“It still saddens me, I still think I should be the manager of Sunderland. I really liked the club, and I liked the people.” Roy Keane.
ROY Keane’s new autobiography The Second Half was launched yesterday and, just like his 2004 tome, it is likely to be the best-selling sports book of the year.
He remains “box office”, to use the phrase Niall Quinn originally used to describe his capture as Sunderland boss.
Box office hits generate headlines on their way to success and there has been no shortage of them across the nation’s media this week.
Most of the screamers have been dominated by his time at Manchester United – the bust-ups with Sir Alex Ferguson, Peter Schmeichel, Carlos Queiroz etc.
And while that will be great for sales, it is maybe a little bit of a shame in terms of Keane being overlooked as the more rounded, deeper character which emerges from these pages.
It is the easiest thing in the world to portray him as a swivel-eyed loon.
And there is that side to him.
But it would be wrong to overlook the deeper hues of the man; the charisma and the unique personality which makes him such an endlessly fascinating subject.
All that complexity is skilfully laid out over the the 286 pages of Roddy Doyle’s superbly ghosted book, so much better written than Eamon Dunphy’s effort of a decade ago.
It is also, as you might expect from Doyle, a laugh-out-loud book at times.
It is a different Keane too, older, wiser, still full of fire but more prepared to accept that sometimes that fire is misdirected.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is Keane’s forthrightness.
Just as in his first book, he shoots from the lip.
His time at Sunderland runs from pages 119 to 220 – a third of the book – though you might not have known it had you been going by the amount of national newspaper coverage that that section received.
Much of the details of his time at Sunderland will hold no interest for a national audience, but to those who follow the Black Cats it is compelling.
There are two sides to every story and in this book it is usually only Keane’s that we hear, but as an insight into his time at the club it cannot be bettered.
Some of the many revelations he makes are shown in bullet points elsewhere on this page.
But the two comments which stayed with me the most after I put this book down for the first time are printed at the top and bottom of this article.
There’s no doubt that the connection Keane developed with Sunderland, the club and its fans, was genuine and still lingers in his psyche.
It is genuinely something for Keane to admit that he looks back on his departure now with regret, rather than the certainty he felt when he originally quit.
The younger Keane would never have conceded that his role in the Saipan saga which so scarred the Republic of Ireland in the 2002 was in any way his fault.
The Roy Keane of 2008 vintage would have been similarly adamant when he instructed his solicitor to prepare the way for him to leave Sunderland, that everyone else was to blame rather than himself.
Here in this book though, he takes some responsibility for the titanic episodes in his life which saw him miss out on the 2002 World Cup finals and leave Wearside – a job, a club and a culture which could not have been better suited to him
This, then, is a mellower, more mature Keane despite the fact he is scathing of so many.
His tongue can cut like a lash, even on the printed page, but he is still tougher on himself than everyone else.
My own view is that two things undid him in his time at Sunderland – and not the failure to gel with owner Ellis Short or the abrupt phone call between the two which ended the affair, an incident which is revisited in this book.
Firstly, I think, in bringing in his friend Tony Loughlan as assistant manager at Sunderland, he deprived himself of the chance to appoint an experienced and able deputy who could have given him valuable advice and taken much of the day-to-day pressure off him.
Loughlan might have been a pal and a comfort, but he lacked the gravitas, respect from the squad or depth or knowledge needed to help relieve the pressure that sometimes invisibly stole up on Keane.
Secondly, Keane bought badly in his final transfer window in 2008, acknowledged in typically forthright fashion when he analyses the corrosive contributions of the likes of Pascal Chimbonda and El-Hadji Diouf, as well as the attitudes of some other signings that summer.
Those signings, and the pressure Keane was increasingly putting himself under, led to his erratic last few weeks at the club when increasingly the feeling was that the ship was tilting dangerously off course.
I used to suggest, when I was covering Keane’s time at the club for the Echo, that his hirsuteness was a barometer to his mood – clean-shaven, and the manager was fine and up for it; stubble and you needed to be wary; beard: watch out.
So what then to make of his current huge, bushy growth?
Some have drawn the comparison between the uncompromising Irishman and a mad Mullah. But he reminds me more of Robin Williams’ bearded and tortured psychologist when we meet him in Good Will Hunting – brilliant, vulnerable, flawed and often just trying to hold it together.
It is Doyle’s talent as a writer that draws this more human Keane out.
Sometimes, though, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The cover photograph for the front of the book is a lot more photogenic than his current look and perfectly, and I mean perfectly, captures the mesmerising, enigmatic nature of the man.
A hint of a frown on the forehead, a hint of a smile on the lips.
Impenetrable eyes that might be mocking you, might be amused by you, might be loathing you.
They remind me that whenever you were in a room with him, talking to him – no matter how long you had known him – you simply never knew which way he was going to go.
Reading the book, you get the impression that there are many times when neither did he.
He’s not someone to feel sorry for, of course.
He is one of the most successful players in the Republic of Ireland and Manchester United’s history; one of the most iconic characters ever to take to a football pitch.
A millionaire many, many times over, there are legions of fans who still adore and worship him.
His time at Sunderland can also be judged a success in the way that he won a blistering promotion in his first season, bolstered the club’s standing worldwide, and kept them in the Premier League the next term.
Weighing up the evidence of his time on Wearside though, it’s hard not to get the feeling that for all the things he might have done right at Sunderland, his time at the club was actually an opportunity missed rather than taken.
It’s a view he hints at himself in his final words on the Sunderland chapter: “I could have handled things differently”.