Keane the pundit is being drowned out by Keane the persona

Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher found themselves in a ‘heated debate’, which didn’t offer much insight into Chelsea vs Manchester United.


It’s becoming a regular Sunday afternoon fixture. Some time between 20 past and half past seven every week, the camera will cut back to the Sky Sports team in their great glass elevator, overlooking a Premier League ground after a match, and Roy Keane will be angry, ready to pick an argument with whoever happens to be sitting opposite him at the table. But while Keane’s frequent diatribes make for easy to package social-media snippets, is he actually offering any insight into what he’s just seen? And where is the dividing line between broadcasters bringing something constructive, and at what point does it become entertainment and nothing more?

Keane didn’t seem particularly happy even before Manchester United took to the pitch at Stamford Bridge. Conversation didn’t take long to move on from the shortcomings of United’s management structure to the shortcomings of the players. Asked what the difference is between their squad and those of the top three of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, he said, “It’s like comparing chalk and cheese,” before going on to add that the players “don’t seem like good enough lads” and that “they’ve thrown him [Ole Gunnar Solskjaer] under the bus”.

But this was only really the warm-up for the main event. Reacting to a fairly asinine post-match interview with Michael Carrick, Keane started by saying that, “I disagree with everything he said,” before going on to add that, “he was in the dugout alongside Ole” and asking: “What about the other games? Why aren’t they making an effort in other games?”. It felt like a bit of an overreaction to a post-match interview with an interim-interim manager who might not even be managing the club in their next match.

Task warmed to, the noise hit a crescendo once the subject turned to Cristiano Ronaldo. Keane believes that United should start him no matter what, but Jamie Carragher disagreed, saying: “I think this idea that Cristiano Ronaldo has to start every game, that he has to play every minute of every game, I don’t think’s right.” Then it all went off. F365 has already provided a helpful transcript of what followed, but it wasn’t particularly edifying to watch.

The volume grew, increasingly shrill as it became less and less coherent, with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink sitting between the sparring Keane and Carragher, unable to repress how funny he was finding it all as they shouted across each other. Carragher’s voice rose to a pitch only ordinarily audible to dogs. By the time the matter was brought to a close, he and Keane seemed set to strip to the waist and wrestle each other to a resolution.

It’s not difficult to understand what the appeal of these clips is to Sky Sports. By the following morning, their quickly packaged and uploaded clip of the argument had already been watched 1.3m times. Keane and Carragher’s names were all over social media, which amounts to free advertising for Sky. These are all metrics that will have been music to the ears of their social media department but, while they offer the viewer a degree of entertainment at the end of a tense match, it would be difficult to argue that these fights offer the viewer a great deal of expert insight into the previous 90 minutes.

For Keane in particular, this hardly seems to be an ideal working environment. He is, by nature, a quiet person. If anything, his normal tone of voice is notable for how understated it is. And it’s worth remembering that Keane is an intelligent and thoughtful man, someone whose opinions should broadly be worth listening to. But it becomes increasingly difficult to take him seriously when post-match conversations devolve into shouting matches and he’s backed into a corner of claiming that Manchester United signed Ronaldo to win the FA Cup.

So, perhaps it’s worth asking the question of whether this is how Keane wants to be perceived: as a perpetual Mr Angry who fulminates to himself quietly while walking his dog in the morning before unloading his thoughts onto a television audience that afternoon? Because this persona is now clouding almost everything he says, in particular about Manchester United, and after the Chelsea match he was, as Gary Neville was a few weeks earlier after United’s 5-0 home humbling against Liverpool, forced into making argumentative comments which didn’t really make a lot of sense.

But perhaps the idea that pundits have to offer ‘insight’ is outdated; perhaps it never even really existed. The idea of sitting a group of experts around a table is not a new one. It was first seen in its modern form in this country on ITV at the 1970 World Cup, when a panel including Manchester City’s Malcolm Allison, Derek Dougan of Wolves and Paddy Crerand involved themselves in champagne-drenched late night arguments over matches, and which ended up with Allison saying, “Why are we technically better in Europe? Because we play against peasants, teams who play in primitive ways!”.

A step too far, obviously, even for 1970 TV audiences, and it resulted in host Jimmy Hill threatening to throw Allison off the show altogether. Even the couple of brief clips of this panel which still exist give a hint at how combative and confrontational they had the potential to be.

Football is now far more an adjunct of the light entertainment business than it was in 1970, and the fact that Sky Sports is a dedicated sports channel doesn’t alter this. The reaction to these clips is proof that audiences do respond to these pre-packaged clips in a way that is beneficial to broadcasters. Sky Sports aren’t ignorant. They know full well what their audience wants, and they know full well what will get people talking the next morning. Keane the persona might be drowning out Keane the pundit at the moment, but he’s delivering Sky Sports the content that they want, and that’s all that will really matter to them – and quite likely to most of us.

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