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Keane’s edge returns

ONE of the greatest episodes of Father Ted is ‘Tentacles of Doom’. It’s the caper where three bishops arrived to upgrade the Holy Stone of Clonrichert to a “class two relic”.

Ted is in a flap because the visitors will be appalled by Father Jack. So the lads give their wayward colleague a scrub and teach him two phrases: “That would be an ecumenical matter” and “Yes!”

Watching ITV’s live Champions League coverage this season reminds me a bit of that episode: Adrian Chiles desperate not to offend anyone with a suited up Roy Keane in tow, eyes glazed like some miserable spayed tom cat. If the spectacle wasn’t half amusing, it would be tragic: this once-mighty warrior swapping his amour for a straitjacket and stood there trading banalities with Gareth Southgate and Chiles, desperate for a return to management; a return to the competitive fray.

It was a means to an ends. Just go on TV with a couple of squares, avoid controversy and show the football community that you’re no longer a full stick of dynamite next to a lively bonfire. No, you’re born-again reasonable; a cliché -spouting robot fit to coach other robots at a modern sporting corporation.

Instead of “that would be an ecumenical matter” we’ve had “obviously the lad will be disappointed with that” and “Yes” has become “Absolutely” or “Very much so”. It was all going so boringly well for Keane until last week, when Manchester United got humped out of the Champions League by the mighty Basel.

It wasn’t quite the the moment when Father Jack reverted to type and shoved the Holy Stone up Bishop Fach’s rear end, but it was compelling nonetheless. Keane was capable of towing the line in the low-key group games but when United – the club he poured body and mind into for over a decade, the club that’s etched in his soul – ended their campaign with a whimper and not a bang, the bullshit had to stop.

United’s young players such as Phil Jones and Chris Smalling had been heralded to soon. “Everybody building them up but they’ve got a lot to do, it’s a reality check for some… I’d be getting hold of some of those lads, saying ‘you’d better buck up your ideas’.” Attackers like Nani and Park Ji-Sung weren’t good enough. Ryan Giggs at 37 was their best player, this too was unacceptable to the former player who helped – sometimes dragged – United to seven Premier Leagues title, four FA Cups, and a Champions League final he didn’t get to play in.

“United got what they deserved tonight,” he said, disgusted.

What was even more instructive than Keane’s scything words was his body Language. Gone was the neutered demeanour. Back was the glow – the sense of rage at those who had failed in their duty to the red shirt; failed to fulfil the burden of excellence which comes with selection for Manchester United.

Chiles as usual tried to lighten the mood with some brainless blokey banter. Keane just about held it together but you got the impression he just wanted to take this between-gigs breakfast show host’s mic and place it somewhere less comfortable than his chubby fist. Then, in a just world, he’d bristle his way into the away team dressing room and tell these poseurs and interlopers what time it was.

Watching the punditry from my couch was a beautiful moment. I’ve never been to a Baptist church in the deep south of the US to see a spiritual awakening, but this was the next best thing. A man’s soul re-entered his body on live, free-to-air TV.

Of course, Keane’s chances of becoming the next manager of Portsmouth or Peterborough have taken a few backward steps but it matters not.

Over the past 20 odd years Roy Keane has become part of life in these islands. He’s been a prodigy, a tearaway, a scapegoat, a victim, a perpetrator, a winner, a fighter, a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. One thing he has never been is boring.

It was horrific to see him become dull at this stage of his life, but thankfully he’s been jolted out of it by sloppy play from United’s widemen.
Perhaps his short fuse means Keane will never be a storied manager – though it never did Alex Ferguson harm – but if he’s minded to, he could be the greatest TV pundit of all.

Of all the figures that have been in the public eye in this generation, Keane, for me, has been the most entertaining. I reckon a lot of people would say the same; even those who loathe Mayfield’s finest can’t claim to have ignored him.

Apart from a couple of lost months mooching around the touchlines of Europe with Chiles and Gareth Southgate, Keane has been unfailingly good value since his star rose at the start of the 1990s.

We thought for a terrible while that his fire had gone out, but still it burns. Yes.

 

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Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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