Roy Keane embraces Manchester United’s misery like no other

Roy Keane embraces Manchester United’s misery like no other

Roy Keane embraces Manchester United’s misery like no other

Keane is not part of a new documentary about United’s glory years, preferring to wallow in their current woes instead – Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

From this Friday, on Amazon Prime, we will be able to watch 99, a three-part documentary series on Manchester United’s Treble. Everyone who was there seems to be involved, giving their memories of a hectic few days in May, 25 years ago. Except for one glaring absentee. According to the show’s producer – a certain David Beckham – Roy Keane refused to participate because he prefers not to look back on a time that, due to his enforced absence from the Champions League final that was the culmination of the historic threesome, is shrouded in personal trauma.

Mind, you would have thought he’d be used to that by now, given his job these days seems to consist of nothing but embracing misery. Almost every game on Sky sees the former United captain fuming about the state of the club where he won so much. And here on Sunday afternoon he was again, obliged to analyse a critical moment at the business end of the Premier League season. The disappointment for him was that United were only peripheral to it. And the further bad news was that the side who are still in contention, intent, as his colleague Peter Drury put it, on going all the way, are Arsenal.

Yes, it is the very team that, when he led United to victory after victory, most raised his hackles, against whom he embarked on a one-man campaign of terror, who are in with a chance of lifting the title. And to rub salt in his ever widening mental wounds, the wretched news after spending the afternoon in the Sky studio at Old Trafford was that his old team did so little to stop the old enemy progressing.

“I bet Arsenal could not believe how bad United were,” he said after the visitors had won 1-0. “Whatever bit of possession they had, they wasted. Remember the great players they have had here, then you see this. The lack of quality, people making mistakes, falling over, no one making demands of each other, no one calling each other out. That United team there…”

And he paused for a moment to find the appropriate words as he shook his head.

“So bad.”

Not that that should come as a surprise. This United team have been plumping new depths all season. The Sky approach to a game in which the only plausible doubt was how many Arsenal would win by was to spend an hour before kick off ratcheting up the jeopardy by heading back in time. For much of the build-up, the ever-excellent presenter Dave Jones did his best to present a narrative in which history was stacked against Arsenal: how many times did we hear how seldom they had won at Old Trafford? Though it has to be said, in all those past failures to secure three points at the ground, Arsenal were not facing a side as bad as Erik ten Hag’s.

To reinforce the message, Sky sent history out onto the pitch during the pre-match warm-ups, in the shape of two enormous figures from United’s past. Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney (in Rooney’s case an ever more enormous figure of the past) analysed the current bunch of players even as they kicked a ball around a couple of yards away. It was a nice touch, a riposte to Ten Hag’s claim this week that the former United stalwarts criticising his approach know nothing about football.

Wayne Rooney at Old TraffordWayne Rooney at Old Trafford

Rooney was on hand before the game to critique his former team – Manchester United/Ash Donelon

As a critique of Neville in particular, it suggests the United manager has not listened to his co-commentary often. Anyone who has knows what Neville does better than anyone else in broadcasting right now is to produce coherent, sharp and concise evaluation at a speed rather beyond some of United’s defenders. His analysis of the Arsenal goal was a model of its kind, immediately spotting Casemiro’s culpability. Keane, who had a little longer to prepare his words, was equally critical of the Brazilian at half-time: “He’s not done the basics here,” he moaned, his voice sounding wearier by the second.

In the second half, in truth, there was less to report. Not even much in the way of United misery. Things got so dull that Drury, unable to deliver his trademark shout of a player’s full name whenever anyone has a shot on target largely because there were so few shots on target, gave a nod to the noise emanating from the Stretford End. Though he didn’t point out that the chant being sung solidly for a good 10 minutes was about George Best: history, it seems, is all they have at Old Trafford.

For Keane meanwhile, his face greying faster than his beard, someone needs to give him a break soon. Maybe, as therapy, the BBC should have offered him a gig reporting on his old club’s women’s team lifting the FA Cup with a victory over Tottenham just as the game at Old Trafford began. After all, giving his views on Ella Toone, Rachel Williams and Lucia Garcia, showing the kind of qualities their male counterparts singularly lack, would surely cheer him up. Though knowing Keane, even their triumph would not enthuse. “Girls,” he would have said, “it’s Spurs.”

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