Roy Keane and the World Cup

 By Barry Ahern

“Is there anyone out there who sees this from my point of view?” was probably one of the most familiar thoughts being repeated by the public as they grappled with the Roy Keane v Mick McCarthy debacle during the run up to the World Cup in 2002.

Although it happened a long time ago, it’s interesting to see that the pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving, that became so public at the time, is still playing out.

Roy Keane, one of the best footballers that Ireland ever produced, had just walked away from playing for his country because he found the arrangements for team preparation unacceptable. The whole country set itself alight discussing the controversy.  It seemed everyone had an opinion as to what happened and how to deal with the situation. Roy Keane, one of the best footballers in the world at the time, had walked away from the Irish team on the eve of their participation in the world cup due to a disagreement with the manager, Mick McCarthy.

It is a rare occasion for most of us to stand back and reflect on our own reactions. The main sports protagonists probably didn’t either; they were too busy defending their respective arguments. Yet those who took time to reflect probably wondered why people offered so many solutions and yet no one seemed to be able to apply them in a constructive way.

What we knew for sure was the fact that there was a total breakdown in communication between the Keane and Mc Carthy camps. Commentators made constant references to the failings on both sides. What people seemed to miss was that both parties and their supporters did their best to bring about a positive solution. Both Mick Mc Carthy and Roy Keane repeatedly stated that they had the interests of the team and the country at heart. What could possibly have gone wrong?

The Enneagram, a human development model, provides some profound clues. The model describes the structure of nine distinctly different personality styles. Each personality profile describes a particular way of filtering information with a particular worldview and a way of behaving. It looks at the barriers that stand between people that cause narrowness and limitation in our relationships with others.

For instance, one of these profiles, commonly called the Mediator, dreads conflict and approaches the world with a view to establishing peace and harmony. This would seem to be the approach of the captain of the English soccer team, David Beckham, the current Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and maybe Mick McCarthy. I would like to draw a caveat around these suggestions and others in this article as it is ultimately whatever style makes sense to us ourselves and not what others think that is important. However, the examples might serve as a useful illustration of how the model works.

The Mediator likes to ensure that everyone is included in decision making. For them conflict must be avoided at all costs. The upside of this is that these people are natural team builders. The downside is that they don’t often take a stand. They are naturally quite respectful of other points of view and are extremely tolerant of all kinds of people and their opinions.

They can be described as generally indecisive because it takes a long time for them to formulate their own opinion. What is going on internally in this profile is a constant weighing up of different points of view in order to ensure a no-conflict zone. Ironically sitting on the fence, hoping that things will work out of their own accord often invites what is most dreaded i.e. a conflict, because ultimately others need to know our point of view and if we don’t present it we end up being embroiled in conflict.

Roy Keane’s statements and behaviour would seem to describe one of the profiles often referred to as the Perfectionist. This profile illustrates people who are very concerned with high standards and high ethical and moral behaviour. Much of the time is spent criticising themselves internally eliminating the possibility of error and diligently discovering the ‘right’ approach. When the correct solution is arrived at other options vanish. The bias or sticking point of this stance is that they are inclined to see only the one right solution and there is no room for the grey areas.

The mistake we all make is that we assume that everyone is looking at reality through the same lens. What we don’t know is that along with our own way of dealing with information there are eight other valid ways of dealing with the same situation. So the perfectionist assumes that everyone else has the same standards. They don’t realise that the rest of us won’t spend the same amount of time and energy on how things can be improved.

The Progressive Democrats came into Irish political life to bring standards to the political body. If you observe their approach you will see that a lot of what they do is about raising standards and about people taking their responsibilities seriously.

When Roy Keane was faced with an inferior and inadequate training facility in Saipan he wasn’t pleased with those whose job it was to take responsibility for such matters.

“I’ve come over here to do well and I want people around me to want to do well. If I feel we’re not all wanting the same things, there’s no point,” he told Tom Humphries in the “Irish Times”. Roy discovered, painfully, that we don’t go about organising our world in the same way even though we might have the same aim ie to win the World Cup.

From the perspective of the perfectionist profile everyone needs to put one hundred percent effort into everything. The mediator profile of Mick McCarthy was most likely focussing on teambuilding through recreation and relaxation, to gather solidarity so that when the hard training began the group would be cohesive.

It’s not easy for perfectionists to relax in the work environment. They would not see the point in spending a week relaxing with the team before the most important football championship in the world.

Duty comes before pleasure for them, “…we’ve come here to work, ” he told Tom Humphries. “This trip is the tip of the iceberg. From the training facilities to all sorts.”  “I’m not asking too much – for everyone to want what’s best …it plays on me when something can be done about it… There’s things you can’t accept. That kind of pitch. No training kit. No balls.”

Ironically, one of the most devastating experiences for those of the perfectionist profile is to be criticised. However critical they are of the rest of us it is nothing to the level of criticism they weigh down on themselves if there is a breach of their own internal standards. His reaction to the showdown with Mick McCarthy as told to Tommie Gorman in the RTE interview illustrated this: “What happened to me last week was wrong,…what happened to me last week I wouldn’t wish on anybody. I felt I deserved better…what happened to me was wrong so the ball is in the other people’s courts.”

Mick Mc Carthy too was pushed into an extremely stressful situation. Mediators dread conflict and if pushed too far their anger can be volcanic. This led to the complete breakdown in communication.

How can the Enneagram model help in this situation?

One of Roy Keane’s comments was most telling. In it he described the dilemma that faces us all. “Maybe there is a way,” he told Tommie Gorman, “who knows….We’ll have to wait and see. My conscience is clear and that’s the most important thing in my life. It really is.”

Intuitively Roy Keane sensed that there might have been another way of dealing with this. However, until we begin to see through the limitations of our own personality styles and it’s narrow way of dealing with reality we won’t be able to step out of it. This is the profound contribution that the Enneagram has to make at all levels of society as it describes these dilemmas so clearly that we have no option but to change and disown narrowness and limitation.

This most difficult stage is being honest with yourself. It’s about identifying the habitual ways you focus you attention and having a willingness to relax them and let them go. The next step is to discover and be receptive to the eight other ways people can make a valid contribution to the same situation and the best way to move forward together is to try to step into another person’s shoes and view the world the world as they do. When that starts happening we all can move forward together and know that no matter what perspective we have that everyone has a unique contribution to make.