The Two Sides of the Roy Keane Coin

June 15, 2009

By Maire Ofeire… Captain fantastic or over zealous thug?

Someone who knows when to walk away or someone who quits when the going gets tough?

If anyone has divided people into lovers or haters it is former Manchester United and Rep. Ireland Captain, Roy Keane.

The current Ipswich Town manager is never one to shy away from revealing his thoughts off the pitch and never shrunk a challenge on it.

His playing career was pitted with massive highs and some awful lows.

Having already got booked and assured of missing the Champions League Final of 1999, Keane gave the performance of his life against Juventus in Turin to assure his team mates would walk out at the Nou Camp.

Then there is the side of Keane that saw him commit the most awful of tackles on Manchester City’s Haaland, which ended his career.

Even his short career in management to date has seen him fully in the limelight.

He took over a Sunderland who were near the bottom of the Coca Cola Championship and lead them to the title and earned promotion to the Premier League.

A season and a half later, Keane left the club.

Looking at some of the main topics of conversation of Roy Keane’s career to date, Irish Bleacher Creatures Maire Ofeire and Willie Gannon both take a side of the coin to try and pit both the pros and cons of one of Ireland’s most celebrated footballers.

Maire Ofeire will look at the negatives which will be labeled “tails” while Willie Gannon will look at the positives of each situation and as such will be labeled “heads”.

Tails: Roy Keane was a central figure in Manchester United’s midfield for years. He brought fear onto the pitch, a fear that made some of the opposition quake in their boots.
However, this fear didn’t come about from his fantastic skills or ability to pick a pass, it came from his willingness to commit bone crunching tackles. Keane was a dirty player whose best tactic was to dig his studs into the nearest member of the opposition.
Heads: “The most influential and consistent player of the Premier League generation” as quoted by Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Oliver Holt, Henry Winter, Eamon Dunphy, John Giles, and a multitude of others. And rather than being a central figure, he was the central figure in gaining United’s dominance.

Keane has become the epitome of what a modern midfielder is. A superb passer of the ball, statistically he had the highest percentage of completed passes in the Premier League when he was a player, great in the tackle, incomparable tactical awareness, and above all a supreme competitor.

All too often the battle was won when his opponent met his icy glare.
Tails: Two words but one name: Alf-Inge Haaland. Yes, Haland had annoyed Keane over claims that he feigned injury but to commit such an awful tackle four years later, to bare such a grudge for such a long time that he ended a fellow professional’s career shows Keane’s lack of respect for others.
Heads: There is no way to defend the “second” tackle on Haaland. Vicious and brutal and deserving of a red card. But it hurt Keane to the bone, when Haaland stood over him gloating and shouting and calling him a diver and that he faked the injury, one that kept him from the game for almost a year.

And just like Brian Clough, whose career finished the same way, with a player claiming he dived and was faking. Clough went on to harbour those thoughts without retribution until he died. Keane had a chance to put the story straight, asking Haaland “Who respects who now?”

Tails: A man’s word is meant to be, well his word. In 1992 he had agreed to join Blackburn Rovers but instead on the day the deal was meant to go through he announced he would be joining Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
Keane had broken his word, a verbal contract, and it wouldn’t be the last time either. Maybe Brian Clough was right, he was just a “greedy child.”
Heads: Blackburn were on the way to buying the league. They were a club without a soul, and the only bidders for Keane until Fergie called him. And over a game of snooker with his soon manager to be, Keane decided to join Fergie’s revolution, and take a wage cut into the bargain. Never motivated by money, always by the challenge ahead.
Tails: As a Captain of a club, in particular one that is in the public eye and as acclaimed as Manchester United, one would expect Roy Keane to be discreet in his actions.
If he feels something isn’t happening to his liking at the club, it is best to go direct to the manager and air his grievances. Instead, Keane being Keane he had to get his moment in the spotlight and attacked his colleagues on television in that infamous MUTV interview.
What other option had Ferguson but to make him leave? He had undermined the club, his fellow players and his manager. This eeks of a man who wanted to leave the club but didn’t have the balls to do so, so instead he made the manager sack him as Captain and sell him.
Surely you would expect a lot more from a professional who at that stage had been playing at the top level of football for quite a long time.
Heads: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Manchester United, at the time were floundering in open sea. Too many of their players thought that they had made it, just by joining a prestigious club.

