The finest sentence of Roy Keane’s 2002 Autobiography reads; “I like dogs, because unlike humans, they don’t talk shite.” As a human myself, who also happens to be a dog owner, I can see where he’s coming from.
It’s the sort of candor that’s become synonymous with the man; a brand of deliberately outspoken contrariness that has led some notable Reds (namely Pete Boyle and Andy Mitten) to liken Roy to Mancunian musician Morrissey. In the mini-doc, this was perfectly evidenced on a few separate occasions. Akin to Le Roi citing the fiasco at Selhurst Park as his “best moment,” Roy revels in subverting expectations. As with all the great mavericks, it wouldn’t become Roy to adhere to societal norms.
Prime examples abound, most glaringly Roy’s needless polemic against Sir Alex’s shining appraisal of his ’99 CL semi-final heroics. Roy somehow managed to take offense at being lavished with praise. It’d certainly render me reticent to label Roy the best combative central midfielder of his generation. Not without concern that he’d reply with; “Well, what do you think I was aiming to be? The fcuk1n worst?!”
Roy’s aversion to plaudits aside, the broadcasters had unintentionally presented the starkest of contracts between the Keane vs Dixon on-camera “rivalry” and the Keane vs Vieira on-pitch rivalry, though the segue from ITV into ITV4 was sufficiently subtle.
The setting was curious; inside a warehouse, when perhaps a stadium tunnel, scene of their infamous melee, would have proven more suitably evocative.
The music, conversely, was more diligently selected by ITV4’s resident DJ; Dr. Dre, someone who Roy would no doubt inform hasn’t earned the requisite qualifications to call himself a doctor, opened the second segment of the documentary. Rather appropriately, Keane’s intensity constantly reminded that the man before us was ‘Still Roy’; “representing for the midfielders all across the world.”
To the backdrop of further upbeat and bellicose beats, befitting of the battles contested between this pair of midfield enforcers, the men reminisced zealously about the times when MUFC vs AFC was a very tasty encounter indeed.
Highbury’s highly-publicised tunnel episode was high on the agenda; At the time, the red mist descending on Roy set all red-blooded Reds into overdrive. Like boxers whispering belligerent sweet-nothings into each other’s ears at a PPV weigh-in, Sky couldn’t have scripted it any better. Yet, unlike in boxing, when we’re subsequently expected to wait 24 hours for the showdown, we were merely a brief ad-break away from the action.
Interestingly, upon reviewing the footage, not only did Vieira shirk Roy’s hand following the notorious pre-game mating dance at Highbury in Feb ’05 (John O’Shea’s chip by the way ladies and gentlemen), but he also refused the hands of fellow Roy (Carroll – was this an instance of blatant namism?) as well as Scholes and Rooney. Fifth in line, boasting a grin that even a Cheshire cat who had got the double-cream would deem cheesy, was Gary Neville, who greeted Pat with a sturdy Bury handshake, and a knowing smile. Forget Wu-Tang, “Roy-Keane’s clan ain’t nothing to fcuk wit,” he was seemingly thinking to himself.
The programme-slash-documentary might’ve roused certain curiosities for the more inquisitive of Reds, including myself. For example, Roy’s statement that Pat had picked on “the weakest link” in Gary Neville, as opposed to antagonising Gorton’s own Butty and/or Wes “The hardest man in all the town” Brown. Perhaps I’m overanalyzing, something to which I’m prone, but was Roy perhaps employing a sneaky double entendre herein?
Whilst Gary and Roy were one and the same on the field, they were polar opposites off it in terms of their willingness to speak out against the club. Far from a dissident, Gary Neville is in fact an ally of Sir Alex and the club, and I wonder if this dichotomy was manifesting itself?! Perhaps Roy was underhandedly slighting Sky’s principal pundit by referring to him as “the weakest link.” My suspicions were further reinforced by Nev’s omission from Roy’s Best United XI, contentiously preferring Paul Parker in the berth.
Aspersions aside, the ’99 FA Cup semi-final also rightly received a lot of airtime. It was a game that showcased neither men’s finest hours, with Roy seeing red and Pat squandering possession for what ultimately led to United’s winning goal. But their rapport even appeared to stand up to the gentle derision offered by the Irishman towards his Gallic peer when discussing Pat’s wayward pass to Giggsy, a moment frequently eulogized in verse by the United faithful on terraces worldwide.
