Roy Keane and Danny Baker have taken over from Eric Cantona and Chris Evans as enfants terribles of their particular professions

If Wednesday night turned the form book on its head, it certainly sent a few reputations tumbling too. Porto, billed as Europe's second best team (by Alex Ferguson no less) were apparently coming to Old Trafford to show Manchester United how it was done. United's only hope, we were told, was that Roy Keane would come steaming out of the tunnel breathing fire over the Portuguese men of war. Meanwhile, Danny Baker's controversial show on Radio Five Live later that evening was to provide a habitually thought-provoking end to the night's action.

Instead, Porto came, had a look, and obviously didn't fancy it. Meanwhile Keane and Baker sat on the sidelines, the former kicking his injured heels, the latter licking his wounds inflicted earlier in the day by the red card administered by his BBC employers (who claimed he'd "overstepped the mark once too often" with his comments about that referee and that incident). It was left to Ryan Giggs to cement his hitherto flimsy reputation with an immense performance. Bearing in mind that England are on course for an extra Uefa Cup place next season thanks to our current fair play standing in European competition, perhaps it was a good thing Keane sat this one out.

Ironically, Keane and Baker have taken over from Eric Cantona and Chris Evans as enfants terribles of their particular professions. Both are hugely talented yet capricious, prone to going in feet first without thinking. But while Baker licks his own wounds, Keane's misdemeanours often come at considerable cost to his own side. And while curbing Baker's caustic tongue would be akin to asking Graham Kelly to be upbeat, curb Keane's over-exuberance and you get, I believe, a truly great player rather than just a very good one.

He thinks differently, claiming last week that his occasional rushes of blood to the head are "all part of my game because I'm an Irishman" - which is like excusing every Scotsman from buying a round. Ian Wright is another regular miscreant who argues that if you take away his passion, the heart of his game is gone; like Sampson without the hair presumably.

But petulance, not passion, is surely the issue here. Wright and Keane are not hard men; they're simply aggressive players whose aggression undermines their ability. As the former Nottingham Forest defender Larry Lloyd once said: "Aggression is fine, provided it's channelled in the right direction. Keane thinks he's a hard man but he isn't in the same class as some of the real hard men. Ferguson's excuse is that Keane has a passion for the game. So did I, so did Tommy Smith and Graeme Souness - but we knew when to draw the line." Even Keane's former midfield partner Paul Ince claims that Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes are "the real hard men. They get battered and bruised every game but just get on with it". Indeed, Hughes has admitted that "the first lesson I learned at the top was to keep my mouth shut. Because the people doing all the talking are really the losers."

Ferguson defends Keane as "the most victimised player in the game", and there's no doubt that such players can be victims of their own reputations. At McDiarmid Park on New Year's Day, the St Johnstone midfielder Chic Charnley (now at Hibs) was introduced to me as "that player who always gets sent off". Charnley duly obliged, but his crimes were no worse than those being committed by his colleagues.

Yet they are invariably villains too, even if they are, Wright apart, conspicuous by their absence from the top 10 list of players carrying the most disciplinary points this season to date (a list headed by such "bruisers'' as Carlton Palmer, Billy McKinlay, Noel Whelan and Emile Heskey). While that might appear strange, given football's current card-happy climate, it does support the theory that referees are far more likely to give the usual suspects the benefit of the doubt than victimise them. The problem is that when they do over-step the mark they do so in style.

Proof that football's Samsons can play without their hair comes in the large bulk of Julian Dicks, a player who used to wear a T-shirt with the words "Hello. My name is Satan"; who keeps pot-bellied pigs and bulldogs in his front room; and who once admitted "I knew I was gonna hit him but I couldn't help myself".

Dicks was last sent of in September 1995. In the meantime he's curbed his misplaced aggression and matured into a left-back who can cross the ball as well as Andy Hinchcliffe, attack as well as Graeme Le Saux - with as much passion as Stuart Pearce. The cynics will say that Dicks is simply more adept at getting away with it, a view which any avid Dicks watcher will refute.

It's as if the player known as "Terminator" simply said to himself "I'll be back, and I'll still be hard, but I'll be fair too." So perhaps, instead of behaving like Danny Baker's favourite team, Millwall, and not caring that no one likes them, players like Keane and Wright should heed the best piece of advice meted out by Keane's former manager, Brian Clough, to Johnny Giles during his 44 days as Leeds manager. "God gave you intelligence, skill, agility and the best passing ability in the game. What God didn't give you was six studs to wrap around someone else's knee."

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower