“Roy Keane: The Second Half, with Roddy Doyle”, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2014.

There has been a backlash against Royston Maurice Keane in some quarters since the publication of his latest biography; some of the criticism may be merited, but before we go any further we would make a couple of significant points:

  • Roy Keane helped to put seven Premiership titles on Manchester United’s honours board and his peak years saw the club win a treble.
  • Of course Roy missed the 1999 Champions League final but his performance in the semi-final 2nd Leg against Juventus was the single finest performance I have seen from a Manchester United player in my 40 years watching the club. If Nat Lofthouse was the “Lion of Vienna”, Roy Keane was the “Lion of Turin”.

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It is sad although not surprising that this book has been seen as the latest instalment in an ongoing feud with Sir Alex Ferguson; there is a lot more here of interest however. We made the point last year that Sir Alex own book was more of a chance to settle old scores than a biography and if you have followed the publicity for Keane book, this seems to be an opportunity to similarly set matters straight. That is a distortion.

A word of caution for United fans; only a portion of this book is about the last few years of his time at United, the rest covers his life since and his early attempts at football management. Many of the United stories here will be familiar to United fans; there is very little that is new in their retelling, but there is some interest in what the book reveals about Keane the man.

The overriding sense one gets is of Keane’s competitive spirit and we knew about that having benefited from it immeasurably as United fans, but the book makes transparent that the energy to drive that spirit comes from Keane’s inner self doubts, more significant in his own mind than I certainly realised. A look at Sir Alex bitten fingernails suggests that that is where his similar drive also comes from. Both are restless spirits driven to prove themselves to themselves at least as much as to others and on more than one occasion in the book Keane refers to a fear that he will be found out.

The book is actually at its most interesting when Keane reviews his time as a manager at Sunderland and Ipswich Town. Then he reflects on aspects of his approach which went well and those which did not. He gives the impression that he has learnt lessons which he will no doubt take forward in the future. Keane makes the point that as a player you can afford to only concentrate on yourself and your performance/role in the team, whilst as a manager you need to see the bigger picture. This is an issue he is honest enough to confess that he initially struggled with, but seeing the issue is half the problem. It still though appears something of a blind spot; he does not appear to have fully grasped the fully consequence of this.

Consider the start of the book where Keane returns to the Haland affair. Again this is Keane returning to a subject in an attempt to settle a score or put another way regain control of the story. Surely it would have made a far more powerful statement to have made no reference to Haland or this incident in either his first but certainly this his second book? Only Roy knows if he went out to deliberately injury an opponent, but in returning to this subject he recounts the events of the day of the FA hearing into his revelations in his previous book. Keane describes pleasantries and complements expressed by the prosecution lawyer in the gentleman’s toilet prior to the hearing,

“He said, ‘I think you are a top player.’

He told me how much he admired me. Like all top lawyers, he was dead polite.

I thought, ‘He’s nice, he’ll go easy on me.’”

It doesn’t have appeared to occur to Keane that the game had already started and that this exchange was about getting Keane to drop his guard, lose his focus. Thank God Keane did not fall for this ploy in the tunnel at Highbury! Sir Alex would certainly have been alert to this. See the big picture at all times.

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The great sadness for United fans is in the ongoing feud with Sir Alex, it is not just about a tarnishing of past memories, it comes from the fact that the two have so much in common and that Roy could still learn so much about management from his old manager, not least in respect of that issue of the bigger picture. Sir Alex strove for control both on and off the pitch; the press, directors, his wider legacy and of course his players. Sir Alex could not afford to forget the wider context, his rages were more purposeful, more controlled. Keane acknowledges that his have not always been so. Clearly Keane is struggling to move on from this feud; the rage still burns, why?

Paranoia is about projecting one’s own faults and weaknesses onto others because one’s own ego will not allow one to confront those weaknesses within oneself. One then reserves the greatest criticism for those most similar to oneself because it allows one to confront those weaknesses without feeling bad about oneself. Is that what this is really all about? Keane was Sir Alex’s first lieutenant on the pitch, similar people, similar strengths and weaknesses?

Keane still expresses a fondness for United and does have a few things to say about recent events. Referring to last season,

“When a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson is replaced, the new manager needs a helping hand along the way. Does that mean that every player should like the new manager……No……not liking a manager for whatever reason, can never be an excuse for not doing your best……You can have personality clashes, dips in form; you can have injury crises, or the club can be going through a transitional period – but you still go out and do your best.”

Absolutely correct and there it is, that focus on doing your best, at the core always of Keane’s competitive spirit.

But finally, consider this sentence,

“I never lost to Manchester City.”

In just six words, that is perhaps one of the most perfect sentences in the English language. Shakespeare eat your heart out!