Crystal Palace 3-3 Liverpool, May 2014

This originally appeared on ESPN FC

Miguel Delaney
Selhurst Park
After another disastrous slip from his team, Brendan Rodgers could only sit there with a disbelieving smile of regret.
“We go top tonight as well, with 81 points with a week to go in the season,” the Liverpool manager said after this tectonic 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, shaking his head as he paused. “And we sit here devastated.”
That is the incredible truth after this incredible match. It also reflects the remarkable scale of the team’s collapse, both in this game and in the title race.
The Arsenal side of 1998-99 are the only other team since the Premier League was founded to go into the final week on top yet not win the title, but that scenario came fraught will all manner of fixture caveats and complications.
Here, just when it looked like Liverpool were going to make it as difficult as possible for Manchester City, they so clearly created complications for themselves. Afterwards, Rodgers conceded the title.
“Yes, for me it is [over],” he said. “Yes. We needed to win tonight to keep the pressure on.”
Instead, after all the justifiable talk of the psychological work with Dr Steve Peters, Liverpool themselves buckled under pressure. Rodgers also conceded that afterwards.
They were consumed by the cauldron of Selhurst Park, their title challenge swirling down it. After Damien Delaney hit his deflected 78th-minute strike – his first of the season, typical, and Palace’s first of the night – a ripple went around the tight old stadium. The roar started.  “Then everything took off,” as Tony Pulis put it.
“It was amazing, the support. When the second goal went in, it was just a matter of time until we got the third. That’s as good as I’ve heard for a long, long time.”
Liverpool won’t forget this for a long, long time.
They froze. Palace seized the moment, most notably the irrepressible Yannick Bolasie. HIs breathtaking run past Glen Johnson before the second goal was the real moment when it all really started. His utterly ambitious stride opened up an entire tract of the pitch, and the game. In there lay all of Palace‘s remarkable abandon and Liverpool‘s apprehension.
Rodgers’s side were by then playing with utter fear, paralysed in the face of almost every frantic Palace attack. Dwight Gayle showed contrasting coolness, offering such a cacophony of a climax.
“It’s thinking clearly under pressure which is important,” Rodgers lamented. “Our decision-making in that period of pressure has to be better. That’s not just tonight. It’s something I’ve seen at times this season. We ended up getting a point when we should have got three.”
That will be just as galling as the deep disappointment of this draw. Liverpool had actually done the hard part, both in the title race and the game. They had broken down a side as notoriously durable as Palace, and got the early goal that set them up with a genuinely ingenious set-piece through Joe Allen.
After that, Daniel Sturridge displayed his divine touch for the second, before Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez interchanged so gloriously for the third. It all reflected the absolute brilliant best of their football this season.
Yet, just when they seemed at a peak – returning to the top of the table with a win that put all the pressure on City – they hit rock-bottom. They completely caved in.
Worse, it would be difficult to say this wasn’t coming. It would also be difficult to say there wasn’t a strong degree of arrogance, even hubris, at the root of it.
Consider the amount of games over the last 13 fixtures in which Liverpool have been on the brink; in which they’ve conceded so many to really put them in trouble; in which they have displayed nerves. There was the 3-2 win at Fulham that started the run, Swansea City, Cardiff City, Sunderland, West Ham United, Norwich City and even Manchester City’s initial comeback at Anfield.
On each of those occasions, their attack did just about enough.
It was understandable, then, that they banked on it again. Here, however, their greatest strength became their greatest weakness. It left them so badly exposed. And, just as an admirable arrogance powered their play through this season, it arguably crossed over into something self-defeating there.
Rather than just see out the game, they tried to make up the goal difference. There was a clear hubris there. Liverpool went for everything, but it may well have cost them everything.
Some of Rodgers’s comments on this afterwards were curious, particularly given that he otherwise so creditably fronted up to the media after such an evidently devastating disappointment.
“It’s game management,” Rodgers said. “That was the key. Players, no matter how fit they are, are going to look a bit tired at the end. Palace were dead in the end, but they got the goal and then a second. It was the management of the game that cost us.”
Rodgers was talking in general, and about a more abstract concept but it is a criticism that should be directed at himself too. His final 10-word sentence, when taken in isolation, is actually apt. On this occasion, after such a supreme season for him personally, Rodgers’s management did cost them.
Some decisions were odd, not least those to bring on Victor Moses and Philippe Coutinho rather than Daniel Agger.
Whatever about game-management, Liverpool looked like they didn’t know how to defend. There is also a fair question over whether Rodgers actually knows how to set up a team defensively, even if that appears reactionary right now.
It is deeply ironic after his post-Chelsea comments, when he said Jose Mourinho’s kind of negative play is “not difficult to coach”. It looked beyond Liverpool here.
At the very least, Rodgers now does precisely know what areas of his team he needs to improve from the future. He admitted that afterwards. That can eventually be perceived as a positive, even if it does not feel like it now.
This could be the true making of this team. It has happened to other great sides of the past. As Paul Breitner once put it about Bayern Munich’s 4-0 defeat to Ajax in 1973, “it was one of the most important defeats you can have”.
“Sometimes a defeat is very important for your future.”
On the other side, there are long-term negatives to this too, beyond the painful memories. There is the very issue of perception. Because, over the past few weeks, there has been an unmistakable mystique about Liverpool; a wonder at just how they were doing it, and awe at the way they were doing it. Teams feared them.
Now, that fear may give way to something else, especially since the scale of the collapse was – without being too blunt – such a joke.
Teams will know how to set up against them, frustrate early on then counter.
Rodgers, instead, must stand them up again. Steven Gerrard’s words after the Manchester City win are more relevant now than ever. Liverpool must go again. They must look to the massive brilliant strides they’ve made. They must try and use this as motivation, as a positive.
Afterwards, Pulis tried to offer another positive.
“Don’t write Liverpool off yet,” the Palace manager said. “It’s been that kind of season.”
That is true, and there may be another twist. This just felt like a defining one.