Whilst boasting the wryest of wry smirks, Roy progressively delves further into that inauspicious misplaced pass, ever so lightly garnishing Pat’s open wound with sprinkles of no-frills table salt (Roy doesn’t use that fancy sea salt sh1t that contemporary crisp companies endeavour to dazzle us with.) He confesses that he’d have “taken out” Giggs had the boot been on the other foot. It’s a tone of voice that takes off precisely where his 2002 autobiography left. Keane’s forthrightness is genuinely something to behold, a rarity amid the modern milieu of filtered footballers. In fact, I’d go as far to say his frankness inspires awe. There are 294 pages of it if you care to read the aforementioned autobiography. I guarantee it won’t disappoint, aside from perhaps the perverse logic he applies to his assault on Alf Inge Haaland. His absence of any iota of remorse still baffles me, even as a Red and a staunch Keane admirer.
Ultimately, Vieira acknowledges the role of fate in United’s treble-winning feat. There was certainly something ethereal about that year, with many circumstances and moments conspiring to lead us to glory. If God was indeed a DJ, as Faithless proclaimed in ’98, he was almost certainly proving to be a Red tune-spinner. Patrick then proceeds to pinpoint that ’99 treble winning side as the best MUFC outfit he encountered. Whilst this may have proven the case during Vieira’s Arsenal tenure, the greatest side Roy featured in for United was the side he joined in ’93, particularly in terms of sheer exhilaration.
Perhaps this was my perspective as an impressionable youth; maybe it was the novelty afforded by first sampling the euphoria of silverware; possibly the presence of Le Roi swayed it for me (all those that endeavor to play the beautiful game as if an art form are Eric’s disciples,) or it could be that the 92-94 team existed during an epoch when football still possessed a modicum of the now-defunct romance. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of the four. But the flowing champagne footy played by that side remains the highlight of my days as a spectator.
How I loved witnessing Roy and Paul dominating the central midfield battles; a pair of veritable pit bulls who could play a bit, and whose bite always appeared to exceed their bark. Pat was also a class act, his midfield partnership with Petite as formidable as the one fostered between Keano and Incey. I struggle to recall a pair of more effective duos. Had their eras ran contemporaneously, those four battling for possession in the midfield third would’ve proven an almighty slobberknocker.
In fact, many of the duels that transpired in this fixture of yore seemed to warm the cockles. The programme’s concluding sentiment regarding the increasing sanitization of the game rings true, as underscored by the comparative lack of intensity in present-day Manchester United versus Arsenal fixtures. Fast forward a decade and it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll be sat discussing Cleverley vs Rosicky with the same gusto.
On the pitch, both Roy and Pat were the embodiments of their clubs. They were made for each other, arch nemeses. Roy was Hulk Hogan to Pat’s Ultimate Warrior (though he always preferred smearing himself in Vicks to warpaint.) If that analogy were allowed to play out on the pitch, these men weren’t pulling any punches with their steal chairs. Keanomania ran wild all over the Premiership.
At times during the programme, the conviviality shared by the old foes justified any mistaking of Roy and Pat for off-pitch bosom buddies nowadays, as they had been very much kindred spirits on it. Indeed, the immense raillery between the two underpinned the show. In fact, it made the show, comprising numerous LOL moments, though admittedly I didn’t quite ROFL. Ashley Young probably did.
I may have been getting carried away by the sentimentality of it all but it seemed as if a genuine respect, and even affection (does Roy knowingly “like” another homo sapiens?) towards each other had developed over their years on the playing field, and collective media assignments thereafter. They brought out the best in each other, á la Federer-Nadal. It’s a special, rare chemistry, that helps to cultivate legacies, and it’s clear that both Roy and Pat are grateful for it, particularly now in retrospect.
In fact, the only potential stumbling block of this love-in arrived when Vieira started dropping the old classic generalization via a cheeky dig (with deadpan expression) at referees’ perceived favouritism towards United. Keane’s steadfast disagreement on the matter drew the show’s only short-lived bout of awkward silence. Pat displayed occasional moments of defiance vis-à-vis the renowned personality of his overpowering contemporary, but ultimately appeared to acquiesce, highlighting that if this were a married couple, Roy would verisimilarly be sporting the trousers.
