Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Book Review: Keane: The Autobiography, by Roy Keane with Eamon Dunphy

“Taking him [Eric Cantona] down a peg or two seemed to be objective number one for the opposition hard men. Perhaps part-time men would be a better description. For what really bugged us was the thought that these guys were out to make a name for themselves by sorting us out. Why the fuck didn’t they put that effort in every week, then maybe they wouldn’t be playing for fucking Norwich or Swindon.” (page 114.)

The above quotation from Roy Keane’s autobiography tells you everything you need to know about this fantastic book. First, it has deservedly earned the reputation of the being the best, most honest autobiography ever written by a player still in the game. (Keane has since retired and become a very successful manager with Sunderland.) Every line makes you feel like you are living Keane’s VERY intense life right beside him. Secondly, the book is incredibly funny, just as the quote above can’t help but make you laugh. Finally, and sadly, Keane intense life largely makes him unlovable; as you can tell from the quote above, he was often an incredible jerk.

Roy Keane played center midfield for Manchester United for more than a decade. During that time they had a remarkable run of success, winning multiple premierships trophies, FA Cups and a European Championship. There were flashier player at United during the decade (Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and Ryan Giggs, just to name a few) but none worked harder or more intensely than Keane. By anchoring the midfield he allowed the scorers of United to go forward and win so many critical games by wide margins (4-1 seemed an average premiership victory at Old Trafford in the 1990s). Along the way Keane becomes disgusted by, well, nearly everyone for their lack of commitment to the cause. No one is as hungry as him; no one will take the game as seriously. The only two people to escape serious criticism in the book are United gaffer Alex Ferguson (perhaps the only man as intense and committed as Keane) and Keane’s saintly wife Theresa. God bless her.

Keane obviously loves United and most of the players who played there (with the exception being Peter Schmeichel), but he eventually decided they became too soft and complacent after winning the Treble in 1999. Keane saves his harshest criticisms, however, for the Irish national team, which he persuasively argues did not take itself or any of the tournaments it entered seriously, always taking a “just glad to be here” attitude. It was an attitude that disgusted Keane, and he eventually and famously left the Irish national team on the eve of the 2002 World Cup.

Keane personally comes off at times as a very unlikable man. He’s critical of almost everyone he meets, and openly states that no one (except Alex Ferguson) cares as much about football as he does. He constantly bitches about things that would make a regular person gag, such as carrying his own luggage through an airport or having to sit in coach on airline flights. (Poor baby.) It’s a bizarre thing to (constantly) complain about, seeing as he makes a point of describing how he grew up relatively poor in Ireland.

Still, this is a remarkable book. Reading it, one is given an idea of how football really is, how it is a business, and how sometimes its employees don’t care as much as they probably should. It gives you a glimpse into the life of a truly great player, and what things are like in the clubhouse, on the pitch, and on the street. Keane (and his co-author Dunphy, who has done a remarkable job) deserve all the credit in the world for writing this truly honest, engaging book. It has well earned its title as one of the best football autobiographies ever written.

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