Brazil 1-7 Germany

After so many goals, there was only one description: Mineirazo.

This was not painfully dramatic like the famous 1950 defeat to Uruguay, but that was only because it was possibly worse: it was so humiliatingly excruciating.

The details of Germany’s 7-1 win – and the sheer numbers alone are so searing – remain difficult to register. It revealed so much that the first boos were not heard until the 44th minute, long after the fifth goal had been scored. It was as if that was how long it took for the utter shock to wear off, to realise just how bad this was. The dimensions to this defeat were as plentiful as Germany’s goals. Given the history, given the context, given the politics, this may well be the most stunning World Cup match of all time.

After a World Cup that Brazil had waited two generations for, they have only suffered a defeat that will take generations to forget.

The circumstances are almost cruel. The scale of the defeat certainly was. The competition Brazil have dominated and won more than any other country has also left them with their two most painful defeats.

They are of the type that very few victories can erode, that almost nothing can rectify.

Brazil now has so much to consider.

On their team bus for this World Cup, the message read: ‘Brace Yourself – The Sixth is Coming’. That took on dark tones. The game itself took on a scarcely believable hue.

There was no sixth trophy. There was only a 7-1 defeat. Read it. It remains shocking. Brazil will never want to look at it again.

And yet, as stunning as this event was, elements were not that surprising. The signs were there, especially from Brazil. As their campaign went on, it did not seem like they were building up to anything special, to that sixth trophy. Instead, it felt like they were just about keeping it together, that they were set to crumble.

In virtually all of their games so far, they came perilously close to the edge. Chile were inches from knocking them out, a frantic physicality was needed to eliminate Colombia.

The very fact it came to that in the quarter-final, however, revealed so much about this team. They never had the quality to win this World Cup.

By the end, too, the loss of their single world-class attacker in Neymar felt irrelevant. He couldn’t have prevented this. There was always the danger of it happening, that a better side would unravel them.

And yet, it’s still difficult not to think the hysterical reaction fed into the historic nature of this humiliation. The frenzy the entire country worked itself into saw the equal but opposite reaction on this pitch. Once the deeper problems were exposed, it all gave way.

Because, of course, Brazil are not this bad. They are not 7-1 bad. This was about something else.

This semi-final as an event was certainly something else.

Then, there is Germany. What a statement. The story is all about Brazil’s collapse, but they were the driving force – in so many ways. It was not just about the implosion of the hosts. Germany imposed that upon them.

Sure, Brazil’s awful defensive problems were the direct cause of that tone-setting first goal, as Thomas Muller plundered the ball into the net from close in.

Thereafter, though, the Germans brutally expanded the gap between the sides.

You only had to look at the interchange for the fourth goal, the emphatic finishes of the third and seventh, as both Toni Kroos hammered in one and Andre Schurrle powered in the next.

Before all that, there was Miroslav Klose’s second. What a situation in which to break a legendary Brazilian’s record. Ronaldo was forced to congratulate the forward for his 16th goal on national television, adding insult to injury.

