The story of the mysterious Marco
by Marco Negri with Jeff Holmes
Pitch Publishing, £20
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 342 August 2015
Oleh Kuznetsov, Alan McLaren, Seb Rozental, Daniel Prodan: Rangers had more than their fair share of expensive crocks in the 1990s. But easily the strangest tale was that of Marco Negri, who started off as a superhuman goal-machine and ended up as a Winston Bogarde-like byword for lethargy as his contract slowly dribbled away. Moody Blue is his sporadically diverting attempt to set the record straight.
Readably ghostwritten by a Scottish journalist, Moody Blue is dominated by Negri’s time at Rangers, even though he only played 42 times for them. Signed by Walter Smith for £3.75 million along with several other Italians, his stats for the first half of 1997-98 were fairly special, even in a lopsided SPL. From August to December, he averaged more than a goal a game, scoring 33 times in 29 matches. Then it all abruptly ended when he suffered an eye injury during a game of squash with team-mate Sergio Porrini. Hospital treatment didn’t prevent him being out for months, and his irresistible momentum faded away overnight.
Moody Blue is good on the grotesque culture-clash stuff that characterises books by foreign imports in British football. On one occasion, Negri and Gennaro Gattuso decided to “eat like the Scots before a match, just once”. A few hours later, during the game, Gattuso found himself incapable of belching, and thus unable “to dislodge the rock inside our stomachs”. Negri also couldn’t get used to the uninterrupted flow of SPL matches, remarking that he played in games during which “the referee intervene[d] fewer than ten times”.
Negri got on well with Smith (until the end), but not with assistant coach Archie Knox, who he says picked on him in training. After Rangers were routed by IFK Gothenburg in a Champions League qualifier, Knox hairdryered him in the dressing-room in front of everyone: “Ten minutes of hell, as the attack was aimed especially at me.” To return to the belching theme, he also accuses Knox of often burping loudly while speaking, the polar opposite of Smith, who was apparently “always the epitome of elegance”.
Another nemesis was Ian Ferguson, who regularly addressed him as “fucking Italian”. The feeling was mutual. Negri nicknamed the midfielder “piedi di padella” – which meant pan-feet, or iron-feet, as I didn’t consider him a player of great class”. Lorenzo Amoruso was a much bigger enemy, “the type of person who would travel around the world so that it could see him”. Negri accuses the defender of meddling in his private life, and of backstabbing him by passing comments made in confidence on to the unamused Smith.
Negri doesn’t heap all the blame for his stop-stop career on others. Now 44, he admits that his 27-year-old self was bursting with “conceit and arrogance”. He scores just three goals in the second half of 1997-98, falls out with Smith over the manager’s “no beards or stubble” rule and, with zero interest in playing alongside Amoruso (whom he realises will be the captain for 1998-99), slides into a physical torpor. Rangers owner David Murray rings him at home one evening to resolve the situation, cops a mouthful of abuse – an incident which Negri recounts here with obvious mortification – and stops his wages there and then.
And that’s more or less that, apart from a loan spell at Vicenza, more injuries, three appearances in three years and a bizarre HIV scare after a blood test turns up some unexpected results. Fifteen minutes against Sturm Graz in October 2000, his only ever appearance in the Champions League, are how he signs off. “Looking back, I am proud of the career I made for myself,” he says near the end, though you wonder if he truly believes it himself.
The story of black
by Emy Onuora
Biteback Publishing, £16.99
Reviewed by Paul Rees
From WSC 341 July 2015
The issue of racism in football remains sadly pertinent, as indicated by serial incidents at games in eastern Europe and the taunting of a black man by Chelsea supporters ahead of a Champions League fixture in Paris earlier this year. As such, there is a requirement for a definitive history covering the emergence and ultimate triumph of black footballers in the British game. Emy Onuora would seem to be well-placed to produce it. Brother of erstwhile Huddersfield, Gillingham and Swindon striker Iffy Onuora and a race relations scholar, he promises to bring a unique perspective to his subject but never manages to mould that into a gripping narrative.
Pitch Black is strong on basic detail. It capably charts the rise through the 1970s of players such as Clyde Best at West Ham and West Brom’s so-called Three Degrees, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, relating the vile abuse these early trailblazers were routinely subjected to at grounds across the country. Similarly, Onuora sheds light on the tales of less familiar names. Among them are those of Bradford City’s Ces Podd, the first black British footballer to be granted a testimonial, and Calvin Plummer, a promising young forward with Nottingham Forest press-ganged onto a tour of apartheid-era South Africa by his manager, Brian Clough. However, Pitch Black is undone by the author’s dry writing style, often reading like an academic dissertation, and his unfortunate tendency to continually repeat the same facts.
