Keane and Pietersen reveal the ego-fuelled fight for truth in sport

Neither are able to understand a simple lesson — a genius will get away with being a seething cauldron of egomania only for as long as the genius endures

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Contemplating the sensationalist sporting memoirs that have arrived in tandem to settle old feuds like a pair of cut-price Nemesises (Nemeses?), I feel even more inadequate than usual. Analysing the psyches of Roy Keane and Kevin Pietersen is way above the pay grade of an ignorant columnist. The task calls for a Geneva Convention of the world’s leading psychiatrists, working in shifts around the clock for three years.

Such a gathering might well close the book on one patient within hours after concluding that Pietersen – whose self-adoration is matched only by his confusion that others fail to share it – is a 10-a-penny narcissist. But you can imagine the shrinks still being thoroughly bemused about Keane 36 months later.

While the former Ireland footballer is an infinitely more complex and captivating character than the former England cricketer, a glance at their books hints at much in common. Beneath the swaggering arrogance each brought to his work, both seem brittle individuals unable to accept the authority of a disciplinarian boss. Pietersen saves the most spiteful passages of the cunningly entitled KP: The Autobiography (ghosted by sportswriter David Walsh) for England coach Andy Flower, the dour Zimbabwean who kicked him out of the team.

Keane, who treated himself to Roddy Doyle as “co-writer”, reserves his fiercest resentment in The Second Half for Alex Ferguson, who evicted him from Old Trafford almost a decade ago after Keane savaged his colleagues in an interview and told the Glaswegian that more was expected of him. Both unabashedly present themselves as vengeful, and unwittingly as petty (Keane refused to return his company Audi for several months; “I drove some fucking miles in that car. Every little victory is vital”), and both have the usual lack of ironic self-awareness.

Pietersen, who messaged rival players from his native South Africa about the failings of his own captain, Andrew Strauss, whines about his team-mates pastiching him on a fake Twitter account; Keane, having publicly lacerated his colleagues, remains confused by Ferguson’s disloyalty in dumping him.

And both appear incapable of understanding a simple lesson. A genius will get away with being a seething cauldron of egomania as long as the genius endures. The moment it fades, and with it the indispensability, they are doomed. The downfall of Mrs Thatcher – to what she saw as “treachery with a smile on its face” but which was in fact clinical electoral calculation – taught us that.

Yet for all that links the flamboyant middle-order batsman – who in 2005 secured the Ashes with the greatest maiden century in Test history – and the ferocious Manchester United midfielder – whose astounding force of will single-handedly dragged his team through the 1999 Champions League semi-final against Juventus – one quality distinguishes them.


It is the dearth of integrity that makes Pietersen such a peevish, trifling character, and the surfeit that makes Keane so entrancingly epic. When Pietersen rants about Flower being a useless coach who cultivated a cliquey dressing room, he conveniently forgets not only that Flower is England’s most successful coach; but also, as Mike Atherton recalls in The Times, that in 2011 he told a press conference: “As a coach he’s amazing because he listens so much and makes everyone feel welcome in the dressing room. Everyone has an opinion. I really think he’s a fantastic coach.”

Keane, on the other hand, is the personification of honest to a fault. Whenever he wished to criticise a manager, he did it not through anonymous briefings to favoured hacks, but to his face. Most memorably in Japan, shortly before walking out on the Ireland squad before the 2002 World Cup, he told Mick McCarthy: “Mick, you’re a liar… I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager, and I don’t rate you as a person. You’re a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse.

Where Pietersen’s self-serving hypocrisy belies his murderous brilliance with a cricket bat, Keane is resolutely the same man off the pitch as he was on it. Aided by his madman’s beard (bushy jet-black moustache, straggly and white beneath the chin; a dead ringer for Moazzam Begg’s), he is as close as sport can offer to an Old Testament prophet.

Heroically unconcerned with being loved, almost insanely devoted to telling what he regards as the plain truth, he may not always be engaging. One doubts it is often much fun being Roy Keane. But in a world of Kevin Pietersens rewriting history in a futile quest for popularity, he stands out as utterly and irreducibly true to himself. The same could also be said of Hannibal Lecter, but you wouldn’t necessarily have wanted the good doctor at the heart of the United midfield against Juventus that golden 1999 night in Turin.

The sad tale of Brenda Leyland, modern wielder of a poison pen

There may not be a more poignant episode all year than that involving Brenda Leyland, the woman who took her own life in a Leicester hotel room after being outed by Sky News as one of those tormenting the parents of Madeleine McCann on Twitter.

Mrs Leyland, the university-educated daughter of an RAF squadron leader, hardly conforms to trolling type, though I suppose it’s rank snobbery to assume trolls are victims of deprivation. Loneliness – no respecter of class – appears to have been what drove her campaign.

Once, Mrs Leyland would probably have sent poison-pen letters to the authorities about the part she imagined the McCanns played in their daughter’s disappearance. She would have been a real-life version of Irene Ruddock, played by Patricia Routledge in the Alan Bennett monologue A Lady of Letters. Irene bombards social services with claims her neighbours are maltreating their small child, who in fact has leukaemia. When Irene is prosecuted, she finds friendship and happiness in prison and it becomes clear she had never been a wicked woman; just a lonely one. Perhaps Mrs Leyland was the same. At another time, she might have got a few months inside and been the better for it. But it seems the public shame was too much to bear and she fell victim to that propensity of social media not so much to enable spite as to amplify it until it is lethal.