‘250 Days: Cantona’s Kung Fu and the Making of Manchester United’ by Daniel Storey (2019)

As a kid I was a Man United fan.  The day Eric Cantona retired I realised that wasn’t actually true.  I was a Cantona fan and any residual affection for United slowly waned until a few years later when I stop pretending I cared.   Cantona was that kind of player, one who could make a kid fall in love with a team and a sport simply by turning up his collar and chipping the goalkeeper.

250 Days chronicles the aftermath of the infamous day at Selhurst Park when Cantona kung fu kicked a Cyrstal Palace fan. The mercurial Frenchman had been man-marked closely all game and in frustration kicked his marker early in the second half.  As he made his way to the tunnel, he launched into the crowd, aiming a kung-fu kick at the chest of a taunting Palace fan.

It caused a sensation like no other in my 10 year old life to that point.  Even before the days of 24 hour Sky Sports News, it dominated news coverage for weeks as speculation mounted that the mercurial Frenchman would be fired, banned for life or imprisoned.  Ultimately, he ended up with a 250 day ban stretching into the following season.

The focus of the book is what happened during this period, and how it shaped Man United’s next period of success. United’s legendary manager Alex Ferguson saw an opportunity and Storey chronicles how both men used this time to help develop and inspire the rising generation of United players (the so-called ‘Class of ’92’).

Cantona

250 Days is a well written and entertaining account of this turbulent period in United history.  Storey blends together the accounts from the key figures into a compelling narrative and builds a very convincing case for his central thesis.  Cantona and Ferguson both emerge with significant credit for their ability to turn a potentially career ending attack into a positive experience binding player, manager and club closer together.

The books suffers slightly from the lack of original reporting – Storey has read and absorbed a huge amount of material covering United and Cantona during that time, but for those sad people, like myself, who have read more than half the bibliography, the book feels a little unfresh. If you haven’t read Gary Neville’s autobiography, Alex Ferguson’s autobiographies (please never read his later books – they are awful) and the entertaining Cantona on Cantona this probably won’t be a problem for you though!

Much like Storey’s previous book on Gazza’s time in Italy, the book feels too short for it’s price point.  Obviously this is the publisher’s decision rather than Storey’s but it does cloud the reading experience.  Storey is prolific in churning out incredibly high quality articles across a variety of publications.  I’d be very excited to read a full length book of his that shined fresh light on some similar aspect of 90’s football.  I’ve said a few times there I’d love to see an English language book on Sacchi’s Milan team in case he is looking for suggestions!

All in all, an entertaining read.

250 days

 

 

One career, Two books – Roy Keane (2002 and 2014).

Reviews of Keane: The Autobiography by Roy Keane with Eamonn Dunphy (2002) and The Second Half by Roy Keane with Roddy Doyle (2014)

 

Whenever I read a sportsman’s second autobiography (usually published a bit after they have retired), I always like to reread their first one (usually published at peak of their carer).  It can be fascinating to see how the same events or relationships are told differently with the benefit of more experience or changed dynamics.   I hope to reread and write about some of my favourite double autobiographies.  First up, the Manchester United and Ireland legend, Roy Keane!

Roy Keane had an exceptional playing career which combined huge achievement with equal amounts of controversy.   It’s impossible to have followed English football in the 90’s and naughties and not have a strong opinion either way.  For an Irish fan, it’s even harder to not to love or loathe him.

Rereading Keane: The Autobiography (2002),  I’m struck by just how good the book is. It is sometimes forgotten just how good a writer the ever controversial Eamonn Dunphy is and his talents are in full display here as he captures what feels like Keane’s voice.   The book was first published in August 2002 shortly after the infamous Saipan incident where Keane left the Irish team just before the 2002 World Cup and divided Ireland, and football fans, into pro and anti-Keane camps.  (I was very much Team Roy).   Three years on from the 1999 “Treble”, and fresh from Saipan, Keane was one of the biggest names in world football and his book garnered huge attention.

Soon attention focused heavily on a passage about Keane seeking revenge on Alfie Inge Haaland which ultimately got Keane a suspension – reading the offending passage now it would be fairly easy to overlook it, had Haaland’s career not been cut short due to the injury he suffered.  By the time the second edition was published in 2003, Keane had agreed to rewrite the passage in later editions as part of his punishment from the FA.

Keane’s own rise was meteoric once it got going, progressing from playing in the 2nd Division in Ireland with Cobh Ramblers to starting in an FA Cup Final for Nott’s Forrest within 12 months.  It likely took a genius like Forrest manager Brian Clough to see Keane’s true potential and throw him straight into the Forrest line up as a starter at 19.

