Aidan Smith: Roy Keane is dangerously provocative

Roy Keane watches the Republic of Ireland's mauling of Gibraltar yesterday, having done a similar job on Celtic, Robbie Keane and Abba in his new book. Picture: PA
Roy Keane watches the Republic of Ireland's mauling of Gibraltar yesterday, having done a similar job on Celtic, Robbie Keane and Abba in his new book. Picture: PA
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CLYDE’S recent adventures in the Scottish Cup may be modest and, right now, they’re trying to get excited about a third-round tie against East Kilbride or Spartans – which sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

But, as two outspoken fellows have been reminding us, the Bully Wee have known more thrilling days. One of them is Billy Connolly and the other is the guy I really want to talk about this week, Roy Keane.

Last Monday, making the draw, the Big Yin recalled the 1950s equivalent of an interactive childhood touchy-feely experience when Clyde’s Harry Haddock (great name) brought the just-won pot to the future funster’s primary school in Glasgow’s Govan. Such was the club’s swagger at the time that Connolly couldn’t remember whether it was the ’55 triumph or the one three years later.

Then, the very next day, the Angry Yin – Keane – cast his mind back with a shudder to January 2006, Broadwood, the third round again, and his debut for Celtic.

“It was a nightmare,” he said in an extract from his new book. “After the game – the disappointment. As I was taking my jersey off, I noticed the Nike tag was still on it. When I got on the bus John Hartson, a really good guy, was sitting there and he was eating a packet of crisps – with a fizzy drink. I said to myself: ‘Welcome to Hell.’”

As luck would have it, I was reading these words on a train, just a few minutes before Broadwood hove into view. On all previous occasions, the stadium had looked boxy and utilitarian and dreary. Now it boasted a tremendous nickname. “Hell” in football terms used to be Turkey, the kind of place where you’d only dare plant a flag at the home of a hated rival if you were one of the game’s true hard nuts. Graeme Souness did this for Galatasaray at Fenerbahce. Now here was Keane, unable to leave any sort of meaningful impression on (what’s it called?) Cumbernauld, but returning eight years later to acknowledge Broadwood’s surprise hidden menace.

When Keane re-names grounds or rates and reviews them, we listen. His remark about the “prawn sandwich brigade” has thundered down the years in a way that stadiums stuffed with corporates haven’t. In fact, when Keane says anything, listening is usually the best option. He’s scarily extreme, dangerously provocative, oxy-acetylene forthright, possibly mad and hugely entertaining.

The book, called The Second Half (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), wasn’t launched with a PR campaign so much as a PR tyranny and you wouldn’t want to be the journalist at one of the sessions who forgot to turn off his mobile phone, the jaunty melody prompting a stare from the platform widely interpreted as: “Bang-bang, you’re dead.” You wouldn’t want to be the journo panicking that his editor might have been serious about wanting to know the answer to this question: “Why does Keano’s beard not meet his hair round about his ears – is it because of the bolts?” You wouldn’t want to be Abba’s accountants last week either and you certainly wouldn’t want to be Sunderland FC.

“It might seem strange,” Keane mused, knowing full well we’re pretty much ready for anything at such a moment, “but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music.” He meant pre-match tracks to rouse and inspire but, to his withering dismay, none of his Sunderland players was taking responsibility for the playlist. “This was a concern to me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’”

The last song before the players went on to the pitch was Abba’s Dancing Queen. “No one said: ‘Get that s**t off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. [In football] you’ve got to hit people at pace. F*****g Dancing Queen. It worried me.”

Verily, Keane has spoken. Now rival fans will make up chants poking fun at the mincing Mackems. Now the offending ditty will lose its appeal, becoming naff. Dancing Queen is this age’s prawn sandwich, just the latest evidence of football having lost it, because there aren’t enough Roy Keanes in key roles. But Keano’s trouble, indeed his tragedy, is that he appears eminently unsuited to the job of managing a team. He sets such high standards, as he did for himself as the complete midfield army-of-one, that he’ll invariably be disappointed that no one seems prepared to die out there, or at the very least post a career-defining performance even though that booking means you’re banned for the final.

Too much about football, about life as we live it now, angers and appals him. He wanted to bring Robbie Savage to Sunderland and got hold of his number and rang him. “It went to his voicemail: ‘Hi it’s Robbie – whazzup!” like in the Budweiser ad. I never called him back. I thought: ‘I can’t be f*****g signing that.’”

If Keane really thought Savage could do a job for him was a plonkerish answer-message just reason for binning the idea?

If Keane really wanted to play in a World Cup for the Republic of Ireland were the, as he saw them, sub-standard preparations sufficient grounds for spontaneously combusting in Saipan?

But he, himself, knows better than anyone about his frequent, unstoppable urges to hit the self-destruct button.

Self-destruction, self-pity, self-laceration – his latest unburdening has all of this and more. His book reveals more flaws and admits to more mistakes than Sir Alex Ferguson did in his last literary effort – and Keane’s is much funnier.

When the debate is revived about what Manchester United are missing from their midfield – as it is again despite Louis van Gaal’s mega-spend, the usual suspects are reeled off: Bryan Robson, Paul Scholes, Keano.

I always liked Scholesy the best but Keano’s quip about the so-called Class of ‘92 – how that sextet has become a brand, become “a team away from the team” when “we all had the hunger” – is swaying me back to the self-styled “grumpy Northsider from Cork”.

Maybe he’s best as a No.2, the role he’s fulfilling for both Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland.

I’m just sorry that the combined role is denying us his rants as a telly pundit.

Graeme Souness, who we mentioned earlier, has made the same journey from fantastically ferocious footballer to the comforts of the studio and, the way the Scot’s personal life has gone, has become something of a pussycat.

Roy Keane, however, still seems to be the same Roy Keane, more or less.

His hell – our entertainment.