Friday, November 18, 2005

Premiership Picks and Roy Keane

A while since my last substantive soccer post, so I've got a little bit built up in me.

The big news of the day is Roy Keane's departure from the club everyone associates him with, Manchester United. I have some mixed emotions about this somewhat suprising development.

Before I go further, let me say that I am not a fan of Man U. In the developmental stages of my English soccer knowledge, the Red Devils were incredibly dominant and used free spending to secure their place at the top of the tables. Yes, I realize that longtime MUFC fans went through decades of near-misses and that they weren't known for dominance before Cantona and Ferguson. And I also realize that relative newcomers think if I don't like teams because they dominate and ruin the marketplace by signing all the good players, I should direct anger toward Chelsea and not Man U. Or both.

The point, anyway, is that despite my own personal animosity toward Man U, I always liked Keane (and Schmeichel and Giggs too, but never really Beckham, Cantona, or the Nevilles). Part was because he's an angry, mean Irishman. Partly because we was just damn good. Keane was a great player on the field, and a hilarious personality too. He usually made things more interesting out there. And while I understand a lot of fans disliking him because he's kind of a dick, I liked him for those same reasons. Plus, he was a drunken, angry Irishman. If nothing else, on the field he demanded and received respect. And not the "wow, look how he dribbles the ball... he's good" respect, the "I do not want to fuck with him... he's nuts" respect. I'm not sure there are too many other players who got that kind of respect in the last decade.

Of course, Keane isn't perfect (or even close). I thought his behavior before World Cup 2002 was pretty much terrible (no matter how much of a jackoff Mick McCarthy was). And his tendency to get into trouble off the pitch and in pubs and clubs was kind of annoying. (For the record, I like his on-field lunacy, not so much his off-field lunacy).

For the non-soccer readers, I've been trying to think of an American comparable to Keane. He'd have to be an elite player, close with the coach or manager, won several titles, served as Captain, had tumultuous off-field issues, be brash, harken back to an earlier time in sport. The closest I can get is maybe if Derek Jeter were more of a badass and less of a playboy. And then he and Torre get into a huge argument, Jeter goes on TV and just rips A-Rod and all the bad pitching signings. Then the Yankees and Jeter just let him go and sign with anyone else. But it's still not a perfect comparison, mostly because Jeter just isn't the kind of guy who would say anything outside the realm of cliche. Keane would never hold back. And Jeter's not a lunatic who people are kind of afraid of.

And today he and the club that he took to the highest heights and that gave him a luxurious life and wealth and recognition beyond imagination have separated. And while not shocking, it's definitely odd. The way this ended at Man U seems to change things around a bit. First off, his comments about overpaid players dogging it probably endeared him to fans even more than he already was. While of course the team can't just let the Captain run off at the mouth about other players, in this instance he was somewhat right. Ferdinand deserved to be smacked around. He's pissed on the badge for about two years now. Kieran Richardson's form at West Brom was significantly better. Man U has spent millions of pounds on players that haven't panned out (Diego Forlan, Kleberson, Veron), and throwing more money at the problem won't solve anything. Under their current financial situation, the Glazers cannot out-spend Chelsea, Real, Barca, Milan, or even Bayern. Arsenal opens their new stadium next year and should have a sizable influx of cash with that. Keane was absolutely right to say they don't need more overpriced primadonnas, but rather get rid of the ones they have and bring in hustlers and hard workers.

So what's next for Keane? Most thought he'd leave at the end of the year when his contract ran out, with a tearful scene leaving the pitch and an emotional embrace with Sir Alex Ferguson. Then he'd finish his career as maybe even a player-coach (read: disciplinarian) somewhere else, possibly Celtic. Now, anything is possible. I could see him joining another major Premiership club just for the purpose of facing Manchester United on the field. There are probably 5 or 6 clubs who could use him. Think Wigan might want someone with that much top-flight and title-stretch-run experience in the midfield? Bolton is a home for plenty of experienced players, the kind of throwbacks that Keane would probably get along pretty well with (aside from Diouf, but there's comedy to be mined there). Newcastle could complete their makeover and could use a stentorian in the middle. Portsmouth have shown interest (no chance). Sunderland... just kidding. There's also Scotland. Keane once said he'd like to finish his career at Celtic. I'm sure they'd find room for him. I'd doubt he'd head to the continent, but stranger things have happened. I do have a feeling that Keane will end up managing someday. He'll be an ideal manager for teams that need someone to come in, clean house, yell, light a fire under the asses of the players, and then leave when it gets old.

Sir Alex Ferguson recently called him "the best midfielder of his generation". His generation includes Zidane, Figo, Ballack, Nedved... It's an impressive list. I'd say Keane was right there among the giants of the sport. I hope he lands on his feet. And who knows? Maybe this is a good thing, since now I can root for Keane without feeling conflicted about rooting for the team he plays for.

On to the picks...

Last time around: 6/10 right result, 2 right scores
Season: 54/104 right results, 15 right scores

This Weekend:

Wigan Athletic v. Arsenal: 2-1. Riding Wigan has been kind of fun. I actually don't think this pick is a winner, but Arsenal have had some recent trouble.
Chelsea v. Newcastle United: 2-0. Momentary blip, not a trend. Chelsea back in business.
Charlton Athletic v. Manchester United: 1-0. Too much turmoil, and Roy Keane would be just the guy to circle the wagons.
Liverpool v. Portsmouth: 1-0. Liverpool have not impressed this year, but I think Pompey are due for the drop.
Sunderland v. Aston Villa: 0-2. I keep thinking Villa will go on a good run. Why not now?
Manchester City v. Blackburn Rovers: 2-1. Rovers have been a little better of late, but I like City's lineup at home.
West Bromwich Albion v. Everton: 1-1. Everton might spring a win on the road, but neither team is that good.
Tottenham Hostpur v. West Ham United: 2-1. Got a feeling like this would be a fun one to watch.
Middlesbrough v. Fulham: 1-0. This one, not that fun to watch.
Birmingham City v. Bolton Wanderers: 0-1. I just don't think this is Brimingham's year.