Understanding Roy Keane When You Never Got To See Him Play

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Whenever Roy Keane speaks, the world seems to stop and take notice. For a figure who is disregarded by many as a rash instigator, his opinion matters.

Yet, unlike experienced reporters or long-time supporters who witnessed and maybe even grew up with Keane, I never got to see him shine at the Theatre of Dreams.

I started supporting Manchester United when I was thirteen years old in 2006 which was an unbelievable time to start, considering that along with United’s ensuing success; media coverage for football grew exponentially in the United States.

As the years passed, I realized there was plenty to catch up on with United’s triumphant past which consisted of beloved legends such as Keane.

The charismatic Irishman who led United to so much glory in his playing days is now a divisive figure who produces a multitude of emotions. On one hand, Keane is a bitter curmudgeon who regularly airs out his frustrations and grievances. However, the way he so openly speaks about the individuals who laid down the foundations for what United is these days is both fascinating and refreshing.

As a pundit and critic, Keane is frankly hard to support at times due to his sharp criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson and his coldhearted outlook. Yet, at the same time, Keane’s steely resolve is what drove United forward and therefore, he demands respect.

In many ways, he epitomized the fierce motivation, ruthlessness, leadership, and passion that inspired United to countless pieces of silverware. The Red Devils have struggled to replace his prowess in the center of the pitch along with the relentless accountability he held both for himself and teammates.

Keane is extremely marketable as he embodies a never-say-die attitude and a driven persona that is easy to fall in love with. Like his prior captain Eric Cantona, Keane is also a counter-culture figure who resolutely stands by his opinion and beliefs regardless of what others think. He is unafraid to stand out, be candid, or offer something that challenges what is widely accepted. Loved and loathed but never ignored, Keane’s brutally honest assessments make him stand out from other celebrity athletes that are compelled to garner support. Rather than being another conservative public relations figure, Keane is both a sensationalist dream for the media and a reminder of Manchester United’s most glorious days.

In his new autobiography, Keane admitted he didn’t want to go down the same road like other retired players by saying, “I could easily have become a walking museum, and I didn’t want that.”

Keane’s story is different from what is typically expected of celebrity athletes. He is a human being descending from the rush, expectations, fame, and grandeur of being a star footballer. Keane is a complex man who is honest and open enough to provide a realistic perception of the struggles retired athletes cope with. He offers vivid details that challenge the typical notion that cherished athletes from the past just go off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Having never seen the influential Irishman play for United, it is difficult for me and perhaps other newer fans to separate the player from the belligerent contrarian that regularly lashes out against Sir Alex and the organization. When you’re reduced to surfing YouTube for classic matches that highlight Keane’s triumphs, it’s impossible to have the same undying adoration as those fortunate enough to witness him on a constant basis.

That being said, I think it’s vital for newer fans to take note of what Keane says and to watch him play in order to gain a deeper admiration for the way he helped to make Manchester United what it is today.

It also would not be a stretch to judge that based off Keane’s words and actions, he was and still is a difficult person. He is adored by millions who have and never will actually get to know him beyond his legacy. Seemingly capable of getting under anyone’s skin, fans will always love him from a distance as the legendary player who most closely embodied Sir Alex’s persistent determination and high expectations.

Ultimately, Keane will always be lauded for his time at United. I think I speak for many supporters in hoping that Keane and Ferguson can move past their intense animosity towards each other and come to appreciate everything they accomplished together. Considering the stubborn nature that they both share, it seems unlikely.

The staggering impact Keane has on the football world today is a testament to the player he was. As complicated and polarizing as Keane is, I believe most United fans wouldn’t ever want him to change.

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