It was another week of scandals here, with more revelations about vast sums of public money being given to consultants by the new Irish Water authority and about charity money being siphoned off into pay and pensions for the top management at the Central Remedial Clinic, a national center for disabled people. There is huge public outrage at this and we will be coming back to look at both of these examples of Irish greed at its worst.
But last weekend a different story offered some diversion for a disgusted public here. That was the intriguing news that Roy Keane is to write another autobiography, titled "The Second Half," with the help of no less an esteemed author than Roddy Doyle. The book will be produced by one of Britain’s top publishers, Orion, in September.
The announcement of the forthcoming book took everyone by surprise in both footballing and literary circles. Given the way everyone talks in both these worlds and the profile of both men, keeping it a secret until the official press release was quite an achievement.
Just to remind you, Doyle is the author of 10 acclaimed novels including "The Commitments," which was made into the hit movie, and he won the Booker Prize in 1993 for his novel "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha."
Keane is – well, he’s Roy Keane. Legendary tough guy of football, Manchester United and Ireland captain, national hero or villain depending on where you stand on his World Cup walk out in Saipan in 2002, now reborn as the assistant manager of the national team.
So, Booker winning author Doyle and football hard man Keane – it could be a publishing marriage made in heaven or in hell, depending on how things turn out.
First of all, as well as being one of the bestselling Irish authors of all time, Doyle is a big football fan. That’s a positive, because he knows the game inside out and he won’t be asking Keane any stupid questions. He’s not some literary luvvie who would have to study up on the latest version of the offside rule and interference with play and who Alf-Inge Haaland is – or was.
But there’s a problem – and we’re not sure if Keane is aware of this. Doyle was never a Man United admirer, even in the glory days when Keane was the captain.
In fact Doyle is a life-long supporter of the Blues. He travels regularly to “the Bridge” to see Chelsea playing and must be really enjoying this season. He might even have been there on Sunday when the Blues destroyed Man United 3-1.
This could make things a bit awkward, but it is still possible they may get along because Keane has mellowed somewhat and they are very similar characters. And it’s not just that Doyle shaves his head like Keane used to. Both men are noted for being very determined and forthright and they don’t suffer fools.
They will certainly need to bond quickly because with publication of "The Second Half" due in September there’s no time to waste. There won’t be any Fergie time. The book will need to be completed by the middle of the summer.
Talking of Keane’s ex-boss at Man United Alex Ferguson, one of the most anticipated aspects of the book will be whether Keane will use it to get in a few crunching tackles on his old manager and mentor.
Ferguson had some less than flattering things to say about Keane in his autobiography a few months ago, describing him as “frightening.” No doubt, as Fergie put it in his book, Keane’s eyes will be narrowing “to wee black beads” at the prospect of what he might write in retaliation in this new book.
Beyond that, it’s hard to see where "The Second Half" is going to generate much heat. If Keane’s life is a game of two halves, the first half was by far the more interesting and all of that, including Saipan, was covered in the autobiography he did with Eamon Dunphy. That was an outstanding book, and Doyle will be hard pushed to better it.
Since then, there’s been Keane’s departure from Man United, Celtic, his up and down managerial career and now there’s his new Ireland role. There’s certainly fertile ground there, but the inescapable truth is that it’s far too early for Keane to be writing a book called "The Second Half." We’re only 10 minutes into the second half of his career.
Why is he doing it? The publishers, as always, are being tight-lipped about the money involved in the deal, and since Keane is a multi-millionaire already it’s hardly that, although the book could add another million or more to his pile.
For Doyle it’s different. Being an acclaimed literary author, even a Booker Prize winner, does not necessarily translate into millions. His recent novels have not been big sellers, so the sizeable fee involved with this book may be a factor for him.
Usually a ghostwriter for a sports icon with a profile as big as Roy’s would get a flat fee, probably a significant five-figure sum. Keane will probably end up with at least 10 times that, but it is possible that Doyle is not privy to how much Keane is getting from the publisher.
There is another factor at play. Doing a book like this is a calculated risk for someone of Doyle’s stature. Booker winners do not usually act as ghost writers, which is what Doyle is doing in this case no matter what spin the publishers put on it. (They say the book will blend “memoir and motivational writing in a manner which both disquiets and reassures in Roy Keane’s own original voice, in a stunning collaboration with Man Booker Prize-winning writer Roddy Doyle” etc., etc.)
As a Booker winner Doyle has a lot to lose if the book disappoints critics or runs into problems – and running into problems is always a possibility with Keane.
Neither Keane nor Doyle were available to answer questions at the weekend about their collaboration. But the press statement announcing the new book did contain the following quotes:
Keane: “I am very happy to be working with Roddy Doyle on this book, and look forward to the experience.”
Doyle: “Ten years ago I was buying something in a shop in New York and I handed my credit card to the young African man behind the counter. He read ‘Bank of Ireland’ on the card, looked at me and said: ‘Ireland – Roy Keane.’ I’m delighted to be writing this book with Roy.”
Overall, in spite of the potential for yellow cards, "The Second Half" is likely to be a bestseller, not just in Ireland but in the much more lucrative British market, and it should also do well in the U.S. where “soccer” is now a growing sport and Man United has many followers. It should make huge amounts of money for everyone involved.
There is one little difficulty up ahead, however. This autumn also will see the publication of the autobiography of another sports god (or BOD as he is called here), rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll. So it will be the round ball versus the oval ball.
Who will come out on top in the Christmas books market will be as fascinating to watch as any game played by either of them.
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