In The Tempest, Caliban complains to his master, Prospero, You taught me language: and my profit ont is I know how to curse
Four games into his latest comeback and the football world waits to see whether Roy Keane has become a convert to Sun Tzes Art of War offensive strategy that To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.
Or is the King of Cork still living by his own unwritten rules of sporting warfare? Rules which have been his battle code of honour for fifteen years.
Rule 1 The greater the pain of rejection the more powerful the desire to succeed
At the age of 15, Keane was rejected by every club he approached for being too small. But size isn’t everything, he might snarl to his image in the mirror.
Many high achievers are driven by deep feelings of insecurity, while well-adjusted people do not always make great competitors. The sporting greats convert their insecurities into a powerful energy machine and rejection acts as a spur to success.
Some people take rejection as confirmation that they are not good enough. They accept it: winners like Roy Keane dont. They use it as motivation to power them to the top.
Rule 2: When a man lays down a challenge – accept it
In the 1999 Champions League semi final against Juventus, United are two goals down. Keane seizes the opportunity to be the warrior hero, leading his team through to victory and eventual memorable triumph in Camp Neu.
The greats thrive in situations like this, because they love the sharp edge of competition. It enables them to hone their greatness, to demonstrate their worth, to take their game to another level; the ultimate, blessed place nirvana
These are the elusive moments when the game and the player become one. Its known as deep play, whereby the game is subsumed within the player who becomes an expression of the game. They are in The Zone.
Such moments can be rare in a sportsmans career. Mike Atherton, in a celebrated career on crickets frontline talks of only experiencing it once, famously in his marathon Johannesburg innings.
In addition, the Turin challenge enables Roy Keane to prove to himself that he is worthy of wearing the shirt. Dont forget that at fifteen, he wrote to every first division club for a trial except Man. Utd, in the belief that he wasnt good enough for the worlds most famous club.
Turin is the triumphant night for growing up. Twelve years on, Roy and the shirt are in symbiosis; from being an insecure tenant he has claimed ownership
Rule 3 Only losers take a backward step
In 1999 referee Andy DUrso makes a mistake and awards Middlesboro a dubious penalty. Keane famously rails at Andy, veins bulging in his head. Authority and injustice; perfect targets for Rampaging Roys Rage.
The rebel confronts the authority figure. DUrso scurries away, Keane and the United pack come at him.
In Roy Keanes rules of sporting warfare, the man who takes a backward step is the loser. DUrso is the victim; Keane the winner. The warrior.
Secondly the team arent performing. Keane complains about Uniteds crippling complacency. He, the warrior, has to suffer while others tolerate second best.
Interestingly, his mobile phone number is not known to his teammates. If he were to let his colleagues into his private world he may lose his unapproachable image and reduce his effectiveness as a leader. And winner.
Keane grumbles about the softness of his teammates. Thus a cocktail of lonely rebel, schoolyard bully and streetwise hard man triggers a surge of testosterone and an overdose of white line fever.
Rule 4 – The best way to get even is to give back in full measure what you have taken
They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but Roys revenge on Alfie Haaland was a hot, steaming spicy vindaloo, made up of two ingredients.
At Elland Rd, Haaland is winding RK up. After a mistimed tackle, RK is hurt. Haaland is standing over him, shouting, Get up, stop faking it
Haaland, like McCarthy, Shearer and countless others provoke him because they know he will take the bait. He takes it personally because it can be nothing but a personal attack.
Haaland accuses him of faking injury. Keane reads it as an attack on his manhood but, at a deeper level, its personal rejection. Roy the man is being rejected. Remember how rejection mocked him as a fifteen year old. RK needs to burn off the bitter memory.
Secondly throughout his rehabilitation period, Keane is thinking about Alfie. Plotting?
The opportunity comes at Old Trafford in the Manchester derby.
Revenge; a strategy to exorcise humiliation; a way to get even; to live by the rules for sporting warfare.
Rule 5 – Beware bluffers, bullshitters and yes men
Mick McCarthy understood one of the key rules of sporting warfare when confronting his captain in Saipan,When faced with an angry opponent, irritate him.
Roys Saipan Showdown is triggered by the perception that he is being set up by the management team.
This is the culmination of a series of instances in which the Irish management have been less than perfect, the effects of which have been simmering in his subconscious like slow-burn dynamite: now the fuse is lit.
Roy sees his team-mates are not supporting him, so now he becomes the outsider again, confirming his disrespect of yes men, bluffers and bullshitters, In bullshitters and bluffers, he senses in them the contradiction between the person and their actions.
As an act of defiance, he firewalls this contradiction to remain immune from it. In his world, those who wear the crown of responsibility have to pay the price of incompetence…to work for it, suffer for it, shed blood, sweat and no tears. Bullshitters havent paid that price. Their dissembling is a virus, which, if caught, can be deadly. It kills hunger and drive.
Another fuse is burning.
Roy infers that McCarthy is accusing him of faking injury. Roy cant help himself because in his code for sporting warfare, accusing a man of faking injury is a challenge to his pride and masculinity and needs confronting directly. The gauntlet has been thrown down. He must pick it up. He must get even. Forgiveness is a sign of weakness.
Thus a third fuse is smouldering Then, everything blows. Roy is out of the World Cup and Triggs becomes the most famous footballing dog since Pickles.
When asked how he feels Roy tells the world that he is fine. Why shouldnt he be when he has just expunged ten years worth of frustration? Missing the World Cup is the price worth paying to uphold his code of honour.
Rule 6: Beware the comfort zone
After defeat by Bayer Leverkeusen in the Champions League semi final, Keane is furious about the comfort zone some of the team were living in; Rolexes, Rollers and Rock star residences. Theyve lost the hunger.
For the driven competitor complacent team-mates represent a stop light, red instead of green.
Keanes comfortzone frustration at being contaminated by the complacency of the team is also a fear of being dragged down with them. This is the domain inhabited by the weakness virus;
Once you fall into it, you are living in the swamp of ordinariness. Deep play doesnt happen in the comfort zone.
Sports Psychology Summary
So what next for Roy now that he has run out of enemies, apparently? How can he leave a legacy?
The Aussies have taken test cricket to a new level. Tiger has done the same for golf. Schumacher for motor racing. Can Raging Roy become Roy of the Rovers and go down in history as the man who created the template for the 21st century midfield leader? Or will he stand at the bar, mature whisky in hand and rage against the dying lights of fame?