His outburst on MUTV was not aimed at getting himself into the media spotlight, like one of David Beckham’s many pr stunts. No, it was designed to wake his club and manager from their slumber, and let them know that just being there and accepting second place is not good enough, never mind a 4-1 mauling by bloody Middlesbrough!

The end result was Keane leaving, but his outburst still echoes around the halls of Old Trafford, as his team have never showed the same complacency since.

Tails: Keane isn’t one for respecting those in charge is he?
In 2002 he was very distressed at how the Rep.Ireland national team were preparing for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Yes, there was a lot that could have been done to a more professional standard by the FAI but once again it seemed it was Keane’s way or the highway.
Mick McCarthy was the manager of Ireland and Keane should have respected his authority. As Captain he had a right to air grievances of the team but Keane just seemed to be airing his own. Once again he used the media to do so in his interview with Tom Humphries of The Irish Times.
Ireland don’t qualify for too many major tournaments and for our best player and Captain to walk out on his country on the eve of a World Cup is criminal. It was meant to be a joyous time in Ireland, instead Keane divided the nation and caused endless debate.
Heads: Far from not respecting others, Keane wants the very best for all he plays with. Where did Ireland go for training a month before the World Cup? Saipan. What is Saipan most famous for? Being a stag-party destination.

The FAI had brought the Irish press core on a “jolly”, and the only training pitch on the island was a field behind a hotel that was as hard as a road. And just to top it off the FAI “forgot” to bring the training gear. Makes you wonder what the FAI had in mind for those two weeks?

And the only inflammatory thing in the entire Humphries interview is when Keane describes the difference between him and more skillful players in the Irish camp was desire and not settling for second best.

McCarthy, who felt undermined in the countries best players presence, chose this to fight with Keane on. And then accused him of faking injury to avoid internationals, in front of the entire squad. Roy saw red, and walked.

Keane was right in his stance against mediocrity, bad preparation, and the un-professionalism that has dogged the FAI since it’s inception.

The end result was the “Genisis Report” which found everything in Keane’s favour and ordered a complete re-structuring of the footballing federation, which has seen the FAI’s approach to international and domestic football improve dramatically.

Tails: Speaking of walking out, Keane did it once again in 2008 having decided the going had got tough at Sunderland.
It would be foolish to deny he did a great job in getting Sunderland up to the Premier League as Champions considering where they were when he took over, however been a manager in the top level of English football is a different kettle of fish, it is a pressure cooker and Keane couldn’t handle the heat.
Sunderland had backed him with the finances to do well and he spent strange amounts of money on players that didn’t look worth it. Yes, he kept them up the first year but the second year is always the hardest.
Reports out of Sunderland claim neither the club or players were happy as Keane wasn’t at training everyday as he still lived in Manchester—hardly very professional for a top level manager.
Sunderland lost a few games, Keane buckled under the pressure and decided he would be better off taking his dog for a walk instead of getting the club out of the mess. I wonder how long he will last at Ipswich?
Heads: Although Keane “walked out” on Sunderland, it had little to do with the poor form the team were showing at the time.

After dragging a team, who were bottom of the Championship after Mick McCarthy’s ill fated reign, Keane achieved promotion at the first attempt. A superb achievement. The following season, the squad improved by a few percent and survived life in the Premiership gold-fish bowl.

The following season, the squad was improved again, but beset by injuries to key players, Sunderland had to re-structure and change formation. This was taking time to bed in, before Ellis Short got involved.

For Sunderland to take that extra step into becoming a guaranteed Premiership side, Niall Quinn needed extra finance, and so, American businessman Ellis Short came on board. And no sooner was he is the door, then he started to undermine his manager.

No manager spends everyday on the training pitch with his team, and indeed managers like Alex Ferguson, Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp, and the great Brian Clough spend minimal time training the players, that is what assistant managers and first team coaches are for, just like Ricky Sbragia.

Who benefitted from Keane’s demise? The man who was speaking to the owner.

Keane didn’t buckle under the pressure, he resigned because Short had moved the goalposts that worked perfectly well for two years.

Ipswich have benefited from Short’s poor management skills. Expect the Tractor boys to be in the EPL within two years, if not one.

So the arguments have been made, but where does your opinion on Roy Keane fit in?
Is he a negative influence on football and those around him?
Did and does he use bully-boy tactics to get his way on and off the pitch?
Or is a player and manager who is aware that he has limitations and uses sheer passion to compensate for this?
Flick the coin!
**My sincere thanks to Willie Gannon for his contribution to this article.

