Roy Keane: The James Dean Of Football

When Manchester United footballer Roy Keane was cleared yesterday of attacking a 16 year old boy near his home last August, the only question that was still up in the air after this court case was exactly who is Roy Keane? Designer Magazine's Editor Alex McCann, a man who doesn't actively watch football and confesses he's only ever been to see one United Match at Old Trafford (Man Utd Vs Anderlecht in Sept 2000), offers a personal view on Roy Keane. If you're looking for an in-depth look at his career purchase one of the many Keane biographies or his own autobiography, however if you're looking for an original take on the Keane phenomena and his personality then read on.

I met Keane for a few fleeting moment's a couple of years back at The Griffin Pub in Altrincham.  It was previously the place he'd retreated to following him walking out from Irelands World Cup dreams in 2002. An exchange took place where I questioned him as to why he rarely visited his local any more, quiet hushed tones came back about how it wasn't the same pub it used to be since new management came in. It was about as far removed from the image I had previously. Rather than this violent monster he'd often been betrayed in the press, he seemed quiet, shy and unassuming. After chatting with him for 5 minutes about the previous weeks match I made a conversational faux par. When I mentioned that I'd spoken to the Manchester United Press Office about setting up an interview with him that he retreated into his shell, bid his farewell and joined his friends over from Ireland for the weekend.

Later that night, I tried to approach Keane again just to say bye and say we'll hopefully meet soon once the power's that be arranged an interview. In the inner sanctum of his friends and family Keane barely grunted and those around him made it clear not to talk any further. It was one of the Keane characteristics coming out: he'll talk to anyone as long as you're not a member of the press. It was perhaps justified following various assassinations of his character previously, including the much-publicised incident with Maxine Rourke, ex-wife of Smiths bass player Andy Rourke.

In a world of celebrity footballer's we've come to know every minutiae of their lives. We know what shaving cream and flavour crisps David Beckham likes because every time we turn on the TV he's there advertising it. We know that Rooney has a taste for Mrs Robinson and got tearful when Busted split up because every detail of his life is in Heat Magazine and the tabloids. But even when Keane released his best selling autobiography he talked solely of his life on the pitch and gave little insight into his personal life. Little snippets confirmed he could be vengeful (the alleged deliberate injuring of Alfie Haaland), untrusting (the fact he prefers the company of his dog to other human beings) and extremely critical about most people in football he's ever encountered.

Roy Keane in many ways has the endless fascination of someone as iconic as James Dean. Initially this may seem like a strange choice, but dig a little deeper than the headline and you'll see numerous comparisons between the two characters. It was said that Dean had the "intuitive talent for expressing the hopes and fears that are a part of all young people"; Keane expresses the hopes, fear's and passion of every single football fan in the country.

His sole passion is playing football each and playing for the best team in the world, which as a boy and to this day is still Manchester United. The trimmings for him are simply a bonus and while he'll take the perks of being able to buy a £6 million pound home in leafy Hale Barns, he's never been one for the airs and graces of celebrity hangouts The Living Room and Sugar Lounge. Now without the much-reported alcohol problems he's seem more open and approachable. When Keane went along to an exclusive intimate Corrs gig towards the end of 2004 he was happy to mingle with the "normal" folk, it was only when he returned to the same venue to watch the Stereophonics a few months later with Wayne Rooney, Alan Smith, Ryan Giggs and other United Players that the team demanded an exclusive VIP area within the club. Like Dean, who shunned the celeb studded premiere of "East Of Eden", Keane is a person who would much rather spend his spare time with his real friends than his teammates or colleagues.

Of course there are several factors where Keane and Dean differ. As one United fan remarked when an abridged version of this article went online "Wasn't Dean Gay? Keano wouldn't appreciate that", the comment referring to James Dean's alleged relationships with actors / producers when he first moved to Hollywood. You get the impression that despite being a man's man Keane wouldn't flinch whether someone was gay or straight. It goes back to his obsession, in his narrow tunnel the only world is football and if a United player turned out to be gay (Fact Fans: It's said that many premiership players are gay, not that it's really of any interest to the fans or the general public) then it wouldn't bother Keane as long as they showed total commitment to the team and gave 100% each match.

While many share his passion each week on the terraces very few people can claim to know the real Roy Keane. Like Dean, he's been dubbed a loner, an angry man with psycho tendencies; he has an all-consuming passion for his chosen career and a man desperate for his family's constant approval. While Dean lived fast and died young as a result of maddening obsession with fast cars, Keane has tackled his demons head on, cut out the excessive alcohol binge, but still lives his life on his terms with no care for the trappings of modern life. In many ways that's why Keane will continue to be an enigmatic character years after he retires.

Alex McCann

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