Publishers paying huge advances to sportsmen need huge publicity and serialisation to have any chance of getting their money back. That’s all well and good for Kevin Pietersen and Roy Keane, and hopefully also for their brilliant ghost writers David Walsh and Roddy Doyle, but it gives us book buyers a problem. Is it actually worth reading the book?
“KP” was far the most vocal “author” in the two publicity campaigns, laying into those he felt had wronged him and stirring up satisfying media storms as assorted journalists took different sides of argument. We found out how coaches didn’t understand him, how fellow players taunted him with the parody “#KPgenius” Twitter account, how Matt Prior led a ruinous bullying clique, and how neither coach Andy Flower nor the ECB managing director gave any allowance to the pain he was in during last winter’s fateful final Ashes tour in Australia.
From the sound of it, and David Walsh delivers the words in rivetingly direct style, KP certainly has a lot to complain about but my, does he make a meal of it. If you want your ghosted authors to come off the fence and say what they really think about the people they don’t like this is the book for you. Its starting point is his banishment from the England team in February this year and the next 300 pages are filled with the bile and bitterness of Pietersen’s revenge.
I have no idea what Messrs Downton, Prior, Moores and Flower are like but they certainly come extremely badly out of this book. “The slyness of the ECB sickens me,” KP writes about the group Downton headed. He describes coach Peter Moore’s “tapping on our heads like a woodpecker all day”, and one of the kinder remarks he makes about Moore’s successor reads “tell me Andy Flower: how does a good coach bring a team to the Ashes and things just get worse and worse?” But if you really want to know how grown ups can fall out in public you want to read the chapter about Matt Prior. It’s entitled “Le Grand Fromage” after Prior’s self styled nickname “The Big Cheese”, alleging all sorts of bullying and bad behaviour and if it’s even half true there is no wonder there was a meltdown.
Real problem with “KP, The Autobiography” is that it is not what it says on the tin. It is not an autobiography. It’s an understandably hurt, angry, proud, revealing but eventually profoundly irritating tirade against the unforgiving petty jealousies that can consume life and in this case professional sport. He had told us all of that in his endless post publication interviews, what we now wanted was the real background to the journey of the little boy from Pietermaritzburg to the pinnacle of the sporting world and not just the row that upset everyone at the end of it.
There are some fascinating glimpses frustrating by their rarity. His firmly anchored family background, his best friend Jon Cole–Edwards who died of cancer, and the actual process and pressures of being a great batsman searching always for days like that great 186 from 233 balls in Mumbai when “the bat felt like an extension of my body.” At these moments you want to sympathise with a clearly vulnerable as well as brilliant man only to get browned off again by all the self-justifying insults.
With Roy Keane’s book we were promised less but receive much more. Whilst KP tried hard to win the many interviewers over to his side of the argument, the memory of Roy’s publicity tour is one of an old untamed lion prowling round the cage whilst nervous journos poked him through the bars. Indeed the only real “roar” the press conferences seemed to stir, a dismissive reference to Alex Ferguson, is not supported by the text in which “the manager” comes over as harsh but fair and anyway is only a passing member of the cast referred to in just 16 of the 286 pages. Compare that to KP’s 47 pages on Prior or an obsessive 109 on Andy Flower.
The Keane book is entrancing in its insight and its honesty dashed with a lovely touch of self mockery. His fight with Peter Schmeichel outside Bobby Charlton’s Hong Kong hotel bedroom. His first team talk as manager at Sunderland when Roy went on and on about the opposing keeper’s weakness for crosses only to be told the guy had been sold three weeks earlier. His “Paras” pre-season boot camp at Ipswich which ended with half a dozen players too blistered to play in the first home game.
But most engaging of all is the dealing with disappointments – “It was one of my greatest weaknesses and the self loathing that comes with it”- and the pleasure he now gets from working as assistant to Martin O’Neill with Ireland.
“I love the game of football. I got distracted from it, I think – I lost track of why I love the game. Saipan, my argument with Ferguson – they had nothing to do with game. I never fell out with eleven v eleven. Being with the Ireland squad – I’m back in the zone. I’ve not had that feeling in years.” At the end of Roy’s Keane you feel engaged, even privileged to have shared time with an extraordinary man. It’s hard to say the same about KP.
On the back cover of the Pietersen tome there stands this somewhat portentous statement: “In the end when they didn’t have success as a distraction they needed a scapegoat Preferably somebody big, boisterous and annoying. Somebody with a little history. Somebody who left colourful footprints on the pristine white carpets. I didn’t always tread wisely. I was often naïve and sometimes stupid. I was no villain though. All I ask is that you read it. Then you can judge.”
Well I have read it, all 315 self-serving pages of it, and if you do the same you might share my conclusion. That while KP is a fascinatingly driven and brilliant cricketer who has at times been badly treated by fellow players and management alike, in terms of personality he can be, in Andrew Strauss’s notorious broadcasting slip, “an absolute c***t.” And if you read both books there is one thing you will long for more than any other. To put Roy in a room with KP and lock the door. The money’s on Keane.