Roy Keane bearded, belligerent World Cup football pundit who tells it like it is

A few individuals have caught the eye in the World Cup’s first week. Gavi, for instance, the 18-year-old prodigy pulling the strings in Spain’s midfield; Olivier Giroud, at 36, France’s elder statesman of intelligent forward play.

In the eyes of many, though, the stand-out performances have come from Roy Keane, ITV’s brooding, bearded and belligerent pundit. Never previously known for being reluctant to offer his opinion, the former Manchester United midfield general seems, if anything, to be growing ever more trenchant. If something clear and obvious needs saying, Keane is your man.

His assessment of England’s display in the dire stalemate against the US? “They looked leggy, they looked one-paced, they looked short of ideas … Actually a terrible performance.”

Thus Keane, sporting a tasteful multi-tone pastel shirt and the kind of luxuriant facial hair favoured by craft lager devotees everywhere, summed up the emotions of millions of England fans.

It was before Argentina’s shock defeat by Saudi Arabia last Tuesday, though, when Keane nailed the ethical quandary experienced by many regarding this most controversial of tournaments.

“The World Cup shouldn’t be here,” he said. “Just to dismiss human rights flippantly because of a football tournament … it’s not right. The bottom line is, we are talking about common decency, how you treat people.”

It was impossible to disagree. Keane referenced Fifa corruption, while forcefully drawing attention to the fact that same-sex relationships are illegal in the Gulf state. He pithily highlighted exploitation of migrant workers, many of whom paid with their lives to get this show on the road. It needed saying.

Is it hypocritical of Keane to voice such disgust while being employed at the tournament? Perhaps, but if he hadn’t got on the plane who would be taking it upon themselves to state the bleedin’ obvious on daytime television?

It is 20 years since Keane infamously snapped in Saipan and stormed out of Ireland’s 2002 World Cup camp, in protest at what he felt were inadequate training facilities. He has not mellowed with age.

In Qatar, the possibility of Keane and fellow pundit Graeme Souness coming to blows remains real, judging by that Argentina v Saudi Arabia broadcast. “I’m here to give my opinion. That’s not a penalty in my eyes,” an increasingly agitated Keane said in a clash with the Scot, traditionally not someone to shirk a tackle or a heated debate.

“I’ve heard you say it 10 times,” Souness responded. “Let someone else speak, you’ll learn a lot more.” If Keane has a blind spot, it is surely his former Old Trafford teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite the Portuguese’s fading powers, and recent attempts to redefine the term prima donna, Keane won’t hear a word against him. Manchester United lost patience, and Keane would surely not have tolerated Ronaldo’s recent antics, either as a player or a manager.

But perhaps that’s the point. We are all hypocrites in this to some degree. Nobody’s perfect but, as a pundit paid to give an opinion, Keane is getting there.