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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Roy Keane's Autobiography review

Back in 2002, we reviewed Roy Keane's book

So the Keane book. What's it like then? Well, where do we bloody start!

With so many recent events and sensations, contrived by the media or actual reality, it's hard to merely take the book on its own standing, because of the World Cup events, the Haaland coverage and the recent Sunderland sending off (and all that went with that) have merely added to the frenzy surrounding the autobiography.

Many saw it to portray events at the Stadium of Light as the actions of a deeply troubled man. Rightly or wrongly (and I fall in the former camp, he'd just once again let off field distractions get to him rather than turned overnight into a serial killer) the book itself had nothing to do with his split from the Irish World Cup team nor his animosity towards that half brain, half muppet Jason McAteer. It may have contributed to the whole production but if it had never been written it's safe to say that a man of Keane's steely determination would have quite clearly still walked away from the Far East and all we'd have missed out on was the Haaland 'confession'.

Hysteria is what greeted that tool Rennie's red card. Sadly some United fans all too easily joined in with the condemning voices. I don't dispute that he had to go - and nor does he. So why was this the sending off that suddenly saw talk of him being a liability? That chat of him being a disruptive influence and harming the teams own chances misses the point entirely. I'm surprised how much mention is made in the book of how proud and privileged Keane feels playing for United, a team that is so much "more than a football club". United supporters on the one hand say they agree with his sentiment about questioning his team-mates hunger publicly over recent years and then are shocked that he shoves Phil Neville during a match (not the first or last United legend to do something like that).

Perhaps that little disagreement has been brewing for some time but you can't have it both ways - 11 players with Keano's grit and determination wouldn't have seen us looking at a trophyless season last year. And I merely need point to Juve, that performance in Turin, when others would have wilted knowing they'd be banned for any subsequent Final after his booking, to dispel talk that he is "too selfish" and has a self destruct button that damages the team. The sad thing is that those points have to be made to some United fans who clearly have very short term memories.

If there is one criticism of Keane it is that he is too hard on himself, evidence found continually within the books pages. The psychology of football and his own mental strength is important to him - he makes repeated mention of knowing of exactly when it is the right moment to make a tackle or run during a game being as important as skill itself. Yet it is clear that he is a deep thinker on many levels, a retrospective character who is in a regular state of turmoil over his behaviour, perhaps taking too many things to heart for too long. I again don't dispute that some of his sendings off in the past have been stupid, and costly. Yet those who misjudge Keano and think its water off a ducks back should read here of his deep internal agitation after each one. And he isn't just saying this either.

He punishes himself after another off field fight, another red card, that it lets his family, and Fergie down. There is obviously some need for this flagellation on occasion to try and prevent it happening again but his belief that he would be better off quitting after the sending off at St James Park leads me to think that he is obsessing about these things too much. "I'd had enough of my own behaviour". But you have to admire it's brutal honesty - and honest is as clear cut a description of this book as can be. Thus should that trait not be praised ahead of the Arsenal collective denial we always see or the lack of responsibility shown by the likes of Dennis Wise and Gazza (who battered his wife but is the lovable rogue in the same press so quick to castigate Keane. You have to wonder whether if Roy was English if this would be the same. After all, Rio had very little of the 'expensive flop' innuendo that Stam and Veron received after their signings)?

That veracity shines throughout the book, whilst the hypocrisy with which the press treat Keano does through their own pages since its release. If you're looking for the definition of hypocrisy look no further than these past few weeks. The press belittles footballers autobiographies, crying out for truths as the past has been littered with nothing more than banal platitudes. They get real honesty and then cry wolf that this is unacceptable from a current player (yet outbid each other in a frenzy to try and get the serialisation in their own rag). Their treatment of his sendings off in the past have borne no
correlation to that of other footballers (even Vieira), and his own comparison that: "Jack the Ripper got better press than Eric" seems relevant to himself.

Of course they need their panto villain and he continues to be it. Nothing new, after that red at Newcastle we saw him targetted as some evil demigod, talk of it being shameful because it came in the wake of the September 11th attacks as if there was somehow a link. If that wasn't bad enough, in the immediate coverage after the Haaland challenge (minute compared to that which it received recently) there were calls for Keane to come clean and admit the tackle was on purpose. He does just that, having served the time for the crime at that time, and suddenly he's public Enemy Number One. Now it's suddenly 'the worst tackle' that many have ever seen and leads one paper to ask: "is this soccer's lowest moment" which must have been a sick joke to the survivors of both Bradford and Hillsborough.

