The former Manchester United captain was entertaining as a player – not always for heroic displays of midfield indomitability – and is making a success of his career in punditry
Roy Keane appears to be making a success of his career in punditry, if the object of the exercise is to stand out from the crowd and get yourself talked about.
The former Manchester United captain was not only withering about the clueless performance against Olympiakos in Athens – with good reason – he went on to be withering about the "flat" performance of Michael Carrick in a post-match interview. This led Mrs Carrick to call him a rude name in a tweet she later deleted, blaming her emotions for getting the better of her, so it can easily be seen that ITV has hired someone out of the common run in Keane. He is edgy, where most pundits are emollient, he looks genuinely angry about things whereas the industry norm is to appear smug and self-satisfied, and he is more likely to nail some extra barbed wire to the fence than sit on it.
So well played, ITV. This is supposed to be an arm of the entertainment business after all, and you can no longer rely on Manchester United to supply much of that commodity. Keane was entertaining as a player, of course, and not always for heroic displays of midfield indomitability like the one in Turin that defined his career as he kept United on course for a treble in 1999, albeit at the expense of his own appearance in that year's Champions League final. Keane was also compulsive viewing because you never quite knew when his temper would get the better of him, when his desire to succeed (or gain revenge on Alf-Inge Haaland) would lead to a meltdown of discipline and a momentary abandonment of team responsibilities that inevitably brought another furrow to the brow of a sorely tested Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sorely tested because, although he undoubtedly had good value from Keane over the years, having publicly to defend the clearly indefensible at times made the United manager's job very difficult. At least in part, Ferguson's famous withdrawal from post-match press conferences came about because hard-nosed news hacks had worked out a fault line to explore. Every time Keane did something inexcusable, such as taking a swing at Alan Shearer, Ferguson could be asked whether he condoned the player's actions or not, or whether he would be having a word with him about his future behaviour, and the manager would be trapped between his loyalty to his player and the impossibility of ticking him off in public. Ironically, Keane now specialises in ticking people off in public, though in a role removed from that as manager.
But I digress. This week 10 years ago, in an unremarkable away tie at unheralded Porto who, despite winning the Uefa Cup a year earlier against Celtic were not thought likely seriously to impede Manchester United's progress to the Champions League last eight, Keane was sent off three minutes from the end of a 2-1 defeat for a sly but petulant foul on Vítor Baía, the home goalkeeper. Chasing a ball into the penalty area in the closing stages of the game, Keane vaulted the goalkeeper as Baía spread himself to gather, but could not resist planting a foot as he cleared him and was dismissed for the most unnecessary, footling foul since David Beckham on England duty against Diego Simeone. Technically, Keane was guilty of a stamp. It was hardly that, any more than Beckham's offence was a dangerous lunge, but it was clearly a foul, it was spotted by the officials, and feeling goodness knows how foolish, Keane had to go.
Keane must have felt doubly foolish when Uefa confirmed he would have to serve a one-match ban, and extra silly when Porto made the most of his absence to survive 1-1 at Old Trafford, proceed to the next stage and triumph in the final. "You get shocks in life and I didn't see that one coming," Ferguson said. It might not be wholly fair to blame Keane for his side's unexpectedly early exit in 2004: the officials played a part in judging a valid Paul Scholes goal to be offside and Tim Howard might have done better with the Benni McCarthy free-kick that let to the all-important equaliser. But United's chances were not enhanced by having to play without their captain, for whom Eric Djemba-Djemba was not quite an adequate replacement. Thus did Keane play a small but important part in the rise of José Mourinho, who properly announced himself that night at Old Trafford with his demented bird impression along the touchline.
Mourinho ought to have been famous for his Uefa Cup win the year before but, largely due to the way Porto played in an unmemorable final, his charisma remained undetected. He began to get noticed as a personality after the Old Trafford game, around the same time as it became clear that with players of the quality of Deco and Ricardo Carvalho, Porto were a team to be reckoned with. Mourinho and Carvalho would arrive at Chelsea within a year, Deco a little later, and the rest is history.
If it makes Keane feel any better, he probably does not have Mourinho on his conscience, along with Baía, Shearer, Haaland and the rest. The Portuguese would have announced himself somewhere, sooner or later. You cannot keep down a football genius, and anyone who can turn up at the perennially underachieving Internazionale and supervise a treble inside two years, winning his second Champions League in the process, qualifies as such in most judges' opinion. Yet this time 10 years ago, the present Chelsea manager was so far from a household name that the report of the Estádio do Dragão game from 10 years ago on the Uefa website did not even mention him. Ferguson got a mention, but not Mourinho. A fortnight later, after Old Trafford, the same Uefa archive captured Mourinho – "It's fantastic not only for the club and the players but also for the country" – singing like a canary. He has barely paused for breath since.