Category Archives: Reviews

Tell It Like It Is

prawn sandwich

Whilst the esteemed editor of this organ donned his #5 cap to mix it up with the D-list shitterati at Rio Ferdinand’s book launch (see last month’s issue), I was handed the task of reporting back from Roy Keane’s gig at LCCC where he was appearing ‘in conversation’ with ghostwriter Roddy Doyle and Jim White of The Telegraph to promote his latest opus, The Second Half (Orion Publishing, £20).

The last one of these things I attended was Fergie’s appearance at The Lowry a year ago where he was publicising his recently released autobiography. This promised to be a similar setup – a free signed copy of the book was on offer alongside the possibility of picking up some interesting tidbits that hadn’t previously been made public. Unfortunately that night at the Lowry didn’t really deviate from the carefully managed script, as Fergie didn’t let his guard drop once under a very gentle grilling from the BBC’s Dan Walker. An evening with Roy Keane, I was pleased to discover, proved to be far more interesting and enlightening.

Shortly after the publicised start time of 7pm, there he was. Looking as trim as he did in his playing days, with no discernible middle-aged paunch and remarkably fresh faced since the terrifying beard he’d been sporting in recent months had been removed. Jim White then did the introductions, throwing in the somewhat outlandish claim that Keane and Doyle were the authors of “not only the finest football book, but the finest book you’ll read this year.”

White then proceeded to ask the first question, “what was your motive for writing the book?”, which in truth was his last meaningful input all evening as Keane needed little encouragement to talk….and talk and talk. He’s passionate, forthright and a great storyteller – one was left with the impression that Roddy Doyle’s task of transcribing Keane’s thoughts into written form was fairly straightforward one, given the fact he’s such a relaxed and candid interviewee.

The reason the book was so newsworthy, of course, was that it presented Keane with the opportunity to give a full and frank account of the events leading up to his departure from United. As anticipated, he doesn’t shy away from giving his version of the facts. There were disagreements with Carlos Queiroz along the way, but things came to a head with the infamous, never aired MUTV interview and the subsequent ‘airing of the grievances’ meeting with the entire first team squad and coaching staff in attendance. Keane (sort of) accepts that he played a part in his own downfall, his main beef is that “stuff said afterwards irritated me” and his belief that Ferguson and David Gill “should have done better by me.”

If Keane is bitter about anything, it’s about the way he was portrayed as a single-minded, loose cannon who needed reining in. If he was so unprofessional and unapproachable, he argues, how could he have survived at a club like United for over 12 years? “Yes, there were personality clashes like in any workplace, but it was no big deal.” It’s hard not to have sympathy with his reasoning here. United/Ferguson, after all, were the beneficiaries of Keane’s insane-level drive and will-to-win for many years. Put it this way: I very much doubt he’d have seen his contract terminated if the post-Boro blow-up had happened a few years earlier when he was in his prime as a player, and not the battle scarred veteran he’d become by 2005.

In spite of the acrimonious ending to his United career, Keane spoke very fondly about his time at the club and still has a lot of respect for Ferguson, describing him as a “great manager”. He clearly has a lot of time for his former teammates, “top quality players”, sharing a dressing room ethos where “there was no messing about… we wanted to win the match and to train properly”. Understated, perhaps… but from the mouth of Roy Keane, this is high praise indeed.

roy keane roddy doyle

Keane conceded that he made numerous mistakes during his time at the club, admitting when he first arrived in Manchester he was anything but the über-serious professional he was renowned as later in his career. He recalled a big fall out with Brian Kidd in the days between winning the league at Middlesborough and the ’96 Cup Final, partaking in a week-long bender which resulted in him reporting for training each morning still suffering the effects of the night before. Then, after being named MOTM on the Saturday, greeting a disbelieving Kiddo at the bar during the post match celebrations whilst getting stuck into the Bacardi.

There are regrets too, particularly some of the things he said in the heat of the moment. “Maybe this team needs to be broken up” post-Bayern in 2001 was, on reflection, a misguided attempt to elicit a response from the team following another disappointing defeat. The ‘prawn sandwich’ comment too, a dig against United fans that was manna from heaven for the ABU nation was merely him sounding off, “looking for an angle, to get a response off people… trying to get Old Trafford rocking.”

After an hour of listening to Keane, and a few minutes worth of Roddy Doyle who described his reasons for getting involved and the process of writing the book, the microphone was then passed to the floor as the audience were invited to ask questions. This led to another hour of recollections as Keane (now fully warmed up) answered everything thrown at him with complete candour and a total disregard for the fact there were a few hundred people present.

Some of his comments led to a couple of news stories later in the week after details reached journalists’ hands, but in truth nothing was said that was particularly inflammatory when taken in context. There were a slight digs at Bryan Robson and Paddy Crerand, as Keane made the point that club employees don’t make the most unbiased of pundits – he jokingly described the MUTV ex-players cabal as “like the Mafia or something.”

Another question led to a telling insight to how United approached games under Ferguson, or more to the point, how we didn’t approach them. “We wouldn’t be analysing teams too much. That was one of our strengths… we kept it unbelievably simple.” He only recalled Fergie getting senior players together for a pre-match meeting on a handful of occasions. Once, when the subject of dealing with the specific threat of Steve McManaman arose, Keane’s surprise and confusion about even being asked for his input was priceless, “umm… we’ll deal with him… he’s not Pele!”