Pat came across extremely well throughout; an affable bloke, diplomatic and relaxed. Though whilst Pat certainly played his part, it was inevitably Roy’s fascinating personality that pervaded the entire programme, as his presence would be acutely felt all over a football field. His unequivocal egocentricity was encapsulated by responding that the most important attribute for a captain is to be “the best player.” Depending on how Roy defines “best” (the “most talented” and “most influential” can often be mutually exclusive categories in the world of football) I’d question whether this assertion is necessarily true. Furthermore, the insights he gave into the dressing-room politics revealed the sizeable segment of Roy’s psyche that was obsessed with hegemony, not just over his adversaries, but equally crucially over his own teammates.
Some viewers remarked that this Roy before them appeared excessively content, evidently preferring the misanthropic, brooding former incarnation of the Corkman. It would’ve certainly made for explosive TV had Keane septically harbored his grudges, and insisted that he and Patrick’s longstanding feud culminate with a mixed martial arts bout.
Imagine the interest garnered if Roy and Pat main-evented a UFC card at the MEN Arena, Sir Alex and Arsène as cornermen. It’d be tantamount to Jon Jones pitting his wits, and his mitts, against Dominick Cruz (any UFC aficionado will understand the analogy.) Pat would have a significant height, weight and reach advantage, but you’d be foolish to discount Roy’s chances. Would Roy even adhere to the regulations which prohibit eye-gouging and biting?! It’d be a significant money-spinner for the FA, so they’d probably schedule the bout at Wembley. Anyway, I digress.
Despite the fact that “Best of Enemies” was based on a rivalry that was cultivated on a football field, it was perhaps a rivalry that had blossomed off the field, between one of the programme’s protagonists and his erstwhile ally, that most captured the public interest. Whatever you opine on the Keane vs Sir Alex Ferguson debate, a topic into which I won’t delve too profoundly, it’s evident that both shared an unswerving winning mentality.
They possessed that unyielding and intractable belief in themselves and their opinions, precisely the traits that forged them into greats. Ultimately, they were perhaps simply too alike to mesh. Questions posed regarding Fergie resulted in Roy’s most considered responses, which could be construed in one of two ways; a. he was either feigning that they weren’t topics he ponders painstakingly on a daily basis, or b. on the contrary, it implied that he was ensuring he delivered the perfect ripostes to matters which relentlessly trouble him. Whether the former or the latter, SAF is evidently a name that touches a nerve.
Roy revealed that he now attends United games with his son, ironically in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. In his mind, he’s probably renamed the section he occupies the “Roy Keane Entrance,” as he’d be right to do. After all, he was an integral foundation of what Ferguson built at MUFC. But he was merely a part of the dynasty, and so it’s highly improbable that any Red would ever back him over SAF.
Roy’s an enigma, and equally an egomaniac. Kudos to him for sitting amongst the supporters nowadays, but his anti-SAF rhetoric since his departure has presumably scuppered his access to the South Stand where he should be taking a seat alongside fellow Red legends. Now the only time he’s afforded the luxury of a padded seat at OT is when he’s inside the ITV studio.
Keane, ever the sentimentalist, claimed to cry for two minutes upon severing ties with his beloved club, but this most likely belies his true sentiments. Outwardly he’s unlikely to confess any frustration but I can’t help but feel that his self-inflicted ostracisation from the club, that he still admittedly loves, rankles with him deep down.
But despite a multitude of tweeters suggesting otherwise, Roy seemed at peace with himself, and his relationship with the club during this recording. He was merely voicing his honest assessment of the situation. After all, he’s not the type to suppress his true verdict for the sake of diplomacy. For me, he didn’t come across bitter, despite the well-publicised acrimonious conclusion to his time at OT. He came across well, his fiery competitiveness still burning incandescently, but free of the venomous ire that characterized his career. This was a mellower, but by no means yellower, Roy. I enjoyed seeing him with a smile on his face.
The affinity both Roy and Pat have for their respective clubs remains palpably apparent. But for seemingly different reasons, neither are presently associated with their true loves; the biggest shame to emerge from the show. Two of football’s most influential drivers, money (Vieira) and pride (Keane) are ostensibly, at least on the surface, keeping them apart.
Overall, “The Best of Enemies” concept, and its execution, rendered this a fine mini-documentary, prompting many online observers to implore ITV execs to consider extending this one-off programming into a series revolving around the same absorbing discourse of discord. Just envisage the prospect of reliving those mouthwateringly meaningful Premier League rivalries of the past two decades; Di Canio vs Alcock, Reina vs The Balloon, Wenger vs His Jacket all readily spring to mind.