Arsenal Fans Attacked In Rome But Do Platini and Blatter Even Care?

March 12, 2009

by Maire Ofeire… On a tension packed night in Rome last evening, events on the pitch were once again overshadowed by matters off it.

In a nerve wrecking shoot-out, Arsenal beat their capital counterparts Roma to progress to the quarterfinal stage of the prestigious Champions League competition.

Come May, two sides will return to the Stadio Olimpico to battle it out for the right to be called European Champions of 2009, but should Rome get the honour and financial rewards of hosting such an event?

Owing to violent clashes and racist chants that have marred European games in recent seasons, at the start of this season UEFA announced that it would have no hesitation in moving either the Europa or Champions League final if they felt the well-being of fans was endangered.

Judging by events when Manchester United visited last time, and the events of last night, the safety of away fans visiting Rome is questionable.

Prior to the match, Arsenal fans travelling to the game were each issued a booklet, warning them not to visit certain parts of the city or travel to the game alone.

“If you travel to the stadium independently, please be aware you are at risk,” stated the booklet circulated by Arsenal.

“Do not take trains to the Piazza Flaminio or attempt to use the Ponte Duca D’Aosta bridge as these are habitual routes taken by the ‘Ultras’ (Roma’s hardcore supporters). Please stay away from the Campo De Fiori.”

The fears of the club came to fruition when a bus carrying Arsenal fans to the game was attacked by a large group of Roma fans.

Windows were broken by stones thrown at the bus, as the Roma fans tried to make their way on to the vehicle to attack the travelling support, with one Italian being successful.

In the melee that followed, one Arsenal supporter was injured and required hospital treatment.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Rome said: “He was on board a private bus when they got lost near the stadium. Some Roma fans tried to get on to the bus and in the ensuing fight he got injured in the leg. It’s not clear if the weapon was a knife or a shard of glass from one of the windows on the bus which was broken.”

In the grand scheme of things, this can be considered a minor incident, however, when are UEFA and the powers that be going to grow a set of balls and actually follow through on their threats to severely punish clubs caught up in such behaviour?

As already noted, prior to the tournament UEFA pledged to move a game if they felt the safety of travelling fans was in doubt. Does someone have to be killed before they do so?

Italy is renowned for its extremely violent “Ultras”, which were infamously responsible for the death of a policeman not so long ago, and there have been serious clashes between Italian supporters and travelling fans in the recent past.

FIFA and UEFA seem to content to issue threat after idle threat.

Someday they will learn actions speak far, far louder than words.

Inter-Milan: A Paolo Maldini Tribute Following His Last Derby Della Madonnina

February 17, 2009

by Maire Ofeire…

In sport the term “legend” is thrown around far too often.

Every other season a new “legend” appears only to disappear off the radar the following year. Surely to become a recognised “legend” an athlete should be at the top of their respective game for several years.

When I think of football, several players fit this category. However some stand out all the more because they have dedicated their time to one club and continue to play at the highest level year in and year out.

I think of Ryan Giggs at Manchester United who was their best player last night against Derby County in the FA Cup. Another is Raul of Real Madrid, who has recently become the club’s all-time top goalscorer.

However, most of all I think of AC Milan and Italian defender Paolo Maldini.

I will not lie, what you are about to read is a very personal and myopic view of Paolo Maldini.

Ask me who my favourite footballer of all time is and I don’t even have to put my brain into action, I simply say “Paolo Maldini”.

When people strive further and say “It must be Pele or Maradona”, I say “No, it’s Maldini”.

Personally, Paolo Maldini is the greatest footballer to have ever taken to the pitch. People will argue that is rubbish, it is Pele, Maradona, Puskas, Best or Van Basten. Funnily enough the people that say this most often are my own age.

Pele may well be the best of all-time but I am not going to base my judgment on a few video recordings and stats. I didn’t grow up with Pele, Maradona or Best, but I did grow up with Paolo Maldini.

My parents or siblings can’t explain it but from the age of four or five I have been obsessed with football. Perhaps it is because the Republic of Ireland became good around then when we reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Italy.

Funny that it should become Italy as I fell in love with the Italian game before I did the English one. The first footballers whose names I learnt were Irish—Packie Bonner and Dave O’Leary.

After that it was Paolo Maldini, the third player I can remember as having an impact on my love of the game. A bit strange he should be number three in line.

