Roy Keane was never afraid to play dirty in order to achieve success. Photo: James Rooney

Roy Keane shows why it pays to play dirty

Whilst juggling the roles of assistant manager to Paul Lambert and Martin O’Neill, at Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland national team, respectively, Roy Keane has somehow managed to find time to write a second autobiography, titled ‘Second Half’. And, even more impressively, he was also able to maintain what has grown into quite a magnificent and biblical beard, or until this week at least.

The contents of his book, however, do not seem to be quite so majestic to some football fans, and the controversial figure of Keane has maintained his track record of dividing public opinion in everything he does.

As a Manchester City fan, a particular passage that stood out to me is Keane’s dogged and incorrigible refusal to apologise for a tackle he put in on Alf Inge Haaland in a Manchester derby; a sickening assault to the Norwegian’s knee which the latter claimed to have drastically shortened his career.

[pullquote]Was it Keane’s aggressive streak that made him one of the most successful captains in Manchester United’s history, in a long line of greats? Was it his maniacal attention to detail?[/pullquote]

Keane’s first book landed him a five-match ban and a £150,000 fine after his biographer Eamon Dunphy said that Keane had “without a doubt” gone out to injure the player in a pre-meditated attack. Keane denies this in his new book, but admits that he did want to hurt Haaland.

“I did want to nail him and let him know what was happening. I wanted to hurt him and stand over him and go: ‘Take that, you c***.’ I don’t regret that. But I had no wish to injure him.”

To me, as a man with very little sporting experience and a clear bias in this case, this doesn’t seem any different to a brawl outside a bar on a Saturday night and criminal action would not be out of the question for an episode such as this. An open admittance of malicious and violent intent on a football field is shocking to hear and the cartoon angel on my right shoulder honestly believes he should never have been allowed to play again.

But is it this aggressive streak that made Roy Keane what he was: one of the most successful captains in Manchester United’s history, in a long list of greats? Was it in fact his almost maniacal attention to detail and desire for perfection that disciplined his teams, terrified his opponents and led his teams to their stunning record of victories?

Keane didn’t win 7 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups and the Champions League by making friends- even in his own dressing room- but instead by wanting to be the best and not accepting anything less. Everyone was either with him or against him, and he sought out to destroy the latter by any means necessary, as Haaland found out the hard way.

Keane sought out to destroy anyone against him by any means necessary

Sport isn’t all about popularity and being a ‘nice-guy’. Coming top of the fair-play league may draw a few sarcastic sighs of “that’s… great” and a pat on the back, but it is likely to mean that the team in question hasn’t put in enough big tackles to break up play or been cynical enough to block a runner on the half-way line to stop a counter attack. Teams like this generally don’t win things; they’re bullied out of games and hold the moral high-ground while their opponents hold the handles of cups and douse each other with champagne.

Some will say that athletes have a responsibility to behave a certain way to act as role models for children, but this isn’t and shouldn’t be their primary function. Sport’s real winners are predominantly, and sometimes only, concerned with personal or collective glory. The competitive and at times nasty streak that these people have will drive them to push themselves further to reach their goals, win their games and beat all who stand in their way.

In other sports, this special aggressive quality has also led to greatness. The most obvious example is Iron Mike Tyson, a boxer so fierce and capable of inflicting such damage that he devastated most of the opponents who dared to step into the ring with him. Of the 50 fights he won, 88% of them came via knockout, and several of these came in early rounds as Tyson relentlessly came after his opponents with an offensive style that utilised his unbelievable strength and made him the youngest Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion ever at the age of 20.

Like Keane, however, sometimes this quality landed him in trouble. Biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear and charges for domestic violence and sexual assault have sullied Tyson’s reputation as a professional and as a person. Repeatedly punching people in the face was apparently not enough to quell his aggressive urges, negatively affecting his personal life.

In other sports, a special aggressive quality has often led to greatness

Even in a non-contact sport like tennis, John McEnroe managed to propel himself to the top of the rankings by using his fiery temper to his advantage. His serve generated so much power and was so unique that it has largely vanished from the sport as a technique as it could not be replicated. He also used to frustrate opponents by almost entirely turning his back on them before his serve, making it impossible for them to anticipate which side of the court he would place his shot.

But his foul mouth, racket smashing and infamous “you cannot be serious!” attitude towards officials led to fines and expulsion from certain events, robbing him of the opportunity to add to his trophy room at times. But would he even have a trophy room if he didn’t have that fire inside him? I don’t think so.

I’ve never been in a fight in my life – I’ve been glassed and had my nose-broken, but those ailments were both sustained in the same incident: from fainting whilst getting some water after the amputation scene in 127 Hours– and that may be precisely why I don’t have what it takes to make it in professional sport. I can’t see myself ever being as angry as a Keane, a Tyson or a McEnroe, especially not over what is essentially a game, but I will never know what it is like to take part in a sporting event that means so much to so many people.

I’m not advocating violence, not in the slightest, but being a bit mad and having a temper can clearly help certain sportspeople to be successful, even if it does often spill over into seemingly unnecessary incidents of shame. Sometimes, if you want something bad enough, you have to play dirty.


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