The only question is whether such a ridiculously handsome win is actually healthy for Germany, whether they could have benefitted from a bigger challenge, whether this will blunt them.

After a semi-final against the most successful nation in World Cup history, that is an astonishing to say.

This was just an astonishing event.

Argentina 1-0 Iran

This originally appeared in the Independent

Miguel Delaney

After such a defining statement from Leo Messi, and so much discussion about what was said between him and his manager this week, Alex Sabella put it best. “Having Messi means anything is possible,” the Argentina coach gushed.

One of the most remarkable elements of the playmaker’s brilliant winning strike against Iran, beyond its outstanding quality, was that a goal was beginning to actually look impossible.

Messi had in truth endured a poor game. Far from symbolising Argentina’s rise, he summed up their frustration. Iran’s blockade was brilliant. The goal – or even a fluent attack – never looked like coming.

It indicated much that, just before the decisive moment, Diego Maradona walked out of his seat to leave the stadium. So, as one legend exited stage left, another truly entered. Messi also looks set to dominate this stage. He will rightfully dominate all reaction. How could someone not after such a sensational stoppage-time winner?

This was the type of moment that adds to legacies, that typifies what he is there for and what he is as a player. If one definition of genius is conjuring something from nothing, this was the perfect display.

That is all the deeper because this was far from a perfect performance, with a whole lot of nothing in it.

In some ways, it reflected what Messi has become over the past two seasons. One of the enduring images of the game – before the glory of his late goal and celebration – was the playmaker strolling about, not all that energised.

It is also a sight increasingly common in the 26-year-old’s club career. He is no longer the sonic blur of energy he used to be when Barcelona were at their peak between 2009 and 2011. There is a much greater languidness to his game. Some would call it laziness. At the end of Barca’s disappointing 2013-14 season, Messi’s low mileage stats became an increasing topic of debate.

It was argued around Camp No that this is all a further consequence of the overbearing influence and ego Messi is developing. It was something that came under further scrutiny with Argentina in the last week, as discussion has grown about exactly whose decision it was to change formation back to 4-3-3.

The difference is that Messi still tends to show why he may have developed that ego on the occasions when he decides to do something.

He can go from a heavy afternoon to a lightning storm in an instant. The burst of acceleration remains devastating. The touch is still immaculate. The finish… well, it was a work of art.

It also came after very little work from Messi, but few were going to pick up on that afterwards. Javier Mascherano was only going to praise him.

“That is what Messi has,” the midfielder said. “On the day he is not so involved in the play, he appears and does that.”

“That” was a glorious curling strike into the far corner of Alizera Haghighi’s previously unimpeachable net, and all as 11 Iraniandefenders amassed in the box, and the clock ticked well into stoppage time, with his team badly needing it.

“As soon as I got the ball at the end, we were all in attack,” Messi said of the goal. “Obviously, I was very happy with the strike. Then I heard people screaming and smiling, and it was wonderful of course.”

It was not just of the great goals of this World Cup. It was a great World Cup moment, of the type the history of the tournament is all about.

This may well become Messi’s tournament. His performance could set the path for Argentina’s campaign: underwhelming start, patchy displays, before growing and finally coming to glory at the end.

It is certainly possible, especially with Messi there.

