Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Roy Keane is the reincarnation of a World War II General plus World Cup 2014 preview.

"Professional football is something like war. Whoever behaves too properly, is lost."

- Rinus Michels

The parallels between football and war have always been striking. Not in a literal sense, of course, but metaphorically and perhaps spiritually. Among the many cliches in the admittedly limited lexicon of football pundits and commentators are war analogies. A player who dominates the centre of the football pitch is often christened a "midfield general". The captain of a football team is often referred to as the manager's "lieutenant" on the pitch. Even language used to describe warfare is used when describing football; a team attacking a goal is said to be "on the offensive", a team reverting quickly from defence to attack is "counter-attacking" and a team hurrying back to their defensive lines is "on the retreat". Of course, this comparison is not exclusive to football. Other sports too are equated with war. But football, perhaps due to its intimate nature, popularity or arbitrarily drawn lines of attack and defence, not unlike a battlefield, is the one which is most frequently compared to war. 

It's something that's always fascinated me. Many people would argue the analogy is now redundant as it's hardly accurate comparing supposedly pampered and overpaid millionaires who kick a ball around a field with soldiers on a battlefield. But I feel, and I'll use a war-related cliche to prove my point, that in the heat of battle, the emotions exuded by footballers are not too dissimilar to those by soldiers in battle. So I regularly think about this comparison. Like last week. I was watching the movie Patton, an excellent film chronicling the exploits of General George S.Patton, commander of the 3rd and 7th United States Armies during WWII. The film follows Patton from his time battling Rommel's troops in North Africa to invading Sicily to freeing the stricken 101st Airborne Regiment from a German siege in the Belgian city of Bastogne. It's a long movie and as I was watching it, it struck me; fuck me, Patton is Roy Keane. 

Yes, Patton's leadership skills, his stubbornness, his disrespect for authority, his idiosyncrasies, his principled approach to discipline, they all reminded me of Cork's favourite son. The football-war analogy never seemed more alive in my mind. It wouldn't shock me if Keane had watched this movie and taken notes such was the likeness between the two. 

I guess I'll have to explain a bit about Patton before we jump headfirst into this Roy Keane comparison. Patton was a WWII commander unlike any other. Hitler called him "that crazy cowboy general". He demanded total respect and obedience from his troops. I guess in that sense he's more like Alex Ferguson than Roy Keane but there's more. Patton was a ruthless disciplinarian. As he himself said, "You cannot be disciplined in great things and undisciplined in small things". In the movie he forces troops to adhere to a very strict timekeeping policy and took a dim view of any distractions, female or otherwise, that may make the soldiers' minds wander from the battle at hand. Though some of the anecdotes provided in the movie may be apocryphal, Patton's lust for discipline and timekeeping was anything but. His style of leadership was very much hands-on and he liked nothing more than being near the thick of the action and commanding from the front. He pushed his men to the limits and was unsympathetic to those he viewed as weak or "yellow-bellied" as he called it. He had very high expectations of himself and also of his men. And he couldn't understand when a man couldn't reach the same high standards which he set for himself. He liked to be in charge and was not the most respectful of authority.

Sound like anyone you know? Patton, like Keane, had a cult of personality. There were various strands to that personality, many of them conflicting, but it seems that he shares some of the most prominent ones with Keane. Keane also is a ruthless disciplinarian. He is also a sucker for timekeeping. He too has a very direct style of leadership. He too sets high standards for himself and for his men. He too is unsympathetic with men who cannot reach those standards. He too often runs into trouble with those above him. Patton's wife once characterised him as a "tough perfectionist" and I think that is a label that would sit rather easily with Roy Keane. 

I know, I know, this all sounds very good but where's the beef? Where are the examples of these rough and ragged personality traits. Ok, let's delve into that. I'll begin with Patton because the one I'm going to use with Keane is rather predictably the Saipan incident and I'm pretty sure we're all well-versed with that. Patton's "Saipan moment", if you will, came during the Sicily Campaign of 1943 when he slapped and verbally abused two privates recovering from battle fatigue (Today commonly known as PTSD) at an evacuation hospital. Patton did not accept battle fatigue as a real affliction and was horrified these cowardly privates, as he saw it, would be sharing a tent with men wounded in battle. He ordered both of the men back to the front line and also ordered his commanders to punish any men complaining of battle fatigue. 

Word of the slapping incidents soon reached the top  and Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that Patton apologise to the soldiers, the medical personnel who witnessed the incident and all of the divisions under his command. He did so through gritted teeth and later wrote in his private journal, "It is rather a commentary on justice when an Army commander has to soft-soap a skulker to placate the timidity of those above". The incidents eventually leaked to the media and by the end of 1943, a veritable media shitstorm was brewing in the US. Some wanted Patton to be court-martialed. The furore almost cost Patton his dream of commanding an army in the invasion of Europe but he eventually took command of the 3rd Army in France shortly after the D-Day landings. 

