Roy Keane yesterday waded into the refereeing debate, emerging as an unlikely ally to Graham Poll and his increasingly besieged profession.
In a volte-face likely to stun Andy D'Urso, the official who was monstered to within an inch of his life by the snarling Manchester United midfielder in one of his many run-ins with the men in charge, the Sunderland manager mounted a compelling defence of the much-maligned arbiters.
Keane insists his days of chasing referees down tunnels are long gone. Instead, his ire is reserved for Premiership players whose sharp practice makes a referee's tough job impossible. Using emotive words like "cheat", and "con", the 35-year-old leaves little doubt as to where his sympathy rests.
"Players are conning each other, there's a lot of sneaky stuff going on and I'm glad I'm not playing. There were lads 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 can't get my head round a player who rolls round then he's up 30 seconds later. I'd be embarrassed. It's cheating and if I'd done that my family would disown me. Referees are scrutinised left, right and centre and the players aren't helping them."
Keane chastised Uriah Rennie for seeking the limelight, believing referees "should be like children, seen and not heard" - except in certain circumstances, where a deviation from the current code of omerta, or silence, would benefit all. "What's wrong with them doing a quick press conference for five minutes after a game?" Keane asked. "Players and managers have to face the music, so why not referees?
"I'm not looking to crucify them, but supporters deserve an explanation for the major decisions. Just look at John Terry's sending-off at Spurs. There are so many allegations, but if Graham Poll comes out afterwards and says, 'That's why I sent him off', that's the end of it."
Keane's revised stance rests uneasily with his vein-popping pursuit of D'Urso, who had the temerity to award Middlesbrough a penalty at Old Trafford. "I wouldn't say I'm embarrassed by that, but it's hard to make excuses. I was 100 per cent wrong," Keane said of the incident seven years ago. "I still think the veins were superimposed by a bit of camera trickery. Mr D'Urso was the middle man in the Wenger and Pardew incident and my heart went out to him, it always seems to be him."
Keane now spends more time contemplating how to butter up than batter down officials. He explained his thinking: "Graham Poll came to United three or four years ago to discuss decision making. He said refs are human beings, pointing out that "if you give them dog's abuse, they've then got to make a decision. I won't go into the conversation, but if you're a touch nicer to them it helps, it's common sense.
"They can be influenced by a nice cup of tea and a sandwich before the game, it's human nature.
"If you're getting looked after and you've a dodgy decision to make, that might sway it. We'll make sure the referee on Saturday gets a nice sandwich before the game." Prawn, by any chance?Reuse content