Death in the Maracana: Spain and the end of an era

Miguel Delaney
For the Spanish squad walking mournfully out of the Maracana, there was no denial or anger. There was only acceptance.
Xabi Alonso was one of the few who felt capable of speaking after the 2-0 defeat to Chile, and he said what the world was thinking.
“Eras end with defeat,” the midfielder quietly admitted, “and this was a painful defeat.”
It led to some bruising realities. Spain are out of a tournament for the first time in eight years, having endured the worst ever performance from a defending champion at a World Cup. That is a stark drop from the perfection they came close to.
In winning three consecutive major trophies, they defied football history, and set new standards and records.
They could not set new parameters for how teams are built. They couldn’t defy the passage of time, or the inevitable and almost intangible erosion of any great side’s intensity.
That, more than any other issue, is what this is all about. This Spanish team as the world knew them are now gone, never to return.
They were already a rather different incarnation. That could be seen in their inability to recover from going behind against both the Netherlands and Mexico.
Although Spain genuinely had so many chances to pull both games back – and even settle them before going behind – there was no real regret at the opportunities missed. It was not quite that David Silva or Sergio Busquets came so agonisingly close to scoring in either game. It was that they didn’t come close enough; as if they had lost that edge to go the crucial extra inches. That is almost a consequence of something subconscious, but Alonso acknowledged its effect.
“We’ve not been able to keep the same levels of ambition and hunger, perhaps the real conviction to go for the championship.”
The way in which they ran out of energy was reminiscent of France’s impotent toil in the 2002 World Cup or Brazil in 2006. Both of those teams had won multiple trophies, but that only led a widespread loss of truly exacting will.
It cuts to the core of the issue. Although many individual Spanish players are still in their prime, and still world-class, the chemistry of a collective is something different. Alex Ferguson arguably knows more about quickly ripping up and rebuilding winning teams than any other manager in the history of the game, and he once revealed his philosophy on it.
“I always believe a four-year cycle is probably the most you can achieve,” the former Manchester United boss said in 2010. “There are very, very few teams who can create more than a four-year cycle.”
Spain were possibly one of them. They went further than any other international side in history by winning that third trophy, and adding Euro 2012 to the silverware 2010 and 2008. Similarly, there was the effect of their deep-rooted coaching revolution two decades ago. As one of the few countries in the world to undertake such a significant step, it gave their international team the cohesion of a club side, beyond anyone else. All of that was only deepened by an actual club side in Barcelona, and the amount of players they provided. It isn’t too long ago that debate raged over whether anyone could do anything against Spainexcept defend very deeply. A fair argument before this World Cup was that, if they simply kept applying their same possession game, they would stay on top.
That was the problem. As Barca began to wane, so did the Spanish team. It is here that Ferguson’s philosophy becomes so telling. Retaining a hard edge requires making hard decisions.
Initially, some of the them may seem ludicrous. Take the decision that first made this Spanish team. Back before Euro 2008, Luis Aragones felt he had to drop Raul. It earned all manner of criticism, and was similar to Ferguson’s sales of Paul Ince and Roy Keane. They all ended up paying off.
Del Bosque was unwilling to be so bold, not least with the declining Iker Casillas. Although he did drop Xavi, it was too late. The damage had been done in the first game against the Dutch. The side’s most symbolic player was simply unable to set the same tone or pace. It meant the Netherlands were able to tear at them like never before, and saw some holes in the side properly ripped open. From there, everything fell through.
That tends to be other trend with such great sides. Their falls are rarely gradual. They are sudden and searing. Although an inherent nous tends to stave off decline for some time, as happened with Spain in Euro 2012 and throughout the 2014 qualifiers, the first proper blow can have a disproportionately profound effect. Once one thing goes wrong, everything unravels.
That was precisely the case in the Dutch game. That 5-1 defeat marked the first time since 6 September 2006 that Spain lost a competitive game after first going ahead. It was as if everything they knew had suddenly evaporated. From there, it all fell apart. The centre didn’t hold. They didn’t know what to do any more.
A suspect defence sank. An unbalanced midfield could no longer play the passes to keep them out of trouble. The strikers couldn’t finish, and that finished them off.
There was just a general discontentment. “The happiness of before is gone,” Alonso said. The fact he was one of the few to front up is even seen as significant. Alonso is known to be deeply unpopular within the team for the sides he took under Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, but that only adds to the feeling general rifts have grown. Some around the camp have contrasted the current situation with Euro 2008. Then, the squad would gather in Joan Capdevila’s room, just having a good time together.
That happiness is gone. That team is gone.