All in all it was a great night. Keane was on top form and anything but the scowling, embittered figure he’s often portrayed as in the media. The book itself? Even if it’s not, as Jim White claims, the finest thing you’ll read this year, it’s still worth a couple of hours of your time ploughing through it. The motivation behind doing it, he explained, was simply “giving my opinion”, rather than “slagging everybody off” as has been claimed.

That’s essentially the crux of Roy Keane – it’s what made him a great leader on the pitch, and latterly, great value as a studio pundit. If someone asks him a question, he will answer it. Truthfully. Football is full of anodyne, media trained monkeys trotting out bland platitudes which you just know don’t truly reflect their private thoughts. Keane is different in that he actually says what he thinks. There’s no agenda there, everything he says is packed with truthiness. You don’t agree with him? That’s no problem, you’re entitled to your opinion too.

Copyright Red News – November 2014

www.rednews.co.uk

Clap Your Hands

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The story of Happy Mondays is one that’s been attempted a few times, with much that has been written regurgitating the same myths and half truths that made the band so tabloid friendly during their pomp. Whereas The Stone Roses projected an air of insouciant cool and are regularly awarded ‘greatest debut album of all time’ plaudits, any mention of the Mondays tends to prompt memories of the cartoonish Shaun and Bez double act rather than any appreciation of the group’s talents or their lasting musical legacy.

Happy Mondays Excess All Areas – A Biography by Simon Spence (Aurum Press, £20) attempts to delve behind the legend and hearsay surrounding the two frontmen and instead tell the definitive story of the band as a whole. The format here is the same as Spence’s previous effort, the excellent The Stone Roses – War and Peace that was released a couple of years ago. Like that book, this latest is meticulously researched and based on many hours of fresh interviews with band members, family, friends, associates and numerous industry faces.

These first hand accounts enable Spence to present a detailed history of the band and paint a vivid (and often laugh out loud funny) picture of greyed out, 1980’s Manchester undergoing its transformation into Day-Glo, early 90’s Madchester. The story of Factory and Tony Wilson has been done to death in recent years, almost becoming an industry in itself – so it’s to the author’s credit that he manages to put a fresh slant on proceedings here. Indeed, one senses that Wilson didn’t really have much time for the band until key earners New Order went into hiatus just as the Mondays suddenly and unexpectedly blossomed into the most exciting rock and roll band on the planet.

Alongside the usual tales of hedonism and excess (nothing you’ve heard previously was exaggerated), Spence’s major achievement is how he skilfully evokes the visceral thrill of the Mondays’ music on those first 3 seminal albums. In spite of being out of control and fronted by a pair of drug-fuelled nutters, the band produced a cosmic slop of sound that was miles ahead of its time then, and still sounds startlingly original now. It made me want to go back and listen properly for the first time in 20 odd years, so I’ll conclude by recommending you pick up this excellent book and then do the same.

Copyright Red News – October 2014

www.rednews.co.uk

Tip-Toe Through The Tulip

Louis Van Gaal

Louis Van Gaal doesn’t need much of an introduction – he’s been a well known football face since he rose to international prominence as coach of the all-conquering Ajax side of the early 90’s. Outspoken and never far from controversy or shy of confrontation, he’s dominated the back pages of Spain, Germany and his native Holland for the best part of 3 decades. Now newly installed as United boss, one anticipates that a repeat scenario over here is completely inevitable.

Coinciding with his arrival at Old Trafford is the release of Louis Van Gaal – The Biography by Maarten Meijer (Ebury Press, £16.99). Meijer is a Dutch football commentator and academic who has previously published books on Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat. This latest effort offers a welcome crash course in the life and times of the man christened the ‘Iron Tulip’ by the German press.

The book is a comprehensive run through Van Gaal’s career to date and an attempt to dig beneath the public perception of him as nothing more than a bullying, dogmatic control freak. Sound familiar? Oh yes, it’s pretty striking how many parallels there are between Van Gaal and Sir Alex Ferguson. Unspectacular playing career? Check. Incredible work ethic? Check. Belief in youth? Check. Love of rotation and constant tinkering? Ch… you get the idea.

Unlike Ferguson, Van Gaal has never managed to stay in one place beyond a few years, however. The author details the reasons why tenures at Ajax, Barca and Bayern all ultimately unravelled, mainly due to his autocratic style being at odds with the political structures in place at each of these European giants. That said, Meijer also describes a man capable of embracing change who’s refined his football vision over the years. Meijer suggests LVG’s first spell at Ajax imploded as the demands of his ‘total football’ philosophy took a physical toll on his group of players. Van Gaal went on to revise this singular approach in later years, with his title winning team at AZ Alkmaar instead characterised by an ultra-direct, counter-attacking style of play.

After detailing a career built on principles of “discipline, structure and organisation”, Mejier reaches a conclusion of sorts by proposing that LVG has shown signs of mellowing in recent times and the ‘Van Gaal 2.0’ arriving in England is a more “relaxed and diplomatic” creature. The squad of players he’s inherited (not to mention the Manchester press pack) will certainly be hoping so.

During his first season at Munich (when Van Gaal took on an underachieving side and led them to the brink of the treble) Karl-Heinz Rummenigge expressed delight with the new appointment, “he’s the right man at the right club at the right time.” Whether that’s the case now remains to be seen – although based on the evidence presented here, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun finding out.

Strap yourselves in, people.

Copyright Red News – August 2014

www.rednews.co.uk