Book Review: Roy Keane: The Second Half
Roy Keane: the Second Half by Roy Keane with Roddy Doyle
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
I haven’t read the first Roy Keane autobiography co-authored to much fanfare with Eamon Dunphy in 2001, but it’s clear that the publishers of this follow up effort will have been scratching their heads over how to spice up a tome in order for it to match the success of that earlier volume. Managerial stints at Sunderland and Ipswich are unlikely to provide as much juice as a grounding in the game from one Brian Clough, trophy upon trophy at Manchester United, including the game of a career in a Champions League semi final in Turin, and resignation from his country’s World Cup squad on the eve of the 2002 tournament.
You won’t have to have read the book to discover how Weidenfeld & Nicolson solved this problem – the fall out from Keane’s various digs at Sir Alex Ferguson, further discussion of that feud with Alfie Inge Håland and amusing anecdotes at the expense of Robbie Savage and John Hartson have nicely filled the gap and if the result was less controversial than the publicity garnered by Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography, also published in the autumn, plenty of column inches were nonetheless devoted to it.
But dig a little deeper and it’s the more mundane patches of Keane’s thinking that provide a better understanding of the man. Portrayed in the press as a zealot for perfection, a man of impossibly high standards but of honesty and integrity, there is actually more self-doubt than you would expect from a man known to stop people in their tracks with his trademark glowering (for the record, he expresses a liking for Adrian Chiles).
As a manager, Keane’s agonising as to the right action to take is fascinating – as a player, one can afford to adopt a barrack room lawyer persona and to accept nothing less than the best. Suddenly transferred to the less monied climes of the Stadium of Light and Portman Road and required to keep others happy, the requirements of the position are much tougher – and the Irishman is honest about the demands and difficulties of the job.
In the most recent issue of The Blizzard, Jonathan Wilson reopened the debate as to the worth of Sunderland’s 2006-7 Championship title triumph and, by unstated extension, Keane’s reputation as a manager. Having been relegated with one of the lowest points totals in history the year before, the Black Cats lost five matches on the spin at the start of the campaign and were jettisoned out of the League Cup by Bury – so Keane’s achievement in propelling them to the title should not be under rated, despite the significantly greater budget open to the Wearside club. At the time, I was dismissive, just as Keane himself is of Chris Hughton’s identical accolade with Newcastle two years later, but in retrospect, it was a job well done.
But Keane does not boast, realising that promotion was the bare minimum required while he is also square jawed about the difficulties that awaited the team on arrival in the Premier League – wage bills needing to double, players not wanting to come and the difficulty of winning matches away from home.
His subsequent spell at Ipswich provides less in the way of excuses. Keane admits to having been dissatisfied with almost everything on arrival, two late season wins to kick off his reign masking deeper problems while he pleads mea culpa to some truly horrendous misjudgements in the transfer market including the loss of Jonathan Walters and Jordan Rhodes, the latter not entirely his decision. A shockingly ill-advised trip to a paramilitary boot camp in Colchester provides amusing anecdotage, not least in the hooray henry persona of the club’s chief executive Simon Clegg although at least Keane confirms the genuine existence of Ipswich’s mysterious owner Marcus Evans.
As Susan Gardiner has noted, Keane’s appointment seemed as much about ‘publicity’ and bums on seats and one can guess that Sunderland were thinking the same way when they hired then man, just as they did when calling upon Paolo Di Canio. Indeed, an up and at ’em manager can provide a vital short term boost and the respect that a man as garlanded as Keane will have received from the dressing room – at least initially – will have provided good cause for such an appointment. When the early days fade, however, one is invariably left with an ‘old school’ type and Keane admits to being this in his own words, showing not entirely misplaced contempt for ProZone and other new fangled phenomena.
Puzzlingly, Keane regrets not being allowed to call upon more experienced players for Ipswich but his experiences with the likes of Jason Scotland, Pablo Couñago and, at Sunderland, Greg Halford underline the selfishness and ability to coast of so many Championship ‘old pros’. Mick McCarthy doesn’t seem to be doing too badly with the kids and on that point, both he and the book’s author emerge with credit in their willingness to let bygones be bygones over their bust up in Saipan.
So, although billed as a blockbuster book from one of the game’s biggest name, this book will chiefly be of interest to the Football League fan, Keane’s swansong at Celtic being cut short by injury and his recent dramatic departure from Aston Villa likely to form the initial chapter in an eventual third volume of memoirs. It’s written with Roddy Doyle although quite frankly, one would not have known – there is a little of that author’s trademark way with dialogue. Ultimately, Keane himself will have called the shots – after being left high and dry by his former ghost writer Dunphy, who can blame him – while I came away from the book with more doubts about Keane’s ability but greater regard for him as a man.