We need to talk about Roy.
When you speak with people who knew Roy Keane growing up, a trend emerges. Neighbours describe Keane as a loveable rogue whose bite was never as bad as his bark. Even as a teenager, Roy was always a talking point for one reason or another. His demeanour – which relentlessly drove Manchester United for twelve and a half years – was well developed in youth but those who knew Roy accepted and liked him for it.
People speak fondly about Roy; his warm nature, his honesty and his devotion to causes. Roy’s charity work – especially in Ireland – is well known. Keane has been instrumental in arranging a charity match benefitting the family of former Manchester United player Liam Miller in Cork next week (Miller died from cancer in February). This is the same Liam Miller who Roy disparaged during his time managing Sunderland and, in his autobiography, The Second Half. Despite this, Keane has made numerous appearances in Cork in the past three months to help promote the game.
Ask any young person in Ireland too young to remember Turin ‘99 and they might well associate Roy Keane with ‘the cute dogs’. Roy has been a devoted patron of the Irish Guide Dogs since the 1990s and regularly appears in ads for the cause.
But Keane is a difficult character, once whose actions can often make you wince. On occasions, Roy had a bite to match his bark. For all the wonder of Keane’s ‘99 Turin performance, the night ended with Roy’s hands around the throat of Jesper Blomqvist. Keane blamed the Swede for a misplaced pass that forced Keane into the tackle which warranted the yellow card that kept him out of the final. Keane would later pin teammate Juan Sebastian Veron to the dressing room wall following a misplaced pass that led to a Middlesbrough goal.
Maybe as football fans, we like to see the great performances, but we don’t like to know how they come about. It was true of Sir Alex Ferguson too, the man who tolerated Keane’s dominance in his dressing room so long as it suited the interests of the Scot. Once that usefulness was expended, Keane was relinquished from his role as dressing room leader.
So it should come as no great surprise this week when a WhatsApp audio recording leaked in Ireland, reported to have been made by international footballer Stephen Ward, detailing Roy’s poor treatment of a number of players in the Republic of Ireland national side. Keane has been acting as assistant manager to Martin O’Neill since 2013.
When the most recent Republic of Ireland national side was announced, the talented Harry Arter was a notable absentee. Martin O’Neill confirmed that Arter had asked for time away from the national side. Rumours began immediately that a row with Keane was the real reason.
These rumours were unsubstantiated until Monday. Ward’s WhatsApp audio, presumably made to share an entertaining anecdote with trusted friends, detailed Keane’s abuse of Arter and teammate Jon Walters.
Two incidents were relayed in which Keane approached the injured pair and chastised them for not taking part in training due to injuries. Keane implied the pair were capable of training. Keane muttered something under his breath as he left and was quickly confronted by Walters (Keane had managed Walters at Ipswich). Keane asked if Walters was going to ask to fight him like he had done at Ipswich. Walters asked Keane if he was going to be a coward and send him a fine in the post.
The next incident involved a training camp in France during which Walters send Keane a text asking Roy to meet him and sort out their differences. Roy immediately declined, responding that he was only there to help players who wanted his help.
The era of assistant managers who would berate players as ‘pricks’ and ‘wankers’ for not taking part in training is long gone. Martin O’Neill has defended Keane, saying that they were both once under the tutelage of Brian Clough where worse treatment was often dished out. But Brian Clough once famously punched Keane. Is this treatment allowed in the Republic of Ireland camp just because Brian Clough once did it?
There is an unescapable irony to the Roy Keane saga. His falling out with Mick McCarthy in 2001/2002 stemmed from an insinuation by McCarthy that Keane had been faking an injury. Keane has spoken at length about how this was an incredible slight on a professional player. Furthermore, in his autobiography The Second Half, Keane discusses Ruud van Nistlerooy and how he would refuse to train when injured, and complimented Van Nistlerooy for the bravery which probably prolonged his career. Keane lamented that had he done the same, he might have played an extra season or two.
What is most unfortunate for Keane is that following his stint as Ipswich Town manager, his career as a manager looked in abject jeopardy. In being part of a somewhat successful Republic of Ireland managerial ticket, this image had been rehabilitated and he looked to be in line to be a contender for the top job whenever O’Neill stepped aside.
Roy is once more the talking point in Irish media. No more than at the 2002 World Cup or even at Manchester United in 2005, Roy’s tongue has once again surely hindered his greatest chances. Public opinion has come down hard on Roy in the wake of the WhatsApp leaking, but for now it seems like he might keep his job with the Republic of Ireland.
So again; Roy Keane is in a position where he will need to rehabilitate his public image. He is lucky in one regard. Despite the temper, the explosions and the fiery tongue, people want to like Roy. He is magnetic. He is funny. Beneath the bluster is a great deal of charm.
The next time we see Roy, it will be in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in his hometown of Cork on 25 September. It will be at a charity game he spearheaded to benefit the family of Liam Miller. The game will pit a Manchester United XI against a Republic of Ireland XI. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Gary Neville will be there and all the talk is that Roy will pull on a Manchester United shirt for the first time in thirteen years.
Now surely that’s a worthy talking point.