Onuora’s book also suffers from his apparent lack of access. He recounts the chastening experiences of one black footballer after another, but the reader is deprived of first-hand accounts. As a result Regis, Batson, Garth Crooks, Ian Wright and others pass through Pitch Black like ciphers and with no new flesh being put on the bones of their stories. Onuora is scant on the contemporary game too. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling are all but invisible and he skips over the Luis Suárez and John Terry controversies with undue haste.
Frustratingly, there are the beginnings of a more rounded book here. Onuora touches upon such disparate but integral themes as the upsurge of the National Front, the role taken by football fanzines in confronting racism on the terraces head-on and the paucity of black managers and Asian footballers in the British game, but without burrowing down to extract deeper truths. Other than passing references to evolving hairstyles and “high-five” goal celebrations, he is remiss in tracing the strong influence black culture has had on football and the wider society in this country. Reggae, ska and hip-hop, to name but three black musical forms of incalculable significance, barely rate a mention.
Doubtless, there is a fascinating and important book to be written on this subject, one that is as much a social and cultural document of record on post-war Britain as it is about football. It is a shame that Pitch Black isn’t it.
A life of saving goals and achieving them
by Tim Howard with Ali Benjamin
Harper Collins, £18
Reviewed by Ian Plenderleith
From WSC 338 April 2015
Twice in two pages I laughed out loud during this otherwise unfunny book. When a young Tim Howard arrives in England to play for Manchester United, he calls his compatriot Kasey Keller in London for some advice. “Well, Tim,” says the older, wiser sage of White Hart Lane, “I guess my advice to you would be this: make as many saves as you can.”
Just seven paragraphs later, Howard recalls his senior debut for United and captain Roy Keane’s pep talk before the 2003 Community Shield game against Arsenal. “Just pass it to a red shirt, guys. It’s as simple as that: take the ball and pass it to another player in red.”
The problem with reading footballers’ autobiographies is that you rarely learn anything new. Not about the game and not about the player. As David Foster Wallace wrote in his review of tennis star Tracy Austin’s life story, such books are “at once so seductive and so disappointing for us readers”, because the player is only equipped to “act out the gift of athletic genius”. If they were able to articulate that gift, they probably wouldn’t possess it at all.
That’s where the ghost writer comes in, but they can only work with what they’re given. Howard’s flat account of his life is imbued with the kind of sentimental journalese that signifies a second pair of hands. His ability to overcome Tourette’s syndrome is interesting and admirable, but is not compellingly told because the writer fails to get inside Howard’s head. Either the goalkeeper wouldn’t let her in, or she chose not to go there. While there may have been good reasons for that, it fails to lift the book above its absolutely ordinary level. Instead, the tension is stressed on the Belgium v US World Cup round of 16 game in Brazil, with interludes between each chapter taking us through the action. This was of course a heroic performance by Howard, but we know how it ended. The US lost. It was just last summer, remember?
In fact the most intriguing thing about Howard’s book is how he dodges the issue of his failed marriage. For the longest time we hear only wonderful things about his wife, Laura. Then while in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup Howard blithely springs it on us that he doesn’t miss her any more. He blames the “suspended reality” of life as a football player, “where we retreated... into a kind of grade [junior] school mentality”. His previously extolled faith in God is suddenly of no help. Being “addicted to my job” is the closest we come to learning why he gets divorced from the seemingly perfect mother of his two children (I really hope Laura got a better explanation than that).
Such withheld integrity makes this kind of book a bust. It exists to sell, not because Tim Howard wants to share his world with you. If there’s no narrative, you should stick to making as many saves as you can.
Simply the best
by Tom Miller
Black & White, £9.99
Reviewed by Gordon Cairns
From WSC 337 March 2015
The radio football parody Only An Excuse captured the Scottish perception of Jim Baxter almost to perfection back in the 1980s. His character explains his most famous performance, against England in 1967 where at one point he juggled with the ball: “I had a couple of great teachers... and three White & Mackays and a double Grouse, before I went on the pitch, like. That would explain the languid fluidity.” Unfortunately, the only inaccuracy was the choice of spirit – Baxter preferred Bacardi over whisky. Tom Miller tries to expand on the popular caricature of an incredible footballer who loved a drink by offering an explanation for Baxter’s self-destruction in this new biography, with somewhat limited results.