Spain 0-2 Chile, 2014 World Cup

This report originally appeared in the Independent

Spain 0-2 Chile
Miguel Delaney, Maracana
Too tired, too slow and too few points. Spain’s World Cup is over, and an era ends. Vicente Del Bosque’s team have become only the fifth defending champions in history to go out in the group stage, but the first the lose their opening two games and thereby the quickest to ever go home. They are also the first team eliminated from 2014. That sums up the scale of the fall almost as much as the poverty of their play. Chile, as they promised before the game, have made history.
The South Americans also consigned Spanish dominance to the past with a display that brilliantly outpaced their famous philosophy and made it look brutally outdated.
The contrasts seem to be confirmed within minutes. Spain embarked on a relatively sedate spell of passing, only for Chile to snap at the ball and tear at their defence. It caused instant panic, not too dissimilar from the chaos the Dutch created any time they got near the Spanish box last Friday. Arturo Vidal nutmegged Javi Martinez in the box and, just as Eduardo Vargas seemed set to finish, Xabi Alonso took it off his toe… but almost put it into his own net.
Again, chaos. It was a warning, but also a sign.
The fact Martinez was involved indicated that Spain’s problems were perhaps more profound than the choice of personnel. Del Bosque’s side did temporarily recover some of their old confidence, thanks to some composed passing. That at last illustrated that the decision to drop a declined Xavi was not mistaken. For a time, it was Chile forced into errors.
One dreadful pass from Marcelo Diaz needlessly gifted David Silva and Diego Costa the ball and so much space, only for the forward to take it too far then hit a wayward shot. Andres Iniesta collected and the ball came back to Alonso, but goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was equal to it.
Soon, Chile recovered their balance, and upended Spain’s. They certainly left a line of Spanish defenders on the ground as, within four minutes, the South American side surged into the lead.
It was a goal at once glorious and awful. Every Chilean touch was brilliant, every Spanish attempt at a tackle hapless. Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez sleekly worked the ball through to Charles Aranguiz, who cut back for Vargas to cleverly finish.
The raucous Chile fans erupted again, Spain were quietened by what was by now their horror situation: they had to chase the game, under severe pressure from the stakes, but also leaving themselves susceptible to the pace of Sanchez.
One wild Alonso shot revealed their anxiety; a poor Costa finished underlined their lack of edge. By then, there was an impotent toil to their play so reminiscent of France in 2002.
Chile displayed more life and vigour in everything they did. While Spain struggled to generate momentum, the South Americans were winning flying challenges and effortlessly pulling off nutmegs.
The second goal summed it all up, right down to an Iker Casillas error. While Spanish displayed panicked hesitation, Chile emphatically seized the initiative. The goalkeeper punched a free-kick anywhere he could, Aranguiz powered it precisely into the corner.
Costa could not replicate such accuracy at the other end. The Chelsea striker has provoked much debate, from his eligibility to his suitability, but the bottom line here is that he was not fully fit. That was emphasised straight away in the second half, as he squandered the kind of chance he scored all too easily at Atletico Madrid.
Costa did display some of his supreme bustle moments later on, with an impressively improvised bicycle kick to set up Sergio Busquets just yards from the goal.
It was the wrong player, however, and this was the wrong finish. Somehow, Busquets missed.
It was another sign.
The oddity was that Spain had at that point more than enough chances to win the game well. The reality was that they still didn’t deserve to.
Costa eventually went off for Fernando Torres to a chorus of boos, which seemed to sum it all up. Del Bosque had so much talent on the bench and so much depth… but selected a faded star as a saviour.
Salvation didn’t seem set to arrive. Instead, Chile kept delivering dangerous balls in the Spanish half, with Sanchez powering through them in the stark manner of Arjen Robben. It brought even more chaos.
Spain could do nothing like that to Chile. More passes were moved around the box, more shots were sent just wide, but there was never an actual sense it was close.
There was only more laboriousness. Substitute Santi Cazorla attempted to control the ball in a dangerous position but only succeeded in falling over it.
Spain have fallen from their perch. One of the greatest sides of all time have suffered one of the most dismal endings.

Spain: Casillas; Azpilicueta, Martinez, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Alonso (Koke 45); Silva, Iniesta, Pedro; Costa (Torres 63)
Chile: Bravo; Medel, Silva, Jara; Isla, Aranguiz (Guitierez 63), Diaz, Mena, Vidal (Carmona 85); Vargas (Valdivia 84), Sanchez

