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Roy Keane refuses to bridge the generation gap

Sunday 8th September 2019
Roy Keane Mufc Ios Mpalazzotto

Background image: Jakub Mularski

Roy Keane went home to Ireland for one night to appear at a charity event. In the process, he set the Twitterverse alight.

The event was a two-hour chat with Off the Ball Roadshow hosts David Molloy and Nathan Murphy in front of a packed audience at the Bord Gais Theatre in Dublin. Keane-o brought Gary Neville to level the playing field and perhaps give him a moment periodically to quell the urge to kill either of the journalists. In the end, however, it was GNev who lost his patience when Joe Molloy tried to stop him from following up on one of his mate's anecdotes.

As you would expect, a few of those recollections didn’t spare the feelings of the other parties involved. At various points, Keane had a go at Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex Ferguson, Brian Clough, Gary Neville, Jon Walters, Harry Arter, Stephen Ward and his four daughters, one of whom was in the audience.

The event supported Aware Ireland, an organisation that helps people suffering from severe depression and bipolar disorder. A quick temper and long memory aren’t indications for either condition but Keane can be humorous one moment and bitter the next. That was evident throughout the night.

In the aftermath, social media-capable United fans around the world focussed on his beef with Sir Alex but Ireland was more interested in his differences with Walters, Arter and Ward. What they boil down to, what the whole evening boiled down to, was the generational gap between Keane, Neville and the modern footballer.

Before the subject turned to the Ireland players with whom he fell out, the conversation centred on his years at Old Trafford. GNev immediately offered an insight into why Keane and Ferguson ended badly, calling his teammate a “mirror image” of their manager. Both were demanding, uncompromising and stubborn, he said. Not exactly a secret that.

Neville and Keane also discussed at length the high standards set at Carrington during training and in the Old Trafford dressing room on match days. Everyone was expected to give 100% each and every day, in training and during games. That, in fact, was the source of Keane’s ire with Walters, Arter and Ward, who all had special programs that excused them from training sessions with the group. Keane is not one for excuses.

He couldn’t comprehend how to build a team when players went their own way rather than training together. Wondering where the fighting spirit that underpinned United’s success derived if not from everyone being equals and pulling their weight, he had a point.

The Irishman also talked about the transition from old school methods to new. His ACL injury transformed him from a player who would go out for a few pints after training and matches into a fitness freak.  At the same time, he saw value in a night out with friends from the squad to blow off steam and strengthen their bond.

The final straw at United turned out to be a video he did for MUTV critiquing a 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough. Keane didn’t believe his analysis crossed the line from honest criticism to personal affront but Ferguson used it to cut loose his contentious 34-year-old captain. Neville told the persistent Joe Molloy “be quiet for a minute” so that he could insist that Keane the coach would have done the same as Fergie to Keane the player. Keane denied it based solely on belief that he was right. You could see the two had different perspectives on the confrontation.

While Keane then disparaged Fergie’s individual man-management based on the ruthless manner in which the boss released club legends and denied SAF’s club-first ethos by reminding how he recalled loan players from Preston North End when that club sacked his son Darren, Keane had already labelled the Scot one of the game’s greatest managers. He credited those selfsame man-management skills with shaping the squad and delivering title after title. He had no problem being challenged by Fergie or Leeds boss Brian Clough who once punched him in the face. Whereas David Beckham went to the press when Fergie hit him with a shoe, Keane-o didn’t care about his dust-up. If a coach challenged him, he responded. It was only when one failed to be direct that his temper flared. These days, everyone dances around sensitive issues.

He acknowledged that certain players, himself included, were treated differently than others when they stepped out of line but that it was only because they delivered on the pitch and in training, more importantly because they were never satisfied. He and Neville both insisted that United players from Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo down to the least-used squad players never sat on their laurels. They were always challenging themselves.

His remark that Walters should “count his medals though it wouldn’t take long” speaks to the difference in attitude with modern players. Keane pointedly asked “how long [Walters] expected to live off his best seasons?”

Neville echoed the sentiment, explaining his criticism regarding Pogba’s penalty against Wolves as something the midfielder should expect. Calling him United’s best player, the Sky analyst said that as such everything falls on the Frenchman’s shoulders and he should welcome the weight. Whether or not you agree with the fault GNev found in that particular incident [and I do], it’s difficult to argue with his point. Whether or not the demands are fair, and they invariably aren’t, pressure is what drives people to achieve great things.

Right now, Liverpool are a club achieving greatness rather than United. After winning their sixth European Cup, the Reds started off the 2019/20 season perfectly. They aren’t content [a word Keane dislikes] with last season’s success. Instead, they’re addressing their failure to win the Premier League title. Meanwhile, youngster Bobby Duncan signed with Fiorentina after what his representatives called “mental bullying” at Liverpool.

At one point, Joe Molloy suggested that Keane and Neville’s United were winning titles easily around the millennial turn. Keane cut him short, emphasising that whatever the margin in the table, winning a title is never easy. Although the subject didn’t come up, you can bet what Keane thinks of Duncan’s allegations.

Where is the line between challenging a player and bullying him? Roy Keane believes it marks the limit of the player’s mental strength.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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