Nineties Leeds cult hero Alf-Inge Haaland has reignited the decades-long feud between himself and former Man U bully-boy Roy Keane, with a mischievous tweet (above) comparing Royston to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Alf tweeted the provocative image, along with the message “can’t take a man seriously when he’s got a beard like….” Keane had earlier revisited the issue of his cowardly attack on Haaland during a Manchester derby, confusingly claiming that he never meant to injure Haaland, but had meant to hurt him. Eh?
Perhaps this self-contradiction is an insight into what goes on inside Keane’s head, which seems muddled and somewhat paranoid at the best of times. The media, as we know, are determined to portray the former Pride of Devon midfielder as the ultimate hardman, never missing an opportunity to speak in hushed tones of awe about his trademark glower and supposed talent for fisticuffs. The rest of us know, of course, that Keane’s scowl masks a coward, someone who will exact his revenge after an extended period of sulky brooding, but not face to face, preferring the over the ball tackle, as with Haaland, or sneaking up from behind to plant a crafty elbow in an opponent’s face, as he did with the not-exactly-scary Jason McAteer.
One can only wonder at Keane’s motivation for growing such a horrible dead badger of a beard – was it to reinforce his own persistent delusion that he’s somehow impressive and the type to strike terror into brave men’s hearts? Or could it have been, perhaps, to deflect the unwelcome attentions of ITV anchor Adrian Chiles, whose breathless admiration for Roy always appears to be about to cross that blurred line into unrequited love? That is one unilateral bromance which makes for particularly queasy viewing.
In his latest self-justifying whinge, Keane mentions a short list of people who were always on his mind as targets to hit “if I got the chance” – Batty, Shearer and Vieira among them. The phrase “In your dreams, Royston” springs readily to mind. And, significantly, there’s a whole world of sneaky cowardice about just those last five words, “if I got the chance“. This is not the attitude of an up and at ’em loveable nutcase like Vinnie Jones, or anyone of several of the Revie boys who weren’t shy about landing a good old-fashioned left-hook when the occasion demanded (Johnny Giles, come on down…) Keane’s modus operandi was to bide his time, wait until he could strike – and then move away, probably towards the dressing room and safety, after a rare Man U red card.
The origins of Keane’s spat with Haaland are illuminating in themselves. Keane had been pursuing a Leeds opponent at Elland Road, intent on fouling him (characteristically from behind) – and had mistimed it horribly, over-stretching and rupturing a cruciate ligament, as karma paid him a brief and devastating visit. Haaland, reasonably assuming the Man U player was faking injury to avoid a caution, was bent over the fallen Keane to communicate this point of view. Keane never forgot or forgave – despite the fact that he was the author of his own misfortune – and waited, as a coward will, for the safest opportunity to get some payback.
It’s instructive also to recall that Keane could be termed a traitor to his country, allowing his own small concerns to spark an attack of paranoia and cause him to flounce out of the Irish squad for the Japanese World Cup. Again, Roy being Roy, he could see no possible grounds for any criticism of his own actions. An immeasurably greater midfielder than Keane, Billy Bremner, used to hold as a maxim “Side Before Self, Every Time”. This kind of team spirit is not to be found in Keane’s lexicon; his mindset is best illustrated by reversing Billy’s motto. For Roy, Roy matters before all else and Roy is always right. It’s a shame he’s usually surrounded by brainless sycophants who encourage him in this sad delusion.
At the end of the day, all Leeds fans and many other less fortunate football lovers will see clearly that Haaland has emerged from this whole saga with infinitely more credit than the ridiculous Keane. The humour at the core of his “Beard” tweet is a concept alien to poor old Roy, who really does take himself far too seriously. In retrospect, he’d have been better off remaining under the guidance of Brian Clough, who was the type of boss to batter such petulant nonsense out of a young and bumptious footballer. The Theatre of Hollow Myths, with its track record of promoting and nurturing the kind of empty-headed arrogance typified by Keane, Rooney, Cantona and too many others, was the very last place to bring out the best in the volatile but less-than-tough Irishman.
It’s a tragedy in its way. Much as is the case – and thanks, Alf, for pointing this out so wittily – with that bloody awful beard…