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'One of the things I find disappointing is Keane hasn’t become the figure in football I thought he would be'

Dion Fanning talks about Roy Keane and a lot more besides in this week’s episode of Behind the Lines.

Roy Keane, pictured watching on at Ireland's friendly defeat to England at Wembley last year.
Roy Keane, pictured watching on at Ireland's friendly defeat to England at Wembley last year.
Image: PA

IT’S 10 YEARS this month since Roy Keane last worked as a manager. Since he was sacked by Ipswich Town, he has served as assistant with Ireland along with Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, but hasn’t been entrusted with a top job in a decade. 

That could scarcely be imagined just four years before he left Ipswich, when Keane led Sunderland back to the Premier League in an astonishing rise from the Championship relegation places. 

Now he is a television pundit on Sky Sports, and though Keane has said he would like to get back in the game, that return is looking increasingly remote. 

This week’s guest on Behind the Lines is Dion Fanning, who is now the Associate Editor of The Currency having spent many years covering Irish football – and thus Keane – for the Sunday Independent. 

(Behind the Lines is exclusively available to members of The42. Each episode features a lengthy interview with a writer about their career and their favourite pieces of sportswriting, so for access to a 61-episode back catalogue, head over to members.the42.ie.) 

Keane was among the many topics covered on the podcast, and Dion’s first interview with him was tentatively arranged at the baggage carousel at Dublin airport, as Ireland returned from a Euro 2000 qualifier defeat away to Yugoslavia. 

“This was 98/99, he had come back from his knee injury”, recalls Dion on the podcast.

“And this was when he began to transform, and was seen as more distant and more intimidating. He would describe them as lifestyle choices  – I would describe them as more profound than that – but he was changing. His physical shape was changing, he had become leaner and had shaved his hair. The exuberant Keane was disappearing.”

The interview was the basis for Dion’s trip to Barcelona for Manchester United’s Champions League tie with Barcelona, though once he reached the Camp Nou, the club secretary said Keane knew nothing about any interview.

“I went to the team hotel that night, and waited and waited outside the restaurant where the players were eating. I was there at about half six, and waited for what seemed like hours. Finally Keane came down with Denis Irwin, and I went over and said, ‘Mr. Keane, I am here for that interview we arranged.’

“‘What fucking time do you call this!?’ 

“He said it was too late to do it, and went off to eat. He left me hanging there, but I hung around, and it went on another hour or so until at one point I looked up and saw Keane striding over to me. I was braced for another bit of abuse,  and instead he said, ‘Sorry about that, sure you weren’t to know’, and he totally saw my side of things. Then he sat down and did the interview.” 

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Keane was endlessly fascinating as a player, manager and, as it proved, as an assistant manager too. But now he’s an increasingly one-note television pundit, does Dion still find Keane interesting? 

“I know people say he’s boring, but I find what he has become interesting. It’s not necessarily his problem, but he has carried a lot of expectation for what he is supposed to represent and what he is supposed to be, throughout his career. 

“And in a way, he is still dealing with that. One of the things I find disappointing – and this isn’t Roy Keane’s issue – he hasn’t become the figure in football I thought he would be. 

“It’s not up to Roy Keane. But he’s the same age as Pep Guardiola and he speaks like a man from a bygone age. I find that strange. 

“I remember covering Keane’s first year at Sunderland and I thought, ‘This guy…this is going to be huge, this management career.’ 

“I remember the unveiling at Sunderland. One of the things as Irish people with Keane, you would often read pieces in English newspapers and they would talk about him as a thug or a bully, and it was misjudged. It always seemed to me they didn’t get Keane. He is an intelligent guy and has a lot more to say and is a lot more interesting than that. 

“I remember the unveiling at Sunderland, the English media were there, and I think a lot of people came with a preconception of who Keane was, and they were going to be dealing with somebody like that. 

“That day, he was extraordinary. It was classic Keane. He was funny and self-deprecating; he had this disarming way. You could see people from the English press thinking, ‘This is not what I expected.’ 

“I went to a lot of games that first season at Sunderland, and I thought this is the beginning of something really big, and we know that’s not what happened.” 

Listen to the full interview by subscribing at members.the42.ie. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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