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 How far will too far go?

By Ed Mehan

The fact that there is a new Premiership season this week seems to have escaped  the National Newspapers. When it comes to Football one story dominates the headlines: the exploits of  Roy Keane.

Keane’s revelation that 16 months ago he deliberately made a vicious tackle on Alfi Inge Haaland in some kind of revenge pact has left him with the threat of disciplinary action from the F.A hanging over his head.

The revelation comes from Keane’s forthcoming Autobiography, (not released until 30 August but currently being serialised in two leading national Newspapers) which is very imaginatively entitled “KEANE”. In it, he describes how he held a grudge against Haaland, which developed after a match between Man.Utd and Leeds Utd in September 1997.  Keane  sustained injuries to his knee ligaments during a tackle, by him, on Haaland, and which resulted in Keane being on the sidelines for nearly a year. The incident to which this current media frenzy relates happened during the next encounter between the two players in the Man Utd Vs Man City fixture in April 2001. Midway through the game, Keane launched into a late, and high, tackle on Haaland (now a Man City player) that looked similar to the one he attempted two years previously, the main difference thi time being that Haaland was the man injured. Not content with dealing out punishment that would mean a lengthy spell out of football for Haaland, Keane then stood over the prostrate figure of his victim and proceeded to throw a volley of abuse. Unsurprisingly, the incident resulted in a red card for Keane and a suspension of four games. For Haaland, well, perhaps the fact that he has not started a game in the 16 months since is testament to the injuries he suffered that day.

This kind of behaviour, in many other sports as well as football, is loathsome. Loathsome because it represents the crossover made by the uglier elements of sport, from competition to barbarism. This is England in the 21st century, not ancient Rome. The object of a football match is to score more goals than your opponent. Not inflict injury upon them, and certainly not with the malice aforethought that Keane seems to show.

Add this incident to the events surrounding Keane’s expulsion from the Rep Of Ireland’s National team in the days leading up to the recent World Cup, and a pattern of behaviour emerges.

Keane decided early on in the initial training camp that the facilities laid on for the Irish team were sub-standard, and made his feelings known. Later on that week, he was moaning because he didn’t think the Goalkeepers were training as hard as the rest of the team. Then, when Mick McCarthy decided to call a team meeting in order to sort out the internal divisions that Keane’s whinging was causing, Keane blamed the whole affair on the fact that McCarthy “(isn’t) even Irish,” followed by yet another volley of abuse which amusingly contained the phrase:

“You can stick it up ya b*****ks!”,   whatever that means.

Unsurprisingly, McCarthy was left with no option but to send Keane home, a decision which seemed to please Keane, and no doubt his club Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Keane’s reaction would seem to suggest only one thing. Keane is only happy if he’s winning, which I suppose is fair enough for a man with such  footballing pedigree. But was deliberately setting himself up for a fall a very good thing to do in terms of the Team Morale? As it happened, the Irish without Keane did marginally better than everyone had expected them to do with him, so it’s easy to see  who the real loser is , but also sad because the question will always linger in the fans’ minds of how well the team could have done with Keane.

Both of these incidents involving Keane would seem to suggest two clear conclusions. Firstly, the man is a thug, a man who takes competitiveness to such an extreme that he actually prevents other players from competing. He is also an old fashioned playground bully. Bullies are essentially cowards, people whose fear of losing or being dominated by anyone drives them to inflict misery on others. Keane did this through his behaviour before the World Cup. When he realised that he wasn’t getting the pampering he obviously feels entitled to (no doubt a product of Ferguson’s “Kid Gloves” approach), he decided that he didn’t want to take part anymore, and so went about ruining the whole team’s preparations, just so he could get back on the first flight home. He obviously values his club more than his country, a fact essentially confirmed by the fact that it was Manchester United’s private team jet that eventually picked him up. And the reason for this? Man.Utd win things, and Eire don’t.

You can almost imagine the boy that would one day play for his country, standing in the playground, clutching the football to his chest and announcing that he won’t play unless he is allowed to win. “Why?,” inquires one of his school chums:

“Because it’s my feckin’ ball!”

This sequence of childish behaviour has started to sow seeds of doubt in his fellow professional’s minds, including players, managers, and pundits. Where as before, many people were willing to justify his behaviour with the fact that he is a genuinely World Class player, now these people are tiring of Keane’s constant baiting of opponents and even fellow players because they are realising that the reasons for it are becoming separated from mere competitiveness, and are more connected with an underlying malice and general dislike of most fellow professionals. The only exception to this rule would seem to be Keane’s well documented working relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sir Alex plays upon Keane’s Talismanic qualities within the Man.Utd squad, and is seemingly willing to allow this behaviour to continue, when it is surely his responsibility to curb Keane’s behaviour to prevent the game from falling into disrepute, and to protect fellow professionals’ careers being ruined, as is now pretty much the case with Haaland. I wonder how Ferguson would feel if it was one of his top players that had been sidelined for 16 months. I bet he’d want the perpetrator of such a heinous crime brought to book, and yet he insists that Keane “has no case to answer.”

So how far will Keane be allowed to continue in this way before something serious happens? At the moment it seems that through Ferguson’s eyes, Keane is somehow above the laws of the game, purely on the strength of his footballing prowess, but I’m sure that Keane’s pride  would take a severe bashing if, after he has retired, he was remembered for his fighting abilities rather than his footballing ones.

The F.A. should have a long, hard think about this one. Players’ careers and reputations are at stake.

Ed Mehen

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