A new season brings new players, new managers, and new ideas. But fans will be hoping for the same old punditry from Roy Keane.
The box office Irishman calls things as he sees them, offering no-nonsense takes, much like he was as a player.
Except as a player he didn’t have much time for pundits, being on the end of a signature Keane glare will have been a rite of passage for many a journalist.
And the thought of being a pundit after his playing career finished was once preposterous to Keane.
“I’ve done it once for Sky. Never again. I’d rather go to the dentist,” Keane was quoted saying in 2008.
But Keane found himself at a loose end after leaving his post as Ipswich manager and it was after reading his horoscope (Keane’s a Leo in case you were wondering) encouraging him to stop saying no to things that convinced him to take a plunge.
He wasn’t half reluctant at the beginning though.
“The problem for me was that the TV work felt like a failure,” Keane wrote in his 2014 autobiography The Second Half.
“Because I failed at management, at Ipswich. I’m referring only to myself – not to the lads who’ve wanted to work in the media.
“I was a reluctant pundit. That attitude helped the quality of my commentary, I think. I tried to talk as I played – very simply.”
In time though the punditry appeared to grow on him and the fact he was working for ITV, which doesn’t show football matches at nearly the same rate as Sky, proved to be a nice distraction with his roles as assistant manager at Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland the priority.
If there’s one thing he wasn’t going to do though, it was get into punditry full-time with one of the big boy channels.
“The balance is important. The more I speak, the more rubbish I talk. So I kept it short,” Keane added in The Second Half.
“The hours that they get to speak on Sky or RTE would kill me. I’d end up overanalysing everything.”
Less than five years later Keane signed a contract with Sky to join the likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in their team of high-profile pundits after leaving the assistant manager’s job at Nottingham Forest.
A bit before that fans were given a taster of what was to come as Keane criticised Jesse Lingard for launching a clothing brand before Manchester United played Liverpool in December 2018.
And in April 2019, Keane had Neville fighting back the urge to burst out laughing with his simple, but impactful take on an interview Paul Pogba gave with Sky after a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Everton.
“I wouldn’t believe a word he says,” Keane said. “There’s no meaning, no meaning behind it.
“I don’t even think he believed what he was saying there… He said it got a bit heated after the game against Everton; I heard they were actually throwing their hair gel at each other.”
Run-ins with the likes of Carragher and Jamie Redknapp vindicated the decision of the powers that be at Sky to give Keane a regular slot.
A budding friendship with former Manchester City defender Micah Richards, who joined Sky not long after Keane, has undoubtedly helped his stock – the clip where Keane challenged Richards’ claims he burst onto the scene as a player still makes the rounds on social media.
However, a huge rant, a furious one even by Keane’s standards, at half time of Man United’s clash against Tottenham in June 2020 made the Red Devils legend more than just an asset to the punditry team.
Analysing the goal that put Man United 1-0 down at half time, Keane said: “I’m fuming watching this. I can’t believe Manchester United, I can’t believe Luke Shaw heading the ball and running forward.
“I am staggered at [Harry] Maguire, staggered that an international player can just get done by this.
“I am sick to death of this goalkeeper. I’d be fighting him at half-time… I would be swinging punches at that guy.
“It’s a standard save for an established international goalkeeper. I am flabbergasted.
“Maguire and David de Gea – I wouldn’t even let them on the bus after the match. Get a taxi back to Manchester.
“We’re trying to analyse the game… you do your job. We’re trying to get into the top four, never mind win the league.
“Shocking! Maguire, I am disgusted with him and De Gea. You should hang your heads in shame.”
Man United fought back to claim a draw and Keane praised their second-half performance and somewhat backtracked in his claim that De Gea and Maguire should be made to travel back to Manchester separately.
But by then it was too late – Keane the hothead pundit was officially born.
Those who know him are always quick to point out what a good bloke he is but there’s no doubt when he’s at his angriest is when the punters want to see him.
In an age where one bad comment can lead to an individual getting cancelled, Keane’s refusal to mince his words offers reassurance to those who worry the ability to talk frankly about things is being phased out of society.
Danny Mills is worried that it may all be going a little too far, though.
“Roy Keane has massive influence, unbelievable,” Mills said on Kick Off in March. “Roy Keane says it, it’s gospel.
“I think when Roy Keane speaks we all sit up and listen. I think he’s got huge gravitas in the game, for what he’s achieved, for what he’s done and everything he’s gone through and achieved in the game.
“You do have to listen but he can be particularly vicious at times.
“If Alan Shearer, Ian Wright or Jamie Redknapp says that we just go ‘okay, that’s their opinion.’ But when Roy Keane says it, everyone goes ‘that’s the right opinion because Roy Keane has said it.’”
“How many times have these people seen Harry Maguire play for 90 minutes?” Mills added. “They’ll have seen snippets and they’ll have heard comments from Roy Keane everywhere no matter what.
“No matter how he’s played, if Roy Keane says he’s had an absolute shocker and it’s disgraceful and he’s had a stinker we all go ‘well, he has done’, even without watching the game ourselves and going through it.
“We listen because it’s Roy Keane and he’s spoken so without seeing it as ourselves we take his opinion as gospel. Maybe we shouldn’t do that.
“Then you get memes, then you get social media and trolls and everything else comes into it and it does influence opinion.”
Maguire being booed during a friendly earlier this summer shows Mills may have a point and a recent study showed Maguire was the second most abused Premier League footballer on social media.
But to lay the blame of all the vitriol against Maguire at Keane’s doorstep would be totally unreasonable.
There’s no doubt Keane’s punditry has been hugely beneficial, the success he’s had in the game enables him to provide excellent insight, especially into how elite players and teams think.
Comments Keane has made in recent times appear to suggest he appreciates the position he’s now in. He turned down the chance to manage Sunderland again at the beginning of 2022 after all.
His initial reluctance made him stand out from the crowd and proved to be a great starting point for his punditry career, while other factors coming into play including Man United not being as good they were when he was a player, his double act with Richards and of course Keane staying true to himself has also made him box office viewing.
Dare we say, all this has now made him an enthusiastic pundit.
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