Present any ugly image of Roy Keane you like. Recreate his blood-chilling tackle on Alf Inge Haaland and his strutting walk away from the scene of arguably modern football's most sickening example of premeditated violence. Re-run his eye-popping leadership of the mob that chased down the referee Andy D'Urso.
But then try to produce one shot of Keane cheating, of feigning injury, of diving, of finagling the dismissal of a fellow professional. Of course, you will not find one. It is why Keane's defence of referees, his attack on the chicanery of so many of today's players and the silence of their managers, and by implication their trade union, flies beyond all the ridicule that will be heaped upon it.
Referees knew what they had in Keane. They knew they had a streetfighter of often shocking intensity. It is why they sent him off 11 times, why his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was required on many occasions to take him on one side and say that he had to step back a stride if he did not want to destroy his career.
The point is that football will always survive physical excess. It emerged in the age of Norman Hunter, Tommy Smith and "Chopper|"Harris, players who took a culture of violence to its limits. It corrected itself, in time, after the scandal of the world's greatest player, Pele, being literally kicked out of the 1966 World Cup.
But as Keane points out, after a few months on the touchline as manager of Sunderland, you cannot deal with deceit on the level that is practised in today's game. He is making the old point in life that you can do nothing with a liar - and the same is true of a cheat on the football field. There is nothing so corrosive. It is a lesson which Keane first learned at Nottingham Forest - one which Brian Clough made clear he was ready to enforce with his fists.
Keane, perhaps not surprisingly given his inheritance at the Stadium of Light, has yet to light up the sky as a manager. But in one stream of consciousness this week the tiro football boss produced the strongest, bravest, stand yet made against the descent into a nightmare of anarchy and sharp practice.
Here is the core of Keane's cry of disgust: "Players are conning each other and I'm glad I'm not playing. There were lads who I played with who went down like they'd been shot and it drove me crazy. I'd pull my hair out. We all know the players and I wouldn't give them the time of day. I just can't get my head round a player who rolls around and is then up in 30 seconds. It's cheating and if I'd done that my family would disown me."
It is maybe something for the intellectually ragged band who might be known as the Friends of Mourinho to consider. Not just the Chelsea manager, of course. But given the conduct of his team over the last week or so he is surely the brand leader. In the wake of the hounding of the embattled Graham Poll at White Hart Lane, Chelsea's Ashley Cole reinforced his reputation as big-time football's emptiest head when he whined about the persecution he has suffered simply for a being a member of two successful teams, Arsenal and Chelsea. His examples were risible. Patrick Vieira a victim of persecution? Arsène Wenger, who has made his own contribution to collapsing values with the official condoning of his club chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, who once declared that if match officials did not lay off the big Frenchman he might well pack his bags for home. Was Wenger hauled before a disciplinary committee and asked to explain himself? Did he really think that referees deserved such unprincipled pressure? The authorities should have asked Wenger - as they should Mourinho for his post-game rant against Poll last weekend.
You may believe that there is an element of truth in Mourinho's tirade. Certainly, the official does not meet Keane's own refereeing ideal - to be like a child, seen but not heard, but then from what high terrain did Mourinho pass judgement? It is on the record. As a teller of lies who effectively ended the career of Anders Frisk.
Keane's rebuke touches all corners of football. It places responsibility on players and managers and their professional organisation. It also demands more accountability by referees. But at the heart of everything is the spirit of the players - and the discipline, or lack of it, by managers. There were times when Keane's old manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was economical with the truth of his own team's misdeeds. They, too, were in danger of becoming an undisciplined rabble. But he stopped the worst of that, and today, give or take the temper tantrums of Wayne Rooney and the diving tendency of Cristiano Ronaldo, his team behaves with conspicuous decency.
This is a pattern which has to spread through football at this late hour. Can it happen? Only if there is courage and some recognition of the need for truth. It cannot develop if someone as influential as Mourinho countenances the serial diving of Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben. These apples are at the top of the barrel.
How can football cleanse itself if Wenger endlessly looks down the wrong end of the telescope when his own players transgress? Or when David Moyes, one of the most respected young managers in the game, dickers over precisely the form of obscene language addressed to the besieged Poll by one of his players? Such destructive nonsense has to be swept away. Keane may be far from a paragon of football virtue; some his values were no doubt distorted and harmful. But there was one aspect of his playing character which could never be questioned. His honesty was never in doubt. He would foul you, he might even risk cutting you in two, but he would never connive against your presence on the pitch. His crimes were not of stealth or fraud, they were there to be judged and referees knew what they had to do, and often did it.
It is different with the divers and the feigners. Their pollution gets everywhere. The clean-up operation can only begin when significant football men have the nerve to stand beside Roy Keane. Doing so is no longer a risk to anyone's health. Indeed, in football right now it is maybe the nearest thing to a guarantee.
England suffer from psychological naïvety against the old masters
England plainly need help as they seek to wage psychological warfare against the Australian past masters of the art. In fact, given the level of readiness displayed in the dispiriting defeat at the hands of a Prime Minister's XI, England might just be better off turning up for the cricket.
However hard they work in the nets, though, they cannot hope to emulate the weight of the gauntlet thrown down by Sir Don Bradman's 1948 tourists.
The team of Bradman, Miller, Lindwall and the young Neil Harvey were relatively taciturn until they got down to serious business.
They did this most spectacularly against Essex at Southend, shortly before pulverising England 4-0. They devoured the Essex bowlers, who included the future stalwart of England, Trevor Bailey. Led by Bradman, the Australians scored 721 in 10 minutes less than a full day's play. On the second day, Essex were so demoralised the county flag was hung upside down.
Only one Aussie lacked appetite for the slaughter. The great Keith Miller, a former fighter pilot, sidled to the wicket, took casual guard and deliberately missed the ball. He then returned to a game of poker in the dressing room, where he was later joined by an irate Bradman.
This is not to discourage an England team whose captain, Andrew Flintoff, says has a pressing need to attend to basics, only, maybe, to suggest that it might be a good idea if some of his players didn't harp quite so much on the advanced age of their already highly motivated opponents.
Here, there is another lesson to be learnt from the 1948 debacle. Bradman scored a century in 74 minutes at Southend. He is remembered for making a duck in his last Test appearance in England later that summer, but his opening batsman Arthur Morris made 196 before being run out in an innings victory.
Earlier, Bradman had compiled 501 runs in four Test matches. He was approaching his 41st birthday at the time.Reuse content