‘What a waste’ – Keane/Ferguson and Clough/Taylor

This article originally appeared on ESPN
The scene was as sad as it was subtle.
Towards the end of Brian Clough’s final season as Nottingham Forest manager in 1992-93, he was rewarded with the freedom of the city. Duncan Hamilton gives an account of the day in his exceptional book ‘Provided You Don’t Kiss Me’, which covers his years reporting on Clough at Forest, and there is a poignant pay-off. After hours touring the city and talking about his career, Clough turned his attention to someone he hadn’t actually talked to in 10 years.
“There’s just one regret today,” he said to Hamilton, out of nowhere. “I wish me mate had been here with me.”
The journalist didn’t need to ask who. Clough was referring to his former assistant – some might fairly say co-manager – Peter Taylor. They had won the European Cup together in 1979 and 1980, but couldn’t have ended up further apart. The last time they spoke was 1983, after a series of disputes. The saddest part of all was that, in the years before Taylor’s 1990 death, “mate” was the last thing Clough would have called him.
“We used to be friends once,” he had told Hamilton before. “We never will be again. And that’s final.”
At this juncture, it’s far easier to imagine Roy Keane or Alex Ferguson saying something like that about their own failed relationship, rather than lament it in the way Clough ultimately did his.
You only have to look at the words of the last week or last year, as the former Manchester United men offered corrosive public criticisms of each other to go with their autobiographies.
This is not to say Keane or Ferguson were friends, or that their partnership was the same as that of Clough-Taylor, but there are common strands. Those strands also point to something deeper as regards the game, and the nature of successfully leadership. It does not seem a coincidence that two of the most profitable partnerships in English football history dissolved into such ugly rancour. It’s also not like they are completely isolated cases, the mere consequence of cast-iron personalities.
Look at one of the league’s other great dynasties. In the mid-70s, Liverpool had to tell Bill Shankly to stay away from the team, so his own former assistant Bob Paisley could do the job his way. It resulted in the tragic situation of Shankly feeling like a stranger at the club he built.
The Scot once described football’s team ethic as “a form of socialism”, but all of this also sums up the game’s great contradiction. It is based on collectives coming together for a common good, yet the best in history have all been shaped by single dictators – the managers.
Keane pointedly painted Ferguson as something of a tyrant this week, saying he was “all about power and control”. The Irishman has challenged that like no-one else. He has also tackled the elephant – or perhaps the horse – in the room like no-one else, too. Keane utterly nailed the issue of his former manager’s notorious legal dispute over the Rock of Gibraltar racehorse with businessmen JP McManus and John Magnier.
“He was just a mascot for them,” Keane cuttingly states. His book is typically full of such searing comments. That bluntness is often mistaken for bitterness, but no-one who is actually bitter would go to such pains to explain their motivation behind every key moment. The issue instead seems to be Keane is simply incapable of offering his view on anything unless it is exactly what he thinks. That makes ‘The Second Half’ Keane’s honest account. One person’s honesty, however, does not necessarily add up to the whole truth.
Take Keane’s description of the fateful day when Ferguson decided to get rid of him, in November 2005. It is the first time that morning has been outlined in such detail. Keane had notoriously criticised many of his teammates for the 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, having been asked to offer punditry on the club’s TV station. It never went on air. Keane claims he initially managed to clear the air with the squad, before Ferguson then angrily decided they should all watch the tape.
The more Keane explains, the more that two things seem to become clear. The first is that, as honest as the Irishman is, there’s something he isn’t confronting.
Keane admits “the timing was right” as regards his exit, but leaves a question: “I still don’t know exactly why it happened.” He wonders whether it was the dispute in pre-season, or any issue with assistant manager Carlos Quieroz.
“Was I missing something?” Keane asks.
He may have missed the biggest thing of all, and the second thing that becomes apparent from his account.
This does not read like a pure personality clash. It reads like Ferguson doing something Keane had seen so often: taking the opportunity to get rid of someone whose negatives now outweighed the positives.
The manager was asserting his dictatorial control. The suspicion is Ferguson knew Keane was no longer the same player, and that no longer justified his attitude. Simple as that.
There was no residual warmth or personal regard. There was cold and professional business.
It was precisely that decisiveness Keane used to lionise, especially in his first autobiography. Throughout that, he talks about Ferguson with something like a sense of an awe; like as if he’s a father-figure. Ferguson’s own first book from 1999 talked of Keane as the closest person to him in terms of mentality, the incarnation of his attitude on a pitch – like a son. It was special. It is therefore incredible it has come to this, even if always felt someway inevitable.
Clough and Taylor were also said to have something like a familial relationship, but one that was fraternal or akin to a marriage.
Their fall-out similarly involved a corrosive public dispute over an autobiography. Taylor brought one out shortly after the 1980 European Cup, but it wasn’t really about himself. It was about his partner, and actually called ‘With Clough by Taylor’.
Although it formed a brilliant account of how they worked together, Clough was deeply wounded by what Hamilton calls “Taylor’s demeaning psychoanalysis”. Even the root of that was something universal to all this. Taylor and Clough may have been a partnership, but they were not treated equally. Taylor was not paid anything close to Clough’s salary, and did the book to earn more.
It was part of a growing resentment over how much who got rewarded for what, and who was responsible for what. It was about credit and control.
Over the last year, Keane has repeatedly referenced Ferguson criticising players who gave him so much success, as if he feels their role is being downplayed. One comment this week touched on it all.
“A manager who has made millions out of us… and he thinks he can criticise us without anybody saying anything to him because he thinks he’s got all this power.”
There is also a powerful human element to all this. Beyond everything, these men together enjoyed special moments that should only be looked on with happiness. Instead, there’s always that edge, that associated resentment.
Clough finally reflected on that to Hamilton shortly after Taylor died.
“All those years when we could have been sitting together, when he could have come, as an honoured guest… but all we did at the end was slag one another off. Oh, fuck.”
“What a waste.”

