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Roy Keane’s long road to respectability

8 May 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Rakewell is rather taken with the winning entry in the inaugural Football Art Prize. As one of its judges, former England goalkeeper David James, disarmingly says: ‘the quality of art was better than I imagined it would be’. Toby Michael’s portrait of Roy Keane depicts his subject as a painter, brushes in hand and perhaps inviting comment on his handiwork from the viewer. The scene seems to be set in a different era, with Keane decked out in a soft suit or painter’s jacket that recalls the early 20th century, its muted palette suggesting the influence of Sir John Lavery.

This is not the first time the tempestuous footballer-turned-manager-turned-pundit has inspired a work of art. Your roving correspondent has long had a soft spot for the RoyKeaneid, a dramatic monologue by the playwright Colin Teevan, inspired by the events at the 2002 World Cup that led Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy to sack his star player. What is said to have been a ten-minute-long tirade by Keane against McCarthy and his methods (or lack of them) in the dressing room, seems to have more than a touch in common with the legendary contempt of Achilles (the outstanding warrior of the Greek army) for Agamemnon (his mediocre commander-in-chief) in the Iliad.

The political journalist Charles Moore once described Alastair Campbell, then Tony Blair’s head spin doctor, as ‘the most pointlessly combative man in human history’, but Rakewell can’t help feeling that this epithet could also have been applied to Keane at several points in his playing career. Although Keane has disowned the volume of autobiography written with Eamon Dunphy and published in 2002, Rakewell heartily recommends it as portrait of a man constantly riled by the actions of the idiots around him. (A more recent second autobiography, written with the novelist Roddy Doyle, is a comparatively placid affair.) While the painting correctly identifies its subject as something of an elder statesmen these days – more likely to scoff at a fellow commentator than stamp on Gareth Southgate – the horned red figure depicted on the wall reminds us of Keane’s more devilish days.

Portrait of Roy Keane (2020), Toby Michael. © the artist

Portrait of Roy Keane (2020), Toby Michael. © the artist

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