Could the ex-Ire­land cap­tain’s row with man­ager Mick McCarthy, asks Dion Fan­ning, have been down to cul­tural dif­fer­ences?

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - SACRED COWS -

Roy Keane has al­ways been mis­un­der­stood, per­haps even by him­self. Dur­ing his years as the most in­flu­en­tial player at the most fa­mous club in the world, it be­came com­mon to see him de­scribed as a brutish, mind­less thug. When he trans­formed his life at the turn of the cen­tury, and his phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance al­tered as he be­came lean and more im­pos­ing, it was not un­usual to see him re­ferred to as a ‘keep-fit fa­natic’.

When he erupted at Mick McCarthy in Saipan, it was, many said, an ex­am­ple of the new, mod­ern Ire­land — an Ire­land that wasn’t pre­pared to set­tle for the old ‘ah, it’ll do’ phi­los­o­phy.

“What I no­ticed about him that day as I was ar­gu­ing with him was that his eyes started to nar­row, al­most to wee black beads. It was fright­en­ing to watch.”

This de­scrip­tion of Keane would tally with what we have heard about his row with Mick McCarthy in the ball­room of the Hy­att Ho­tel in Saipan.

But this wasn’t Mick McCarthy — this was Alex Fer­gu­son, the man­ager who re­built Manch­ester United into Eng­land’s most suc­cess­ful club; the man­ager who never had an ‘ ah it ’ ll do’ phi­los­o­phy about any­thing, who ruth­lessly dis­carded those — such as Keane, even­tu­ally — who could no longer serve him. The man­ager whose phi­los­o­phy was “Get rid of the c***s.”

This was Fer­gu­son re­call­ing his fi­nal ar­gu­ment with Keane at Manch­ester United in 2005. This was a few months af­ter Keane had spent some time at a pre-sea­son train­ing camp in Por­tu­gal com­plain­ing about his al­lo­cated villa.

Then he spent some time com­plain­ing about his sec­ond al­lo­cated villa and, ac­cord­ing to Fer­gu­son, he then com­plained about a third al­lo­cated villa.

Roy had a list of com­plaints, among them was the air-con­di­tion­ing. This was Keane want­ing the best, this was Keane want­ing more.

Saipan, we were told, with its nonex­is­tent pitch and the ab­sence of foot­balls and train­ing kit, was too much for a man like Keane, who was used to the best at Manch­ester United. “All I want is what’s best for me and the team,” he told Tom Humphries in the in­ter­view that would play a key role in end­ing his time at the 2002 World Cup.

Go­ing back over Saipan is si­mul­ta­ne­ously te­dious and in­cen­di­ary. Those who be­lieve that Keane walked out on his coun­try are as dog­matic as those who think he was tak­ing a stand for what was right.

Keane has ap­peared to be wrestling for a long time with the fa­mil­iar co­nun­drum: do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?

In Saipan, he was prob­a­bly right that there should have been a train­ing kit.

He was prob­a­bly right that there should have been foot­balls, and he was prob­a­bly right that there should have been a pitch that the play­ers could train on with­out fear of in­jury. He was prob­a­bly right that Mick McCarthy shouldn’t bring up pre­vi­ous games Keane had missed in a team meet­ing in front of the other play­ers — but did all this right­eous­ness make any­one happy?

“The ques­tion in life is: how far do you take a griev­ance?” Fer­gu­son asks in his book. In Fer­gu­son’s case, and in Keane’s, quite far.

Saipan might have been a clash be­tween two tra­di­tions in Ire­land, and, if it was, it was a clash be­tween the mi­nor­ity sober tra­di­tion and the more main­stream cul­ture.

Keane has talked a lit­tle about his de­ci­sion to quit drink, but not in great de­tail. In 2002, he said he quit to pro­long his ca­reer. In 2010, he said that he no longer drank. “I’ve no in­ter­est in it.”

It would be in­ter­est­ing to hear what ef­fect the re­moval of al­co­hol — which was a cen­tral part of his story for many years — had on his life. He is en­ti­tled to say noth­ing, of course, but he would not be un­usual in find­ing that, once he stopped, things be­gan to mat­ter more, not less.

“All the big ques­tions come up when you get sober,” Tom Waits said. “What am I made of ? What's left when you drain the pool?”

The story of Saipan was not about one man stand­ing up for what was right, or one man let­ting his coun­try down, it was more com­plex — and, there­fore, more in­ter­est­ing — than that.

It was one man strug­gling to come to terms with him­self and how he ac­com­mo­dated his new self in an old world.

The rest of the squad in Saipan were prob­a­bly right, too, that the ab­sence of train­ing kit, balls and the pres­ence of a bumpy pitch wouldn’ t have mat­tered too much dur­ing a week that was de­signed for team-bond­ing as much as any­thing.

The team-bond­ing was un­der­pinned, nat­u­rally, by a team all-night drink­ing ses­sion which, ac­cord­ing to Niall Quinn’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, in­volved some tip­toe­ing around Keane.

“Roy hasn’t been drink­ing for some time now, so we keep it low-key about what we have planned for the rest of the evening . . . The play­ers cir­cu­late du­ti­fully for a lit­tle bit, Roy slips off into the night and then some of the lads make a fairly the­atri­cal show of yawn­ing and stretch­ing and pre­tend­ing to be head­ing off to bed.”

The rest of the squad were be­hav­ing as they had al­ways done, and there was no rea­son for them to do oth­er­wise. Keane was left to his own de­vices.

He seemed to have no prob­lem with that. Most foot­ballers crave the ar­ti­fi­cial sense of be­long­ing that comes from a dress­ing room. Keane was hap­pi­est away from any­thing that seemed phoney.

As a man, this made sense — but when he tried to be a man­ager, this has been his strug­gle.

Keane is at his most i nter­est­ing when in­ter­pret­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ences, yet he can some­times dis­play a pro­found in­dif­fer­ence to the ex­pe­ri­ence of oth­ers.

Keane de­mands of oth­ers what he de­mands of him­self, and he asks a lot of him­self.

He is his own worst critic which, you sense, al­lows him to be every­body else’s worst critic, too.

Fer­gu­son’s book re­vealed a pat­tern that sug­gested that it might not have been about the de­tail.

Saipan cer tainly wasn’ t all about train­ing kits and bumpy pitches. Roy Keane’s story is much too in­ter­est­ing for that.

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