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Is Roy Keane a good pundit?

The former Ireland assistant boss made a rare Sky Sports appearance for Sunday’s Liverpool-Man United fixture.

Roy Keane pictured in the Sky Sports studio today.
Roy Keane pictured in the Sky Sports studio today.

IT IS JUST over 10 years since one of Roy Keane’s most famous quips.

In November 2008, unhappy at criticism of high-achieving managers such as Arsene Wenger, the then-Sunderland boss told reporters

“I was asked by ITV to do the Celtic versus Manchester United game but I’ve done it once for Sky and never again. I’d rather go to the dentist.

“You’re sitting there with people like Richard Keys and they’re trying to sell something that’s not there.

“Anytime I watch a game on television, I have to turn the commentators off. They say ‘he’s playing well’ and I’m thinking ‘no, he’s not’. My advice to anyone is don’t listen to the experts, just watch the game and gather your own opinions.”

It was hard not to recall those quotes on Sunday, as Keane appeared as part of Sky Sports’ lengthy coverage of Southampton-Arsenal and Liverpool-Man United.

The sense that Keane, who has also been a regular as part of ITV’s Champions League coverage in recent years, increasingly appears to be embracing punditry is the latest example of the contradictory nature of this complex figure.

The former Man United captain earlier this year was involved in a bust-up with Ireland internationals Harry Arter and Jon Walters.

Multiple reports have indicated Keane’s anger in that instance emanated from when he discovered that the two players in question were told not to train by the FAI medical staff owing to injury problems.

This criticism was coming from the same person who famously fell out with Mick McCarthy, after the manager accused him of faking injury ahead of the 2002 World Cup, while Keane also praised Ruud van Nistelrooy in his second autobiography for opting out of a Man United-Arsenal match.

“There I was thinking he was the fool, but I think now that I probably was,” he explained

“I played, and my hamstring was f****** killing me.

“I think I actually had a torn hamstring.

“Ruud ended up playing in Spain till he was 39, and he still looks 21.”

The above comments were a fascinating insight from the former player, but one of the disappointing aspects of Keane’s post-playing career is that his punditry and analysis of games can often be disappointingly basic.

For a man who demanded such high standards from his team-mates and was a notorious perfectionist when it came to preparation as a footballer — a characteristic that prompted a substantial portion of his anger amid the shambolic training facilities that led to the famous controversy in Saipan — there is a conspicuous lack of detail in the content of his TV criticisms.

And something that Keane has going for him, of course, is his honesty — he will not hesitate to hammer someone who is perceived to be deserving of his wrath, in contrast with many of the other more tame pundits that populate our TV screens. 

Keane’s most famous and memorable pieces of analysis usually tend to be one-liners. 

“If Ashley Young is a Manchester United player, I’m a Chinaman,” he once said of the England international.

He also suggested a few years back that certain Arsenal players were more interested in “selfies, six-packs and their hair” than winning titles — a strange criticism, when you consider more successful sides such as Barcelona and Real Madrid also routinely post selfies of themselves after victories.

Consequently, Keane, it seems clear from his punditry to date, has a suspicion of modern players and their habits. 

Today, it felt almost as if fellow Sky analyst Gary Neville was setting him up for an assist when he brought up the clothing range Man United star Jesse Lingard launched earlier this week. Keane’s response was predictable.

“If it was a good strong dressing room that wouldn’t be tolerated, and that’s why I worry about the United dressing room,” he said.

While such comments may be amusing to some, suggesting that Lingard doing something so innocuous during his time off is linked with United’s problems seems a tenuous claim at best. Even superstars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo devote plenty of time to their other business interests, and it hardly seems to affect them unduly.

The former Celtic and Nottingham Forest player is comfortable with these type of put-downs and they can often seem relatively effective on ITV, where time is limited and pundits are only afforded a few minutes to air their views.

On Sky, by comparison, there is greater scope for extensive analysis as pundits are allowed more air time.

Moreover, a good question to ask when assessing a pundit is: ‘Are they saying something the majority of viewers are unlikely to know?’

The average person who pays for Sky is more likely to be a hardcore football fan rather than the casual supporters who only watch big games on terrestrial TV, so it is expected that the analysis will be more sophisticated and in-depth with the satellite broadcaster.

Figures such as Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville are subsequently popular because they frequently come across as intelligent and insightful.

There are plenty of examples of their excellent analysis from over the years, particularly on Monday Night Football, where many hours are devoted to meticulous preparation beforehand.

But take one isolated illustration from Neville today.

“Will Mourinho leave? I think it will happen, my preference would always be to get to the end of the season. But the boardroom is so naive it’s unbelievable,” he said.

“To give him an extended contract, knowing his cycle of every three years, was incredible. The minute he came back from pre-season he was at it and the club was out of control.

Nobody above him can handle him. They don’t know what to do with him, they don’t know what to say to him. They don’t know what he’s going to say at every press conference. It will cost a fortune to lose him now.”

The above statement is an opinion backed up with a coherent explanation. Many viewers will likely have forgotten about that contract extension, and the compensation which parting ways with the Portuguese coach would require is a valid point and one that not many pundits have brought up.

Contrast that example with Keane’s comments. 

“The players are not good enough.” “Paul Pogba’s days are numbered.” “United are an average Premier League side.”

None of these opinions are necessarily incorrect. But it is the type of analysis that most fans could easily give. Quite frankly, it is stating the obvious.

Granted, Keane should not be judged too harshly on one performance. If he appears on Sky more often in the future, he may become more comfortable with the long-form format.

But the suspicion in recent times is that Keane’s old-school ways and ostensible tendency to wish football was still as it was in Brian Clough’s heyday is holding him back as a manager.

When modern players want detail and sophistication, he offers jarring truisms. In the Ireland set-up, you got the sense that players were told to sort it themselves on the pitch rather than being given especially specific instructions.

As Wolves’ Matt Doherty said in a revealing interview just after Keane and Martin O’Neill’s reign had ended: “When you were away with Ireland, you didn’t really have that much coaching. It was more of five-a-side, or 11-a-side game, and that would be it.”

In a sense, you feel these criticisms could apply to Keane’s punditry.

Great pundits do not always make excellent managers, and vice versa, but good communication skills are vital for success in both roles, so the two are not entirely incompatible.

In an era when sophistication and specific tactical analysis is increasingly expected of experts as football fans and participants become more educated amid the significant increase in media coverage of the sport since the Premier League began, the Corkonian seems intent on remaining defiantly out of fashion.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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