Too Keane to win

Why there's no place for Ireland's Roy Keane in the World Cup.

Carlton Brick

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‘Who the fuck do you think you are having meetings about me?

‘You were a crap player and you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and your not even Irish you English cunt. You can stick it up your bollocks…. you were a cunt in 1994, again in 1998 and you’re even more of a cunt now – and you ain’t even Irish.’ (1)

With those words Roy Keane, the Republic of Ireland’s greatest-ever football player, was stripped of the team captaincy and sent home in apparent disgrace.

Keane’s tirade against Ireland’s manager Mick McCarthy came at the end of a week where the two men had clashed over the Republic’s preparation for this summer’s tournament in Japan and Korea.

In Keane’s opinion, Ireland’s preparations for the World Cup were not of a standard suitable for professional athletes. The team’s hotel, booked by the Football Association of Ireland, was wholly inadequate – with a training pitch so hard that players are only able to train for short periods of time for fear of injury. Irish players were left hanging about waiting for kit and equipment to turn up. Late-night revelry and players being allowed to end training early because they were tired compounded the slack attitude that the Irish team seems to have towards football. Except, that is, for Manchester United’s Roy Keane.

For Keane, these incidents were not organisational oversights, but the latest in a long line of managerial inadequacies that have dogged the Irish team. Indeed, some former internationals, including John Aldridge, Ray Houghton, Denis Irwin and Paul McGrath, came out in support of Keane, giving testimony to Ireland’s inefficiency during previous forays into the World Cup and other international competitions.

The football establishment seems to have closed ranks against Keane. All agree that by criticising his manager in such an aggressively public manner, Keane had overstepped the mark. The official line from the Ireland camp remains that Keane’s verbal attack was fuelled by personal problems at home rather than by genuine concern with facilities on the island of Saipan – but it looks more like a clash between two very different visions of what comprises a professional attitude to sporting competition.

McCarthy’s entourage ‘tourist’ outlook – captured by the official line that the Irish team is in Japan ‘to have a good time’ and ‘enjoy’ themselves – sits uneasily with Keane’s uncompromising dedication to professionalism. His big mistake was not so much to abuse his manager and fellow squad members, but to go the World Cup as a professional footballer, not as a tourist there to see the sights and enjoy the ‘craic’.

Ours is a society that feels uncomfortable with winning, where it is often claimed that success does more harm than good by creating ‘perfectionist complexes’ and ‘unrealistic expectations’. This attitude is now even infecting sport, where winning was always the main aim (despite the cliché that said ‘it’s the taking part that counts… ’) – leading to a situation where junior football leagues in the UK now encourage managers not to put too much emphasis on winning, in case kids end up feeling disappointed, and PE teaching in schools aims to make sport less competitive (2).

In such a climate, Keane’s unflinching desire to train hard and win is frowned upon. His approach to athletic endeavour is seen by some as a mental imbalance or a pathological condition. Speaking to the News of the World, a ‘furious’ Mick McCarthy asked (and answered) the question, is Keane ‘a man who could serve Ireland as a role model for children? The answer is no’. It is a sad day when the World Cup holds no loftier ambition than to resemble a UN seminar on child welfare. Such a tournament doesn’t deserve Roy Keane – and he is all the better for being out of it.

I’m glad that Roy Keane’s World Cup ended before it started. He is a reminder that sport still throws up individuals who have the bloody single-mindedness to step outside the new anti-competitive orthodoxy. As a Manchester United supporter, I would like to thank Mick McCarthy, because next season Keane will be rested, fitter and meaner.

A Keane with an even bigger chip on his shoulder and new scores to settle? I can’t wait.

Dr Carlton Brick is coordinator of the Centre for Cultural Research in Sport, University of Surrey Roehampton, London. He is organiser of the forthcoming conference Sport and the All-Consuming Cultures of [P]leisure in London on 27 July 2002. For further details email C.Brick@roehampton.ac.uk.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Keane: a tenuous grasp of anatomy, Guardian, 25 May 2002

(2) One-nil to sympathy, by Derek Allen

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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