Even more distasteful is the fact that nearly every paper and reporter seems to suggest that the tackle at Old Trafford ended Haaland's career. Not only was the challenge on the other leg to where the problem is but there isn't even a hint that this point could be on shaky ground as Haaland himself confessed on his website at the time:

"I just wanted to make it clear that it was not the knee that took a knock in the Manchester derby, despite what some papers have reported. It's my left knee that's been bothering me, and it was clearly shown on Sky that it was my right knee that took the knock. Another example of the papers not checking their sources!".

And lastly, The FA Cup is on its last legs say the pundits, the commentators, the drunken scribes. They talk of a once famous trophy now nothing better than a third trophy target for the season for most big teams. Keane says just that in his book - and yet he is disgracing "our national treasure". That isn't to say that there should have been more thought put into the proof reading stages of the book to anticipate this insanity. Just taking one of the lines out from that passage would have altered the whole perception of that tackle on Haaland. It wasn't as if the Stam book and the eager anticipation
for this one hadn't set the alarm bells ringing. Maybe Keano himself wanted it in to get one last dig in at Alfie. Yet to justify serialisations you need juicy content and there's no doubting this is. It's rare that we will get ahead of ourselves and get involved in these things (after all, who the f**k are we but a little fanzine) but we did share our concerns with some at the club last May about the release date - at the start of this season - and any juicy, controversial content of which k already there were plenty of rumours.

We were assured that checks would be attempted to be made on anything that could blow up in United's face but with the club not being able to alter the content their effectiveness was impotent. Indeed Red News can confirm that Sir Alex was the only person at the club to read the book in full before release. Considering all the time and effort spent on details of image rights in Becks' deal, surely allowing some sort of editorial say in the books of current players isn't that much to ask? Indeed, Keane signed his new deal after the Stam sensation so perhaps it was an error not to have such a clause inserted into his and others' deal?

Out of intense speculation during the recent headlines one rumour was that Dunphy was quickly off the blocks to suggest the Haaland section was his own interpretation of chats with Keano to maybe allow Utd to contest to the FA that it was Dunphy's version of the tackle and not Keano's. It probably isn't a scam to get Keano off the hook as certainly Dunphy's voice strikes through this book constantly. Just as you feel certain details are Keano's own voice - well, all the “f**ks” and “c**ts” - along comes some ghost written cliches. Dunphy can be great and good as A Strange Kind Of Glory proved, here at times he is no more than ordinary.

For amazing as it seems, this could have been an even better read. His early life is given scandalously short coverage and there feels a panicky edge to the conclusion as obviously much more space is given to his Ireland career and the World Cup than was probably originally intended. But he puts many misconceptions to bed, not just that uncaring devil figure that the media portray. A very insular family man, he is incredibly loyal to those who are loyal to him and as he puts the knife into foes Maurice Setters, Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy and to a lesser degree Teddy and Schmeichel (which RN told you about at the time) there is much praise for Brian Clough, Stuart Pearce, Robbo and Fergie.

Indeed this is one hell of a tribute to Sir Alex.

There are some anomalies though. Why not mention the United player shaking with fear before the Bayer Leverkuesen away fixture which led to the 'rolex' tirade? Obviously some would say it's to lessen any dressing room disharmony. But there are rumours of that now anyway and although David isn't the Mr.X, he is reported to be as unhappy as Ryan and Paul about perceived preferential treatment, the latter two hinted as being the possible shaky candidates as it is. So to then use the book to name the two youngsters who came to him privately after being sent packing from the Ireland team to say they supported him but didn't know what to do - Gary Breen and David Connolly - isn't really on, considering that Thick Mick will now have them in his sights. Also as much as I agree with the rolex stance to then admit that he ended up paying £11,000 for a watch years ago which he'd thought was only £1,000 to avoid losing face is also slightly hypocritical.

Yet papers that just see a story, instead of the man should certainly be forced to read this rather than the condensed serialisations. The battles with his own demons you feel are still to be won but undoubtedly avoiding the booze
will aid that. For there are tales of drunken fights. Lots of tales. Red News has seen the two faces of Keano up close, a very snarling drunk and a very charming, shy (which again he refers to) water supping hero in the hotel bar in Rio. He admits to this Dr Jekyll and Hyde trait himself. How many others at this relatively young age would do the same? Few I bet.