James Curran Baxter is often described as Scotland’s greatest player but ended a 12-year playing career with only ten domestic medals, which was not a lot given that Rangers were the dominant team in Scotland for most of his time at Ibrox. Perhaps that is why his eulogists focus on individual performances, including two victories at Wembley and being picked for a Rest of the World select. However the extent of Baxter’s drinking and lack of training must surely limit claims that he was truly world class. Although alcohol abuse was rife in the football culture of the 1960s, it’s questionable whether you can consistently operate at the top level with high volumes of alcohol in your bloodstream – Pelé and Eusébio weren’t playing with hangovers.
It seems Baxter’s problem was that he simply didn’t value the natural ability that raised him out of the ordinary, his career a long attempt at sabotaging the skill he possessed. In the most interesting chapter, sports psychologist Tom Lucas examines how never being acknowledged by his birth parents as their son during his playing career may have affected Baxter. (He grew up thinking his real mother was his aunt, who he was raised by.) Lucas’s conjecture is that the pitch was the only place Baxter could escape from the pain of rejection by his mother while his womanising could be connected to his feelings of abandonment.
Published two years after what was billed as “the definitive biography”, the bulk of this book rehashes the well-worn tales of Baxter’s drinking, gambling and occasional footballing. Miller, an in-house commentator for Rangers, didn’t have to wander far in his choice of interviewees, the majority of whom seem to come from the club’s “family”, including current defender Darren McGregor and youth-team coach Davie Kirkwood, I assume because both had played for Fife clubs like Baxter, hardly justifying their inclusion. Baxter’s own voice is barely heard, yet for most of his playing career he wrote syndicated columns. Although ghost-written, surely a trawl through these would have unearthed something more relevant than how McGregor felt when he joined Rangers.
The inclusion of two poems and a selection of pen portraits from the back of football cards feel like fillers to make the book up to the required length. There is no interview with Alex Ferguson, who played alongside Baxter; Scotland’s greatest manager’s views on getting the best from Scotland’s most talented player would have been compelling. Neither is there any input from Baxter’s sons or first wife, which could have given greater insight into how he felt about family, especially if he had issues about abandonment.
The autobiography of Jimmy Case
by Jimmy Case
John Blake, £18.99
Reviewed by Seb Patrick
From WSC 337 March 2015
If things had worked out differently, Hard Case could have been the first footballer’s autobiography to be crowdfunded. Jimmy Case and his ghostwriter Andrew Smart initially sought to get the book printed via online publisher Unbound, a site on which authors solicit advance orders for titles, last year but Case’s memoir didn’t attract enough pledges. Undaunted, they’ve instead managed to find a traditional publisher to take it on – but unfortunately, this change in approach doesn’t seem to have affected the content of the book, which feels badly in need of a stronger editor’s hand.
What becomes immediately apparent from its disjointed, conversational style is that Hard Case is essentially a transcription of Case talking about his career and sharing anecdotes. An opening chapter centred on his Wembley experiences at both Liverpool and Brighton suggests that these thoughts have been grouped together in some kind of thematic order; but from then on it’s a roughly chronological run through his playing career, which nevertheless takes in several diversions forwards or backwards whenever the mood strikes him to refer to something elsewhere.
It’s clear that making itself an accessible read is one of Hard Case’s foremost aims – it’s a welcoming book, from its fairly large print size to its apparent desire to directly replicate the experience of hearing Case reminisce in person. But this style lends itself to repetitiveness very quickly, and by the time you’ve read him guess at having played “thirty-seven games” for the reserves in a particular season only ten pages or so after having already stated that same figure as precise fact, you begin to yearn for Smart to start interfering in the narrative a bit more decisively.
Case himself is difficult not to warm to, especially when telling the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell directly to his face that he hates him, or responding to a Kenny Sansom taunt about his lack of England caps with the reply “Sorry, I thought you said European Cups”. In his time at Liverpool he was the archetypal example of a hard-working, tough-but-honest 1970s pro and his career is littered with distinctive quirks, from being allowed to continue his apprenticeship as an electrician after signing for Liverpool (essentially becoming a semi-pro player for two years) to being a contemporary of Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan who was somehow still playing in the Football League as late as 1995.
Yet while there’s much about Case’s career that was unique to him, there are also a good number of his stories – especially on the pitch – that are on the somewhat generic or predictable side. He even manages to squeeze in perhaps one of the most forgettable Bill Shankly stories yet recounted in an autobiography. It’s a shame that so many of these take up space that could have better been spent exploring his life outside football a bit more.
