The spectre of moodiness has always been present when it comes to Roy Keane. Per-Magnus Andersson alluded to the darker side of the recently-departed manager on Friday night. Andersson is an associate of Ellis Short, the Dallas-based major shareholder in the Drumaville consortium, and is familiar with the negotiations that took place in an attempt to try and convince Keane to stay at the club. In an interview with a Swedish football website on Friday night, he explained that despite the best efforts of the board, the darker recesses of Keane's personality won out in the end.
"The demands on him became too big," said Andersson. "The pressure became too much. He is not an Alex Ferguson, which many people think. He is a bit of a maverick and he didn't succeed on the pitch because of his pitbull mentality. He had an outlook as a player that said: 'If you knock me down I will kick you and then we can see who is standing at the end of the game,' and that is the way he is as a coach as well."
Short moved yesterday to disassociate himself from Andersson's comments, referring to him as "a low-level advisor" but it's certainly not as if Andersson is alone in his thoughts. Keane makes amateur psychologists of us all. There's every chance he doesn't suffer from bouts of depression but nobody would be surprised to find out that he does. The relentless harshness with which he treats himself, the exacting standards to which he holds his working practices, the often joyless way he processes victory and triumph only suggest this may be the case. Andersson might only recently have caught up with the rest of us in trying to work out what's behind this most unknowable of characters. Yet that short amount of time involved has lent him enough distance to point out the most delicate aspect of the Keane psyche, one the rest of us have tiptoed around for years now.
"I think he was disappointed with his own performance and he also felt pressure from the new owners considering the money he had spent," said Andersson. "The former owners were Irish and I think they were probably a bit more relaxed in their relationship with Keane because he is a legend in Ireland."
He makes an entirely valid point, of course. Keane still has that hold over the Irish sporting landscape that makes us go a little weak at the knees at the prospect of mentioning the unmentionable. There have been hints at it many times down the years without anyone expressly saying it. In the famous interview with The Irish Times in Saipan, Tom Humphries asked him if he felt that for him "the lows are lower" than they are for other people. Niall Quinn did his best to dance around it during the week, never saying more than he needed to and at all times evincing sympathy rather than anything approaching opprobrium for Keane.
What came across in Quinn's press conference on Thursday – apart from the genuine class of the man that really ought to have the Keaneites who've poured scorn on him for years hanging their heads – was a sense of his sadness at Keane's plight. The official line that Keane "felt he'd come to the end of his journey" at Sunderland sounded patently makey-uppy – indeed, it's not hard to imagine Keane himself cracking wise at it if he was in one of his lighter moods – but it was sufficiently catch-all to cover for Keane and shift attention on to the club.
You get the sense that Quinn has come to know much, much more of Keane in the past two-and-a-bit years than he had at any stage over the previous 15. One passage in his 2003 autobiography – and remember, this was just over a year after Saipan and a lot of fairly dirty water had passed under the bridge in the interim – contained the usual healthy dollop of Quinnian magnanimity but also a little innocence that he has probably lost by now.
"The day Roy retires and everything is lifted from his shoulders," he wrote, "I think you'll see a different man. He'll lighten up again. He'll have a laugh some day about how he spent the best days of his life wound up like a coiled spring. He'll shake his head and wonder about how uptight and intense he was. I hope he will anyway."
As more and more details emerge about his last few months at Sunderland, it's clear that he never managed to lighten up, never moved on from that coiled spring, never shook the uptightness or the intensity. One story doing the rounds is of a hotel he and the team checked into before a game a while back. When Keane found that hotel staff were trying to pass off tap water as bottled water, he apparently rounded the whole squad up and marched them out the door to check into another hotel down the road. It's one thing to expect standards, it's quite another to insist on them to a self-defeating degree.
In football terms, that problem appears to have arisen again and again. Anton Ferdinand was by all accounts benched last Saturday because he'd sat down with Sky Sports for a pre-game interview that aired before the West Ham match the previous week. Ferdinand said in the interview that while he was happy at Sunderland, he hadn't wanted to leave the club he'd grown up in and that, in effect, he hadn't had any say in the decision but instead was packed off by a club desperately in need of money.
Whether it was with the content of the interview itself that Keane had a problem or with the fact that Ferdinand had sat down with Sky less than a fortnight after his manager had rubbished their coverage is not known. But one way or another, Ferdinand – who had been one of Keane's better signings in a shaky defence – found himself sidelined in favour of Pascal Chimbonda, a player Keane demonstrably hasn't been able to mould to his way of thinking. It was erratic and costly, with Chimbonda badly at fault for one of Bolton's goals and Danny Collins, who moved from full-back to centre-half to cover Ferdinand's position, hapless for another.
Inasmuch as anyone can confidently discern a pattern in Keane's behaviour, there are certainly parallels to be drawn here with both Saipan in 2002 and his leaving of Old Trafford in 2005. Beyond the ins and outs of who-said-what-to-whom, it's obvious that he simply found himself in situations he didn't want to be in on both occasions. And where most peoples' instinct would be to tough it out and not to stick their head above the parapet, Keane's singular personality led him to do what was right for himself and, in both cases, engineer outcomes that made him at the very least seem noble if you looked hard enough.
It's tough to attach nobility to this one, though. It's tough to see it as him standing up for what he believes in or railing against any kind mediocrity. Instead, this time, he walked of his own volition. He got to a place he didn't want to be in and got out of it as best he could. It's hard to be convinced that he left because he didn't think he could turn the club's league position around. In fact, it's implausible when you look at the table.
Amid the cacophony and hubbub, it's sometimes easy to forget that Keane is just a man like the rest of us. A complicated one and one who it seems is given to more long, dark nights of the soul than for sure, but a man all the same. For anyone who has followed his highs and his lows over the years with any degree of empathy, this was a week in which it was impossible not to feel sad for him.
Maybe he'll be back in football one day and maybe he won't. It's more important he eventually finds some sort of peace in himself.