I'm not trying to pull the wool over the eyes here but perspective does need to be used over this issue, especially the Sunderland sending off. It was a red card, an elbow (provoked) which should not have been lifted. Keane, Fergie, the team and the fans know it. That should be the end of it. Yet buy a tabloid, tune into any radio show and he's a "thug", "animal" and be banned for anything up to 15 games. Quietly at this time Bowyer and Woodgate get back into the England squad with little controversy. Perhaps Keane is right to point out some of the sickness eating away at our game.

A story of the then captain Bryan Robson urging Keane over a drink to play and run with the ball more often when he first joined the club and realising that this probably came from Fergie as this was the way the Gaffer "works" gives credence to the theory that Fergie certainly gives Roy permission to speak out after recent European disappointments and Keane is quick to point out that he's not just slagging off the others but including himself in this diatribe. In fact his views that the Treble actually did us no long term good as we lost hunger has some relevance, and he repeatedly assures us that he has had that
belief for some time. Yet he wants to dispel this loner tag. Interestingly he does admit that the current team are nothing more than "colleagues", no doubt because he's an older pro surrounded by younger players, compared to the
"mates" which he had in the 1994 side. They often drank together (he says the drinking culture from the 80s lasted well over another decade) and those days have long gone. For the better he admits, but obviously missing the close ties
which is no longer there to the same extent.

And there is so much more. In Keano fashion here is just some detail. He loved Eric but questions his influence in Europe. Perhaps "not capable of moving up level. Never will be". Stam's sale was just business - "Jaap was limited at the highest level". He loves his dogs. No problem with Ince. He and Kiddo questioned Yorke's signing. "I owe Fergie everything". Dalglish tried to tap him up to join Blackburn (no Stam like headlines for that though...). Clough kissed him after home debut, and decked him after his first mistake. At Forest surrounded by older pros moaning about anything but themselves he vowed "never to become a whinger" (now that the Utd team would find funny). After his cruciate injury he admits: "Few days passed when I didn't think about Haaland", and Gary Speed had better watch out because he says there will be a 'next time' after being tackled by him and doing his ankle ligaments in the Newcastle Cup Final.

Eric probably left because of the money being offered to him for a new deal. Worst football experience was watching the Bayern Final. Obtaining tickets for games has been one of the ever constant hassles of his life (he repeats this a good few times). He constantly watches old games on MUTV. "Go fuck yourself" to Mick in 1992 probably started that catalyst. He admits that although delighted about Fergie staying on he's "intrigued" by the thought of playing for a new United manager. Events at the World Cup "deepened appreciation" for United. "Too many Utd players forget what defeat means for the people who pay our wages". Regrets D'Urso incident.

Again for those who question whether he is letting down the side he talks of his repeated putting off of operations when injured to aid the cause. "Playing through injuries - hernias, knees and ankles - has been a recurring feature of the recent past". No doubt that year off out injured made him think about a lot of things and for someone who does a lot of that anyway it probably focussed him even more on his own personal targets - most or all of which when it comes to football involve winning. Anything that gets in the way of that objective will get it with both barrels. And at this moment in time with worries about the hunger of some in this side still persisting that isn't a bad thing.

Though I do worry when he ends his last chapter on United by saying that this team is one "on the slide, no doubt about it". That is of more concern than the knowledge that Keane does really have to work on avoiding being wound up so easily during games , especially this season when they will be queuing up, Irish or otherwise, to provoke the famous red mist. We have about two more years of Keane at this high, awesome level left. Let's not lose any more games than we have to.

Basically out of the plethora of unreadable books on United that come out each year this one is a must read. Yet in it you feel there is a great book trying to get out of a good one. His accusers should read his anguish at the sendings off, trying to resolve his inner strife and vowing to improve for it really is an honesty admirable in this sea of hypocrisy. But somehow I can't escape the feeling that this quite brutal account is in itself one that those close to the book thought would create some but few headlines and play by the general rules, passing all the FA regulations. Of course they were wrong. Which
makes me think, wonder and anticipate what the really no holds barred life story that Keane still has left in him will say.

But for now he says that Fergie: "accepted me. The good, the bad, the ugly".

I do too. We all should.


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