Sport on TV: Roy still has keen edge for this witness protection programme

 

At the start of Keane & Vieira: Best of Enemies (ITV4, Wednesday) the contests between Arsenal and Manchester United are described as “a brilliant, vicious Premier League rivalry that has never been bettered”. At the fast-beating heart of that battle were the two players for almost a decade. They took the odd beating, but here they are reunited in retirement. It made for almost as compulsive viewing as the real thing, rather like watching a psychopath from the other side of the prison bars.

Their meeting was staged on a classic police interrogation room set: two chairs, small table, light above it. So who was questioning whose courage, in this good cop-bad cop scenario? Suited, open-collared, they could both have passed for CID officers. You wouldn’t like to have been the suspect in that sandwich. Not surprisingly there was no one asking them questions; perhaps he had asked to be locked up in the cells for his own safety.

Unfortunately for Keane, the programme was obviously made shortly after publication of Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest autobiography, in which Keane is eviscerated by his old gaffer. When he was interviewed, Keane was repeatedly presented with excerpts from the book as though it was a witness statement.

Even when he hears one of Fergie’s compliments from an older tome – referring to his tireless display in the Champions’ League semi-final in Turin in 1999 – Keane could still not hide his contempt. It read: “I felt as if it were an honour to be associated with this player.” Keane retaliated: “He didn’t put that in his last book, did he?” But he was not content to stop there; he is seemingly never content. “Stuff like that almost insults me,” he went on. It makes you wonder how he would react to a small fan asking for his autograph. “What am I supposed to do? It’s like praising the postman for delivering my letters.” No Christmas box for Keane’s postie then, but he probably leaves the letters outside the gate. And not because of the dog.

Both men have a twinkle in their eye, but in Keane’s case it’s like a knife blade catching the light in a dark alley. Vieira describes Keane as “my favourite enemy, I loved every aspect of his game”. When asked “Did he intimidate you?” he replies: “No, he excited me.” But for Keane it’s all darkness. “I had a lot of hatred for Arsenal, I have no other word for it,” he said, and even after a victory there was only unpleasantness lying in wait. “The enjoyment was very, very brief. Before long the fear gets back in, not wanting to let anyone down.”

That seems to have been the motivation throughout Keane’s career: failure and the way the club, the fans, his family, the Irish community reacted to it. For a sportsman who was as talented and successful as Keane, this is a desperate sadness in itself to add to all the other negativity.

There are flashes of humour amid the cut and thrust of Keane’s ire. Of the infamous “Battle of Old Trafford”, when Martin Keown did his gargoyle impression in the face of Ruud van Nistelrooy after Vieira’s sending-off, Keane chuckles: “I was nowhere near that trouble. I behaved myself that day, and I regret it.” Yet you couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t just a joke, he actually meant it too.

Even during the closing credits, when the pair are squabbling about how to fit Dennis Bergkamp into their all-time Arsenal-United XI, he can’t resist a slur on the Dutchman: “He doesn’t fly. What does that say about him?”

Now all these great players are gone, and perhaps rightly they bemoan the fact that the game lacks the intensity they brought to it. Keane’s own career after his playing days ended has never really got off the ground. On this evidence it looks terminal.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral