What Roy Keane's 'spoilt brat' attack on Man City's Erling Haaland reveals about ex-Man Utd star

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Roy Keane has once again condemned Erling Haaland on Sky Sports - but are his comments remotely fair?

If nothing else, Roy Keane has a tremendous stare on him. On the evidence of Saturday evening, Sky Sports presenter David Jones would rather face one of Keane’s leg-breaking tackles than ever again endure the glare he received when he dared to laugh off one of the great man’s opinions, during the post-match breakdown of Manchester City’s 5-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Indeed, the nerves in his chuckles after Keane drilled him back into his chair with his eyes alone suggested Jones might choose a firing squad first.

The brief debate in question concerned Erling Haaland’s curiously abrasive reaction to being substituted in the second half with the game well won – most players who had bagged four goals would be content to soak up the plaudits and put their feet up, but Haaland instead had a small but perfectly-formed paddy at Pep Guardiola. It didn’t seem especially noteworthy and even included a moderately tense hug.

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Was it evidence of a strained relation between coach and star player? Hunger for more goals when the going was good and the prey was already limping? Who knows. It had a storm-in-teacup vibe to it and isn’t the sort of thing which typically bears much micro-analysis. Unless, of course, you have Roy Keane in the studio.

For Keane, bristling under the weight of his highly aggressive stubble, Haaland was “behaving like a spoiled brat.” Jones, likely echoing a great many comments made by City supporters over a pint in the pub, suggested with a chuckle that it’s alright when you’ve just scored four. Keane, in response, simply growled that “no, it’s not” while blasting Jones with a stare that would have withered plant life in an instant.

All of which would be met with a universal shrug if it didn’t, firstly, suggest Keane had found in Haaland – who he recently described as “a League Two player” – a hill to climb and die upon. And secondly, because it wasn’t a comment entirely free from hypocrisy.

Just a day later, during the half-time interval of Liverpool’s 4-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur, Keane practically praised Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero after they got into it and had to be forcibly separated by Guglielmo Vicario. In that case Keane “didn’t mind it” because it showed they cared. He did note that he wished he saw the same aggression in their actual defending, but it marked a very odd line – aggression towards ones’ own colleagues is fine for some, not so fine for others. It’s hard not to wonder whether Haaland is on one side of the line, and everyone else the other.

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In Keane’s defence, there is a definite difference between venting frustrations at a team-mate – an equal – and the manager. We live in the age of player power, but most would probably agree that there should still be some level of deference shown to the head coach. Thank heavens Keane doesn’t have a track record of falling out bitterly with his own coaches when he was unhappy with their decisions. Sir Alex Ferguson and Mick McCarthy probably raised a quizzical eyebrow at the comments, were they watching. And there are few who can raise an eyebrow as quizzically as McCarthy.

And thank heavens Keane doesn’t have any personal history with the Haaland family. Otherwise, his decision to target Haaland harder than others, again, might come across as a little peevish.

Keane isn’t the first pundit to find a bête noire and beat them with any stick they can find, of course, but very few people ever respected Graeme Souness more for his persistent attacks on Paul Pogba. At least Souness had never targeted a member of the Pogba family with a deliberate reducer back in his own playing days – although perhaps he would have done had the opportunity presented itself, admittedly. It would hardly have been a break with character.

Keane, for those unaware, claimed in his memoir that the dreadful tackle with which he ended Alf-Inge Haaland’s career – Erling’s father, of course, who also played for Manchester City – was intentional. Whether that’s true or he was simply playing to type to sell some books is debatable, but there’s some pretty clear cause for bad blood between the two families.

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And Keane doesn’t seem like the type to let resentment rest. Haaland, the league’s leading scorer, has already had his all-round game labelled as lower-league for his one and only poor patch of form. Anyone who’s watched Haaland properly will know that his movement is far from League Two, League One or anything else – how many of his goals have come because he can manufacture a half-yard other strikers can’t? Didn’t he help to destroy Arsenal in last year’s title race by dropping into pockets of space between defence and midfield to repeatedly tee up Kevin de Bruyne? But still, Keane wanted to fling some faeces and have it stick. And here we go again.

And look, Keane is prime time as pundits go. Whether he means to be funny or not, his over-the-top macho gruffness is hilarious. He has big opinions and endless force of character behind them. But even the best broadcasters need to have authority behind their opinions to have them feel like they’re worth listening to – and Keane is at risk of losing credibility over Haaland because he’s making it personal. On any other matter, Keane’s opinion holds water because he was a magnificent player and has been there, done that and won it too. With Haaland, it’s starting to feel like a grudge, and a little bit brattish in its own right.

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