beef with Fergie over the manner of his departure, he ultimately accepts that it was “never going to end like Little House On The Prairie”.
His time at Celtic was less than fulfilling, but gave Doyle at least one great line. “He told me his hip was screaming,” Doyle remembered. “That was great. I envied him coming up with a line like that.”
Doyle also provided one clue as to Keane’s enduring appeal. Unlike most who scale career highs of one sort or another, he retains at least some self-awareness. “Alex Ferguson said he made one mistake,” Doyle said. “Roy made loads of them.”
The other attribute that pushes him up in the public consciousness is his frankness in a business top-heavy with banality and caution. “There was a fear of the unknown,” he said, referring to his failure to go abroad in his career. He ended a long working relationship with Dwight Yorke by texting the other man to ‘go fuck yourself’. Yet now he can say: ‘It saddened me I ended up not speaking to somebody like that.’ ”
There are flashes of humour, a hallmark of his intelligence. On a detox jaunt to Milan, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed eat at all. “You don’t eat for four days and then they give you a bill for €2,500,” he said to laughter from the stalls.
The book also highlights a certain insecurity about money that one would have thought might have been addressed by the acquisition of great wealth. Time and again, he references the money he was earning, and what he could earn. The most arresting detail in this regard was a passage on when he retired.
“You miss the money. You’ve had a very good standard of living; you miss those wages coming in, hundreds of thousands a month… I sat down with the kids and gave them the news about how things were going to change. It wasn’t anything too drastic. There’d be fewer holidays and so on.” This from a man who was effectively set up for life and does not have an extravagant lifestyle.
Beyond all that, the recent publicity flurry has highlighted once more the massed contradictions of Roy’s personality. He claims he prefers to shun the spotlight, yet here he is, not just pumping out memoirs, but going on tour to feed nuggets to the faithful. He fiercely guards his private life, yet is willing to expand and expound on almost anything he is asked about.
He references his anger frequently, and his drinking, yet makes no mention as to whether he sought help for the latter issue, or whether there was a connection between them. Quite possibly, the two issues might provide the greatest insights into what makes him tick.
To open up that vault of his life would perhaps lead to a dissolution of the enigma. It might also betray vulnerabilities that the
warrior-like Keane would interpret as a weakness. That would be against his nature, particularly if he has designs on managing a big club in the future. And between the lines of the final pages in the book can be read a longing to manage again. You can nearly hear him whispering the subtext: ‘Are you listening, Premier League chairmen?’
After 90 minutes of a pleasant chat on Wednesday, Roy Keane departed the stage to another standing ovation. The enigma persists. The legend lives. Stay tuned for the next instalment — Extra Time — coming to a shop near you in the next decade or two.
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