Not a thug, far from an oracle, but always enthralling

This originally appeared in 8by8 in December 2013

At first, at least, Roy Keane plays up to so many perceptions.
As he strides into the function room of the Grand Hotel in Malahide for a first press conference in his new role, the just-appointed Irish assistant manager rolls his eyes at all the cameras flashing.
“I wouldn’t be a big lover of the circus,” Keane later says. Over the next 45 minutes, he certainly illustrates that, castigating one journalist for a “stupid question” and initially wearing what can only be described as a severe scowl.
Many other opening enquiries are met with furrowed brow and a look from almost out the side of his eyes. Keane undeniably retains that capacity to reduce the most assertive people to stutters and stumbles over words. That, of course, is down to his own furnace-hot assurance. He isn’t actually the tallest, but has that unmistakeable presence associated with so many such personalities, and is as lean and fit-looking as in his peak playing days. The grey beard which seemed to reflect some of his grizzlier comments as a TV pundit was gone.
By the end in Malahide, too, Keane is laughing loudly and has even referenced his reputation as a “trouble-maker” and “monster” as he sits back in his chair. The mood has changed. He’s also rather frankly fronting up about some of his flaws as a manager. The conversation, which is what his press call evolves into as it comes to the Sunday journalists, is genuinely engaging and interesting – and not because of the typical expectation that Keane will excoriate anyone or anything he doesn’t agree with.
If the former Manchester United midfielder undeniably remains intense, this is very far from the caricature that is so often portrayed.
That is the thing with Keane. For all the perceptions, his personality is far too layered to fit any stereotype. He isn’t a thug, he isn’t an oracle, but he is enthralling. Just when you think you know him, he will surprise you.
The latest swerve is the very decision to accept the job as assistant manager to Martin O’Neill, not least because it meant working for a federation he has deeply criticised in the past, let alone the fact that such a force of personality will be someone’s number two.
Of course, part of the reason he’s here, and part of the reason it looks set to be one of the more intriguing international football storylines over the next two years, is because it recently seemed that Keane didn’t quite know where he was in his career himself.
Most pointedly, it had been almost three years since he was employed as a manager, having been sacked by Ipswich Town in January 2011.
With the only job offers apparently coming from far afield, the famously devoted family man filled his time while working as a pundit and going to Wigan Athletic near his home. He also attracted much attention in Ireland and the UK for bringing ITV presenter Adrian Chiles to watch a Dublin match in the Irish national sport of hurling during the summer. It had been thought the broadcaster would always be much too jokey for a man as supposedly severe as Keane, but all who know the Irishman remark on his sense of humour. As one journalist who got on well with him chatted idly while waiting for an elevator after an interview, Keanewent to press the button. A smile spread across his face. “Straight to hell, is it?”
It did feel as if Keane himself had been in some kind of purgatory over the past two years. Hurling is not the only other sport he follows, and he has repeatedly spoken of his fascination with what makes other professionals tick, particularly those from rugby and boxing. Keane is also a voracious reader.
The difference, however, is that it used to be Keane providing the copy. It all seemed so unclear what he was going to do next.
Two things were always certain. Keane is one of Ireland’s greatest ever players, and the country’s most-discussed and fascinating sporting figure, with the reasons for both overlapping.
If the Corkman was not born with anything like the natural ability of Liam Brady or John Giles, his sheer mentality absolutely maximised the qualities he had to forge a career superior to any of them.
No other Irish sportsman has won so many trophies, and been so central to all of them. That influence is the key.
Beyond the truly transcendent talents fully applying their ability on the highest stages, such as Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup or Leo Messi in the last few seasons of the Champions, it’s genuinely difficult to think of many other players who have so completely imposed their will on individual games in the manner that Keane frequently did. He has a catalogue of such performances.
While the 3-2 win over Juventus in the 1998-99 Champions League semi-final remains the most famous, it is likely trumped by his displays against the Netherlands and Portugal in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, not least because it involved lifting a mid-tier country to a much higher level.
Although Ireland were placed in a group featuring two teams that had just reached the last four of a widely celebrated Euro 2000,Keane drove his side into the top two.
He explained the attitude that drove him at the time, and what he would now demand of the new Irish squad.
“On our day, I’d like to think we would be able to compete with all these countries, absolutely,” Keane said in that recent press conference in Dublin. “The teams when I played with Ireland, I never, ever remember once being in a dressing room with an Irish team and going out thinking we were going to lose.