Instead, once the tale of his later years on the south coast is concluded, Case switches to a chapter in which he discusses the present-day Liverpool side’s prospects with an optimism born out of the events of the 2013-14 season. It’s an ill-advised sojourn that has the effect of severely dating Hard Case even before it’s reached shelves; and it’s symptomatic of a book that, for all its good intentions and occasionally lively source material, is sorely in need of knocking into better literary shape.
The story of Frank Large
by P F Large
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Alan Fisher
From WSC 336 February 2015
Growing up in the early 1960s, I got to know the players not through television or the papers but via my collection of bubble gum cards. On the front was a colour photo of my heroes, I devoured the brief biography on the back. Many times I shuffled the pack to create imaginary teams but one man always led the line.
Frank Large was the epitome of what I believed a centre-forward should be. Rock solid, over six foot tall, his rugged face battered, I presumed, from aerial battles with similarly uncompromising defenders. The right attributes too: “Honest, works hard, good in the air.” False nines, a pivot, mobile and pacy, I get it, times have changed but that image remains.
Large played for nine League clubs between 1958 and 1973, a total of 629 appearances including three spells at Northampton Town. His career spanned four divisions and he scored goals in all of them, well over 200 in total.
Large’s assessment of his talents is characteristically straightforward: “I can only do one thing but I’m good at it.” The story of this engaging, open man is lovingly told by his son through match reports, personal memories and interviews with ex-pros and managers, including his boss at Fulham Bobby Robson, who speaks with the humour and tenderness that footballers of a certain generation reserve for team-mates who they respect as a professional and friend. There’s a theme though – knock it up to Frank, Frank gets on the end of it, Frank never gives up.
Managers wanted him, often to give that extra push for promotion or to stave off relegation. Yet he was also easily dispensable as these same managers looked to upgrade. In 1966 alone he played for Carlisle, Oldham and Northampton. If he had regrets, he seldom showed them because this proud man was grateful for the chance to play.
There’s no in-depth analysis but the many anecdotes portray the life of this football man as a world away from that of today’s top professionals. Arriving at Halifax, his first club, he looked so bedraggled the other players gave him clothes. His reward for a cup run with Northampton was four new tyres for his second-hand turquoise Mini Clubman. There are many more and enjoyable they are too.
Perhaps the most telling insight comes when the game has finished with him. Returning home after his first morning in a factory, lungs and eyes chocked with toxic dust, he vows never to return yet picks himself up and endures the Dickensian conditions, 60 hours a week for 11 years, to provide for his family.
Frank Large died in 2003 aged 63, content in retirement in Ireland. His son’s readable, pleasing account does ample justice both to his father and a bygone age of football. Then again, Large will always be fondly remembered by supporters across the country as much for his wholehearted approach as for his goals. One of his most important for Leicester in Division One is described thus: “Frank slides in on his arse and crashes a shot into the top corner.” That’s my kind of centre-forward.
by Jeremy Goss with
Amberley Publlishing, £12.79
Reviewed by Paul Buller
From WSC 336 February 2015
Jeremy Goss is not a player who can claim to have had a long and illustrious career. He did, however, light up English football in Europe after its very darkest days and brought myself and other Norwich City fans two seasons of sheer pleasure, the like of which we’ll probably never experience again.
Best known for his UEFA Cup goals in 1993 that helped Norwich become the only English side ever to beat Bayern Munich at their Olympic stadium, the midfielder briefly became a household name. His rise to fame, however, was as much a surprise to him as it was to those of us in the stands at Carrow Road who’d watched him endlessly trudge up and down the sidelines hoping to get a game.
Goss’s story charts his time in the wilderness very personably and it’s hard not to feel for him. Stuck in the reserves at Norwich for ten years, to this day he holds the record for most consecutive picks as first-team substitute (18). He doesn’t drink, he rarely goes out with the lads and he trains harder than anyone at the club. He’s sick of hearing managers tell him “Your time will come, son”. Yet every time he tries to move clubs, Norwich give him a new contract.
Perversely then, things work out for him just at the point he’s decided he doesn’t care anymore. He has become so sick of Andy Townsend getting picked ahead of him that he decides to go off the rails and enjoy a few pints, get a bit lippy around the training ground and nastier on the pitch. Enter the new manager, Mike Walker, who tells Gossy he’s going to build the team around him. And he does. Goss becomes an integral part of a Norwich team who start the season by beating Arsenal 4-2 at Highbury, are eight points clear at the top of the inaugural Premier League in December and finish in third place having qualified for the UEFA Cup.