The book paints a picture of Keane as a hard-working, hard-drinking player who couldn’t always control his temper but always gave his all on the pitch.  His tolerance for anything that didn’t meet his standards was incredibly low – yet slightly hypocritical when his own drinking had to be having a damaging impact on his own game.  Ultimately Keane’s year out with a cruciate ligament injury combined with growing older helped to temper his drinking and the Roy we meet in the second book has become a health freak.

Keane charts the progress of the Utd team as Fergie’s first great team merged into his second and the Class of ’92 (what an irritating brand that is) integrated with the likes of Keane and Schmeichel to form the team that would dominate English football and secure the long-awaited Champions League victory. Keane is full of praise for the talent of Giggs, Beckham and co. but by the time the second book is published he seems to also have become sick of the branded Class of ’92 with his comments on them as a collective much less warm.  For any Utd fan during the 90’s the book shines an interesting light on the internal dynamics of the team and Keane is fairly open in his views on the various characters he has played with.

It also covers his Ireland career and unsurprisingly gives his version of what happened in Saipan when he left Ireland’s world cup squad just before the 2002 tournament kicked off.  Probably the most criticised figure is former Ireland manager Jack Charlton (and his assistant Maurice Setters) who Keane resents for both his style of play and his self-promotion.  Unsurprisingly given the timing of the book’s publication, Mick McCarthy (the Ireland manager during the Saipan incident) doesn’t fare much better.  Keane at times seems to be a contradiction between a man proud to play for his country but overly loyal to his club who pay his wages, mirror his professionalism and treat him very well.

Keane’s second book The Second Half (2014) was published after Keane had begun his role as Ireland’s assistant manager.  It picks up from where the first book left off and covers the remains of his playing career, his exit from United and his management days.

The insights into how he left United are interesting – it was such big news at the time.  Similarly, as someone who attended a few Sunderland games during its “Irish” era, I enjoyed the behind the scenes look at his incredibly succesful first year in management.

Overall, the Keane we encounter in book 2 is more reflective and self-critical.  It’s the book of someone who has struggled in their second career to match the highs of their first.  It’s much less about titles and victories and more about aging, starting again and trying to build a new career.

The second book also shows that Keane now questions some of the belief’s he had throughout his earlier career and that jump out in the first book. In particular, he seems to have realised that playing through injuries was more stupid than heroic.  While the second book is less effusive in its praise for Sir Alex Ferguson, Keane never lets any animosity he may feel about his exit from Man Utd impact his earlier assessment of Fergie’s greatness as a manager.

(It now seems somewhat hypocritical for Keane to fall out with Irish players for not training when injured after making these comments in the second book.  One thing is for certain is that as long as Keane is in the public eye controversy will follow him).

Roddy Doyle is a great writer and, like Dunphy he also captures Keane’s voice well.  It takes a few chapters to adjust to the subtly different style compared to the first book, but both feel like authentic Keane.  A few anecdotes are repeated but mostly its fresh material.

Reading the two books together definitely gives a truer and more complete picture of Keane than taking either book in isolation.  The energy or drive remains obvious but 2014’s Roy Keane is understandable a bit wiser and probably a bit more cynical.  Overall the story is of a fascinating life of a determined figure whose achievements have been matched by controversies caused largely by the same determination and qualities that led to his success in the first place.

Both books are really well written and entertaining reads.  Given my fascination with Keane I’m not the most neutral of judges but I’d highly recommend both books for any fan of football during Keane’s heyday.

‘Red: My Autobiography’ by Gary Neville (2011)

Red is the story of Gary Neville’s long and distinguished career for Manchester United and his less distinguished England career.  It’s a reasonably enjoyable quick read that will be particularly enjoyed by United fans.

red

Neville appears to be a man defined by his passion for Manchester United. I’m sure he likes his family, but you would barely know his wife and kids exist. While you appreciate he wants his privacy, you’d expect getting married and having kids to impact your view of the game and your career enough to merit more of a mention.

The famous Class of ’92 is covered in a fair bit of detail.  It was a remarkable generation of players to come through the ranks at Man Utd at the same time but something about the fact they have developed their own brand annoys me no end.  This part of the book works well as a lesson in the importance of commitment and level of dedication needed to make it to the top.

His time at Man Utd is the main topic of the book, but at times it feels like a repetition of what happened combined with repeated references to how great Sir Alex Ferguson is.  There are some good insights into some of the most interesting Man Utd personalities, but nearly not enough of these.

He covers his England career with a chapter about the reign on each of the mangers he played for.  It’s clear he really rated Venables, felt Keegan and Hoddle were out of their depth and had a lot of time for Sven before it started to fall apart. The England material is definitely the best part of the book.  Neville opens up about his dislike of playing for England and gives an honest assessment that it meant a lot less to him than Utd.

Overall the book feels honest without ever being particularly controversial.  It’s an interesting read for anyone who followed English football during Neville’s career and especially for Man Utd fans.

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