For the 56th and most likely last time, Paolo Maldini took to the San Siro pitch last night for the Milan derby and as I sat watching the game on BBC3 it brought with it a wave of nostalgia.

I remember sitting on my sofa at home when I was barely bigger than a football myself watching the great Milan team of the early 1990s. So many big names—Baresi, Weah, Donadoni but of course the one that stuck out was the guy playing at left back.

For a reason I cannot explain, Maldini made me fall in love with football. It was as though he was creating art in his defending.

Since I have started following his career, all of 19 years ago, I feel that Maldini has never let me down. He is not a dirty player and has never had huge dips in performance—quite stunning for a man that has played over a 1,000 professional games.

Last night for the first time I saw and admitted that it may be time for him to hang up his boots.

The mind was still willing and the body still strong but the legs not able to take him. At times he struggled to keep up with Adriano but being Maldini he never gave up and often did enough to distract the big Brazilian.

It was clear for all to see Maldini still has the footballing brain. He could spot the runs being made and can still pick out that crisp pass. However, he is short that extra yard of pace now and at 40 years of age playing in one of the best leagues in the world that is of no disrespect to the man.

My favourite Maldini memory of recent times came in the 2002-03 season.

AC Milan were playing Real Madrid at the San Siro in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. AC Milan were ahead in the tie and Real were struggling to get back into the match.

Luis Figo, then at Madrid, collected the ball just before the halfway line and went dribbling down the right flank. Maldini gave chase. The Milan captain didn’t lunge in to a tackle as many would have as last man back. Instead, he waited and waited until he saw the opportunity—nipped in front of Figo and just took the ball from the Portuguese midfielder. Such was Figo’s annoyance he kicked out at Maldini who simply smiled.

AC Milan went on to win the Champions League that season, beating Juventus in a penalty shoot-out at Old Trafford. It was one of five European titles for Maldini.

Paolo Maldini has had a glorious career winning seven Scudettos, one Copa Italia, four Supercoppa Italia alongside his European victories. Sadly he never tasted sweet success with the Italian national side, going so close in the 1994 World Cup and again in the Euros in 2000.

It’ll be strange next season seeing an AC Milan team without “3 Maldini” on the pitch. Such is his service to the Italian club that the No. 3 jersey will be retired until hopefully one of his two sons will take up the mantel.

Maldini is one of those players that is respected universally.

It was a great moment when he entered the pitch to see fans of bitter rivals Inter Milan holding aloft a banner that read ‘Per 20 anni nostro rivale, ma nella vita sempre leale’ (For 20 years our opponent, but in life always loyal).

Maldini applauded the Nezzazuri who responded with applause, a fitting tribute to a great player. I am sure several of the Rosseneri held back tears, I know I did.

Forza Maldini, Il Captaino per sempre.

Kaka Move To Manchester City Is Off

January 20, 2009

by Maire Ofeire

It seems that Manchester City’s attempt to sign AC Milan star Kaka is no more.

Various reports coming from Milan tonight say that Kaka and AC Milan have turned down the deal while Manchester City claim it was them who called off negotiations.

City’s new owners had launched a world record bid to sign the Brazilian midfielder which was said to be anywhere between £100-175m depending on who you believed. What is known is that Milan and Kaka would have benefited greatly from this deal.

For days it seems as if a deal would be done. However, over a rumour-packed 48 hours, Kaka played for AC Milan with fans chanting his name throughout.

This evening as negotiations continued, numerous fans showed support to the player outside his home. In response, Kaka emerged from a window holding a Milan shirt and beat his chest three times to the delighted crowd below.

In the last few hours, Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi claimed on Italian television that Kaka is “not for sale at any price.”

Berlusconi said: “Kaka is staying with Milan. For Kaka, money isn’t everything.”

“Kaka is and remains with Milan,” Berlusconi added in a phone interview with the Processo di Biscardi show.

However, other reports state that Manchester City were never involved in negotiations with the player and thus could not turn down the offer from the Eastlands club.

It may be a case of both clubs saving face. AC Milan wanting people to believe that they have turned down the money while Manchester City wanting people to believe that they have ended the talks.

Either way it seems this transfer story is dead in the water.

However, today was successful for Manchester City as they have secured the services of Craig Bellamy from West Ham United and have had a bid accepted for Hamburg’s Nigel De Jong.

I sincerely doubt this is the last we have heard of Manchester City in this transfer window.