On top of this he starts scoring spectacular goals – namely 20-yard volleys that win him goal of the month on Match of the Day, an honour he is almost childishly (and touchingly) proud of. A season in Europe ensues and Goss plays his huge part in creating history. He and the team believe they’re going to win the UEFA Cup and only Inter put a stop to it in the third round. And then his career crumbles as suddenly as it rose. Walker leaves for Everton, players are sold, Goss is back in the reserves.
Tales of banter are refreshingly scarce; this is a story of how hard work, dedication and an incredible belief gave Goss and his team their just rewards at a time when football was still more about competition than money. Gossy is a proper story and an interesting insight into what a footballer is actually paid to do – train, work hard, play and win. And he enjoys it. At the end of the book, whether you’re a Norwich fan or not, you can’t help but admire the man.
The life and crimes of
a footballing enigma
by Alan Pattullo
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 336 February 2015
For someone who so determinedly shunned the media throughout his playing career Duncan Ferguson had quite a knack for grabbing headlines. The two were intrinsically related of course and contributed to him polarising opinion like few other Scots-born players have in recent decades, with perhaps only Graeme Souness ahead in the queue. This book lays bare not only justifications for his brooding hostility towards the press pack but also in turn how such unwillingness to explain himself fuelled antipathy towards him, especially in Scotland.
For those with strongly held opinions over whether Ferguson was a chronic underachiever with delinquent tendencies or a mixed-up kid who just needed to feel appreciated it’s unlikely this thoughtful and even-handed appraisal by Alan Pattullo will persuade them to change camps. Among the undecided there is simply just a lot more to ruminate over.
On the playing side the book chronicles Ferguson’s emergence as an exciting prospect at Dundee United, a then record-breaking £4 million transfer fee when he moved to Rangers in 1993, his failure there and the headbutt on Raith Rovers’ Jock McStay that led to a short jail sentence, a smattering of generally underwhelming international appearances and finally rejuvenation of sorts, eight sendings-off and near folk-hero status in two spells at Everton. Off the field Ferguson also emerges as no less paradoxical. For every interviewee testifying that he was “fun”, “sensitive” or had “a heart of gold” there is another portraying him as a “hellraiser”, “cruel” or “difficult to like”.
It’s hard not to escape the view that Ferguson’s early experiences under the successful but authoritarian Jim McLean at Tannadice shaped his seemingly ambivalent attitude towards the game. Along with notoriously long contracts to tie players down, there were results-driven pay packages with low basic wages topped up with relatively handsome appearance and win bonuses. This bred a “brutal” culture within the club where players competed ferociously with one another to make sure they were in the matchday squads. Newcomers were treated as unwelcome potential rivals and details of how Ferguson once humiliated a young German trialist by cutting up his suit in the dressing room make for particularly uncomfortable reading.
His penchant for getting into trouble ultimately led to a spell in Barlinnie prison. This was viewed as harsh by some but three previous convictions for assault prior to the McStay incident hardly stood him in good stead in court. However no one in the book offers any support for the SFA also seeking to impose a 12-game ban as its own punishment – a move that wholly soured Ferguson’s relations with the Association and all but extinguished his desire to play for Scotland.
It was letters of support from Everton fans, including one from a young Wayne Rooney, that Ferguson credits with keeping him going through those dark days and helped forge the strong relationship he has with the club to this day. Pattullo, like others who have taken a keen interest in his tumultuous career, could barely imagine him ever becoming a coach but there he is, an integral part of Roberto Martínez’s back-up team at Goodison Park. Heavens he’s even started speaking to the press occasionally. Maybe the autobiography will be next.
The man who said no to England
by Dave Thomas
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Harry Pearson
From WSC 335 January 2015
Jimmy Adamson was born in Laburnum Terrace, Ashington, a few doors along from Bobby and Jack Charlton. All three would be Footballers of the Year. They shared character traits too; Adamson had Big Jack’s abrasiveness and Bobby’s tendency to aloofness. Unfortunately he didn’t have the charm of the former, or the diplomatic skills of the latter. The result, as lifelong Burnley fan Dave Thomas relates, in this illuminating and well told biography, was a career that promised much but ended in frustration.
Adamson’s childhood was brutally hard. His father abandoned the family at an early stage; his mother’s struggle to raise her children on her own ended in depression and suicide. Later he would suffer the horror of having his two children predecease him.