Ok, so there are parallels to be drawn between that incident and Saipan though obviously they're not exactly the same. I'm not going to describe Saipan in detail because you all know how that went down. But both incidents share some stark similarities and reveal interesting nuggets about Patton and Keane's respective personalities. In both cases, Patton and Keane were victims of their own high standards. Patton didn't experience battle fatigue so he didn't understand it and viewed it simply as cowardice. Keane was going to the World Cup because he wanted to "win it" and felt the Irish team should have training facilities and the preparation to match this ambition. He was sick of Ireland's lackadaisical approach to preparation which he saw as "happy-camper mode with no real ambition, settling for second best."

Keane's methods and how he expressed this dissatisfaction can best be described as slipshod but his intentions were clear. Similar to Patton though Patton's actions were more reprihensible. In his view, his demands weren't about him but about the whole Irish team and even the structure of Irish professional football. Both of the incidents split opinions, both incidents sparked a media frenzy and both incidents had a man at the centre who was too stubborn to back down from what he saw as what was right. Patton and Keane's single-headed desire for victory seems, to an outside observer, to border on a type of mental illness. 

 As I mentioned above, Patton did command an army in the European Theater, though he did not command the first army nor was he involved in the planning of Operation Overlord as were his ambitions. Those duties werre bestowed upon the sturdy and reliable General Omar Bradley, Patton's junior in rank and experience. Keane's fate was less kind of course and he played no part in Ireland's World Cup campaign. It's ironic that the captaincy of the Ireland team for that World Cup was given to the sturdy and reliable Steve Staunton. Like General Bradley, he was a man who obeyed authority and toed the party line. They were rewarded for their quiescence and loyalty. Keane and Patton were reprimanded for their disobedience. 

There are differences between Patton and Keane, of course. Patton was known to be flashy, flamboyant, a remarkably gifted orator and a devil for a good ol' fashioned soundbite. Keane is more reposed and less theatrical. But both men shared an irresistible thirst for victory, a Champion-level stubbornness and a belief that what they were doing, regardless of how they did it, was right. This belief, though it may have ultimately led to both their downfalls, was vital in their successes. Without it, Keane wouldn't have been half the captain he was and Patton wouldn't have been half the general. 80 years and 5000 miles of sea may have separated them but I can't help but feel that were Patton and Keane to meet, they would enjoy each other's company. Or fucking hate each other's guts, it's hard to know really. Both were men of contradictions. Patton, for instance, was a devout christian but also possessed a strong belief in reincarnation. He believed that he had fought in the Napoleonic Wars in a past life and had defended Carthage from the attacking forces of Rome in another. Maybe we should ask Keane if he has any memory of those battles as it doesn't seem too farfetched to assume that Roy Keane might just be General George S. Patton reincarnated.

World Cup 2014

One things for certain, the birth rate for 9 months time will be incredibly low.

So, the World Cup is upon us once again. It's a month long orgasm for football fans everywhere while for those not too enamoured with the beautiful game, it's a month of moaning, boredom and changing TV schedules. The World Cup in recent years may have descended into a kind of corporate, capitalistic wankfest, replete with "official World Cup beers" and "official World Cup snack providers" and while it may vastly enrich insufferable arseholes such as Sepp Blatter and co, golly gosh we are still so very excited. 

But this is a poignant World Cup for me as I recently realised that this one is the end of an era. This is my last World Cup as a careless, reckless, responsibility-free youth. In four years time I will be 25 and, the Gods of the global economy willing, will have attained some level of paid employment. This means that this is the last World Cup I can conceivably devote the entire month to. This is the last one where I can ignore time zones and stay up till the wee hours watching Japan vs Ivory Coast on a shitty online stream (That, by the way, is something I literally plan on doing this Sunday). I don't feel like I'm "getting old" or anything as unnecessarily melodramatic like that. In four years time I will be 25 and that is still very, very young. It's just, in this modern era of ours, you do basically spend your 20s as a slave to your employers in the hope that you can someday acquire some of kind of financially secure job. And I know that, when the next World Cup rolls around, I won't be able to kindly ask for the afternoon off to watch Spain vs Holland. Which saddens me. 

But anyway, all we can be certain of is the here and now and the here and now is pretty great because THE WORLD CUP is on. Seeing as I am a football fan I may as well shower you with some of my pearls of football wisdom. Ok, here goes; Brazil to win, Belgium to disappoint, England to perform as you'd expect, Messi to outshine Ronaldo, Neymar to outshine Messi, Japan to surprise, Netherlands to surprise and Sepp Blatter to choke to death on caviar. That last one is more in hope than anything really. Truth be told, like everyone else, I have no idea how the World Cup will really pan out. That just seems the most likely scenario in my head. There are too many variables. Heat. Pressure. Injuries. Heat. I do think Brazil will win it but mainly because I know that the players know if they don't win it, they may just incite a civil war that would make Syria look like a playground scrap. Though if you are a betting man, I'm not so I'm willing to share my tips, Spain at 7/1 to retain it is mind-boggingly good value. You heard it here second (I saw it on Twitter).

Enjoy the World Cup anyway. It should prove a useful distraction from the painful tedium of our meaningless lives. And if you are one of those people who actually doesn't like the World Cup or football, here's a few pointers; shut up, pass the remote and shut up! 

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