“We played some big teams. Italy, Germany, the Dutch, the Portuguese. I don’t ever remember looking at players and having any sort of fear and going ‘I’d take a 2-0 defeat here today’. No, no. Let’s go for it.”
He did that. The 1-1 home draw with the Portugal in June 2001 summed up so much of his playing career at that point. With a star-studded attacking pulling the Irish defence all over the pitch, and the reigning world player of the year Luis Figo eventually piercing them with a goal, Keane illustrated he truly belonged in such company by consistently covering errors and then scoring Ireland’s only goal by essentially forcing the ball into the net. At the end of the year, undeniably influenced by Keane’s efforts in the 1-0 victory over the Netherlands, Louis van Gaal gave the Irish midfielder his only vote in that year’s Fifa award.
While club teammate David Beckham earned so much recognition at the time, it was often as if Keane was overlooked precisely because he eschewed the glamour and the “circus”.
The 2002 World Cup was supposed to be his statement tournament, when a 30-year-old in his absolute prime was set to properly announce it. It did end up defining him, but in a very different manner than anticipated.
On the eve of the tournament, Keane’s simmering acrimony with manager Mick McCarthy boiled over into a bitter dispute about what he perceived as Ireland’s poor preparations. The exact mentality that had driven the side to the World Cup in the first place now drove him home.
It remains one of the stand-out moments in Irish sporting history, and brought the country to a stand-still at the time, with the different positions even pointed as reflections of a change in Irish society. It was also to be echoed throughout his career, particularly when he eventually fell out with former mentor Alex Ferguson too.
‘Saipan’ – as the incident has been named after the Pacific island on which it took place – was inevitably mentioned in all the circus surrounding Keane’s appointment, with the coach even joking how O’Neill had questioned his conduct at the time in discussions about the role.
“Martin is entitled to be wrong,” he smiled.
Keane certainly insisted he was in the right in his autobiography, which was published just a few months after the incident. Given the amount of expectation and standards set out in the book, it was often seen as an ‘Art of War’ for managing.
One view put forward in the media at the time was that, while Keane had to make himself a great player, he was born a great manager. That initially seemed the case. His first job at Sunderland even reflected many of his most admirable traits: resilience, defiance and simply refusing to accept failure. The team became renowned for late goals, and it’s easy to forget now that his first two years represented unchecked progress, with Sunderland romping to promotion and then achieving survival in the Premier League.
It wasn’t long, however, until the other side of that will again had an effect. The all-consuming intensity became too much, exhausting both the team and his own powers of securing results. The subsequent 21 months at Ipswich Town were characterised by an apparent inability to deal with players and many of them bristling at some of his man-management.
Ferguson notoriously questioned his former captain’s managerial capabilities in his own recent autobiography.
“As his career in coaching developed, it became apparent that he needed to spend money to achieve results. He was always looking to buy players. I didn’t feel Roy had the patience to build a team.”
Keane refused to discuss Ferguson in Dublin – other than to briefly reference eventually tackling “lies” – but did acknowledge his shortcomings as a manager.
“Where do you want to start?” he said of lessons he’d learnt. “We could be here all day. Mistakes?
“What I would say with anybody is I have made mistakes and I would doubt my recruitment.”
He also admits that lack of patience.
“There are areas I need to look at, particularly now I’m the assistant, when to step back and hopefully I’ll get that right as well.
“There’s a way of getting that message across, how you put the demands on them, you have to treat people with respect and, as I said, hopefully the players from the last days will appreciate, as I said, knowing I need to step back and let Martin run the show. I’m just here to help.
“Hopefully, the players are in for a pleasant surprise, particularly the lads who’ve not worked with me.”
Again, the very fact Keane is so open about this comes as a surprise. It is also for that reason, that willingness to evolve, that the eyebrow-raising partnership with a man as intense as O’Neill could actually work – and allow him to rebuild his coaching career.
There were encouraging signs from the admittedly brief first few days surrounding the friendlies with Latvia and Poland. Keanewas very hands-on on the training ground and all action beside O’Neill on the bench. Their exact characters may mean the manner they complement each other isn’t obvious, but that is not to say it is not possible. At the minute, it looks probable.
For all the reported previous problems with some of the players, too, it is clear many of them are as in awe of him as much of Ireland. After the 3-0 victory over Latvia, Shane Long talked about how Keane had brought them to the cinema – one of his favoured group-bonding activities – to see Gravity in 3D. The image was portrayed of him sitting there with those glasses on.
An admittedly normal act, but by a hugely fascinating figure.
It doesn’t fit the perception.