Whisked away to Burnley as a teenager after the north-east clubs took their traditional path of rejecting a local star, Adamson started as a winger but soon switched to half-back. Intelligent, tough, with a rare ability to pick a pass, he quickly became one of the stars of the team that took the League title in 1960.
As a coach Adamson was ahead of his time, a thinker and a tactician. After serving as assistant to Walter Winterbottom at the 1962 World Cup, he was offered the England manager’s job but turned it down to stay on at Turf Moor as player and eventually – after some backstage shenanigans to oust incumbent Harry Potts – the manager.
From Potts, Adamson inherited a side rich in young talent, labelling it “the team of the Seventies”. Unfortunately the economics of football had changed since his playing days and small-town clubs such as Burnley now struggled to compete with the big-city sides. The resulting financial pressures brought Adamson into conflict with Burnley chairman Bob Lord. Sitting in the head office of his butchery business in front of a large portrait of Winston Churchill, the man Arthur Hopcraft called “the Khrushchev of Burnley” was a self-made autocrat straight out of satire. (Indeed, one of the many entertaining nuggets the author has dug out is the fact that Brian Glanville wrote a sketch about Lord for That Was The Week That Was. Sadly it was never performed.)
As “the team of the Seventies” were dismantled to pay for ground improvements and fend off debt (and to line Lord’s pockets, it is alleged) the once close relationship between the two men descended into acrimony. “I wanted to build a team, the chairman wanted to build a stadium,” Adamson famously remarked after the split finally came.
Away from Turf Moor, Adamson never really settled. A spell at the side he had wanted to play for as a boy, Sunderland, ended after a couple of inconclusive seasons, the appointment at Elland Road in 1978 was fraught with problems from the off. By then alcohol seems to have blunted Adamson’s talent and exacerbated his prickliness. After Leeds he did not work in football again.
Adamson continued to live in Burnley, but was so bitter about his treatment by Lord he refused to go and watch even after his nemesis had departed. Thankfully he eventually made his peace with the club he had served so well. He received a warm and heartfelt ovation from Clarets fans on his return to Turf Moor. It gave some semblance of a happy ending to a life marred by rancour and loss.
by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle
Reviewed by Dave Hannigan
From WSC 335 January 2015
Near the very end of this book, Roy Keane fondly remembers a night at Nottingham Forest when Brian Clough gifted him a £50 note for accompanying him to a charity event. For a 19-year-old neophyte in 1990, that was a substantial sum and the memory stuck with him. Yet, earlier in the narrative, he talks about telling his family they would all have to cut back after he departed Manchester United, by which time his personal fortune was, according to Sunday newspaper rich lists, well north of £20 million.
That sort of inconsistency is rife in these pages, as rife it would seem as it is in Keane’s personality. He hates publicity and craves anonymity yet for the past decade of his life, he has spoken out so often about so many topics that he’s the footballing equivalent of singer/shock merchant Sinead O’Connor. He’s livid at Alex Ferguson for criticising players and being disloyal but, as he trawls through his own managerial stints at Sunderland and Ipswich, he sticks the boot into those who he believes let him down.
If those sort of double-standards are infuriating, this is still a very entertaining account of the subject’s life since the publication of his first autobiography in 2002. Keane is forthright about most (crucially not all) subjects and, as fans of his fast-paced fiction will already know, ghostwriter Roddy Doyle has a wonderful light, comic touch. His handling ensures that this fairly crackles along while offering glimpses of life behind the scenes at Old Trafford, the Stadium of Light and Portman Road.
For all that though there’s something terribly dissatisfying here. Firstly, all the best gags lose their impact because you’ve already read them somewhere else. Secondly, several times you think Keane is finally going to open up about the demons that drive and torment him. Yet he doesn’t. Drink is discussed more than once but by the end of the book you are no nearer understanding the exact nature of his troubled relationship with alcohol.
Strangely for a memoir, he also swerves away from discussing his family. That may be his prerogative but when he makes references to the adverse impact of controversies on his wife and kids, you expect a little more substance about that side of his life. Surely, the very purpose of a serious autobiography is to show the man behind the lazy tabloid caricature.
Even if it is getting tiresome, Keane is still to be commended for having the guts to rail about Ferguson, the game’s most sacred sacred cow. Yet Irish readers in particular will be disappointed he hasn’t a single thing, positive or negative, to say about John Delaney, chief executive of the FAI, and beyond Keane himself, the most controversial figure in the sport in Ireland. Did the current Ireland assistant-manager pull his punches? Or is he learning to be smart when it comes to staying gainfully employed? Like so much else in this book, there remain more questions than answers.