No regrets

KEANE (RIGHT), THE ASSISTANT MANAGER AT ASTON VILLA, seems to get along well with the actual manager Paul Lambert.-AP KEANE (RIGHT), THE ASSISTANT MANAGER AT ASTON VILLA, seems to get along well with the actual manager Paul Lambert.

Central to Roy Keane’s new autobiography is his troubled relationship with Alex Ferguson, the manager, who guided Manchester United to such a profusion of triumphs and titles and who brought Keane to Old Trafford from Nottingham Forest, where Keane now says he much preferred the aegis of Brian Clough. By Brian Glanville.

Roy Keane, ever intransigent, aggressive and uncompromising off the pitch, has just issued a second autobiography “The Second Half’, this time ghosted by a well known Irish writer, Roddy Doyle. The last thing you could ever call it is any kind of apologia. Keane makes no excuses, expresses no regrets even for his most violent actions and outbursts. Just as in his first autobiography, he remains wholly unrepentant over the brutal, vengeful foul he inflicted on Alf-Inge Haaland, the Norwegian international, “guilty” in Keane’s view of mocking him four years earlier when playing for Leeds United against Manchester United.

The irony of it was that Keane’s serious injury was wholly self inflicted as he’d been trying to foul Haaland. Four years later at Old Trafford, where Haaland was playing against him for Manchester City, Keane savagely knocked him down and then drove his studs into Haaland’s knee. “I’d waited long enough,” he wrote in his first book. “I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.” The Football Association banned Keane for five matches and fined him GBP150,000. In the new book he remains unrepentant. “There are things I regret in my life and he’s not one of them.”

Nor does he seem to regret the bitter confrontation with the then manager of the Republic of Ireland, Mick McCarthy, on a Japanese island just before the beginning of the 2002 World Cup. Keane with some justice had criticised the choice of such a venue with its hopelessly meagre facilities. McCarthy was tactless enough to confront him in front of several other Irish players. Keane exploded into violent abuse and walked out of the training camp, flew back to Britain and refused to return. Had he only been present with his power, drive and skill, Ireland would surely have done even better than they did in a spirited and laudable performance.

Central to the new autobiography is Keane’s troubled relationship with Alex Ferguson, the manager who guided Manchester United to such a profusion of triumphs and titles and who brought Keane to Old Trafford from Nottingham Forest, where Keane now says he much preferred the aegis of Brian Clough, who launched him in English football, a native of Cork in Eire from an impoverished background. And who won, as Keane points out, two successive European Cups — by which time Keane himself had gone — without a fraction of the financial resources Ferguson enjoyed at Old Trafford.

Keane properly praises Ferguson for his achievements, calling his so called motivational work as sometimes “amazing”. But, he writes, “I put Brian Clough ahead of Ferguson. I think with Sir Alex Ferguson it was pure business, everything is business. If he was being nice, I would think, this is business, this. He was driven and ruthless. That lack of warmth was his strength.”

He zeroes in, unsurprisingly, on the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ episode, which hardly shows Ferguson in the best light. This was a racehorse owned by two Irish millionaires, John Magnier and J. P. McManus. Generously, they allowed Ferguson temporary ownership of the horse enabling him to collect its considerable winnings. But when they retired it for breeding, he demanded a share of whatever profits they made out of breeding rights. This was a step too far for them; they refused and he threatened to take them to court in England, a most perilous process, reportedly to be talked out of it by his sons. For their part Magnier and McManus was said to have drawn up a list of questions to be put to Ferguson, a number of which were said to be potentially embarrassing. But the plan was dropped after the Irish millionaires sold their United shares to Americans, Glazers.

Keane spent a dozen years at Old Trafford and for most of them his relations with Ferguson were positive. Things ultimately came to a head when in October 2005 United, without an injured Keane, crashed 4-1 to Middlesbrough. Keane gave a highly critical interview on the defeat to Manchester United’s internal television station. It proved to be the last straw in his simmering relationship with Ferguson. Though the programme was never shown publicly, Ferguson showed it at the training ground to Keane and his first team squad; Keane was fined GBP5,000 and after a confrontation with Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese assistant manager, whom Keane condemned for his unimaginative training, the writing was on the wall. On November 18 Ferguson had shown Keane the door. He admits that he wept in his car: but now says he is sorry he apologised to the two of them. Now he says he wished that he hadn’t.

In leaving as he did, Keane forfeited a GBP1 million bonus. He says he had offers to go to Real Madrid — he now wishes he had — and Everton, but instead went to Northern Glasgow, joining the renowned Catholic club, Celtic. When on retirement he became a manager at Sunderland, my fear was that he will drive his players too hard just as he had driven his team-mates. This didn’t happen, though his spell there was unmemorable, while a later spell at Ipswich Town pulled up no trees. Now he has gone to Aston Villa as assistant manger, seeming to get on well enough with the actual manager, ex-Scotland and Bayern Munich star, Paul Lambert. So far the reports have been positive. Could he have mellowed?

Not judging by the shocking admission in his book of his callous response as Sunderland manager at the news that their player Clive Clarke, then on loan to Leicester City, in 2007, had collapsed with a heart-attack. Keane admits to “an evil thought”, using the grave news to divert attention from Sunderland’s 3-0 beating by Luton Town. Even making the coldblooded remark that he was surprised “that they had found a heart,” commenting after the Luton game, “I said that football results didn’t really matter. And I had the evil thought, I’m glad he has it tonight because it would deflect from our woeful performance.”

Now sporting a fearsome looking bushy beard — though he appears clean shaven on the front cover of his book — Keane typically enough is prepared to show himself in the famous words of Oliver Cromwell, “warts and all.” Perhaps his abrasive sometime wantonly violent character was essential to his outstanding prowess as a player.

The book will probably sell well enough though hardly as well as Alex Ferguson’s second recent memoir which, though often petty and ill natured, sold more than astonishing 80,000 copies. One thing is quite certain, though much superior as a player, Keane will never be the manager Alex Ferguson was.