The fan - Hunter Davies rejoices at Roy Keane's departure

Alas, <strong>Roy Keane</strong> was a thug, and thugs in football are an endangered species

So Roy Keane has gone from Old Trafford, no longer Man United's captain and motivating force, inspiration and leader, greatest ever midfield player, a living legend, totally irreplaceable, oh do get on with it. Yes, an era has passed, Brian, they don't make them like that any more, we will not see his like again, and other bollocks. Thank Gawd for that.

Because he was a thug, and thugs in football, so I suspect and honestly hope, are an endangered species.

At one time, every team had at least one player whose speciality was thuggishness, whose job it was to snuff out, duff up, put the frighteners on, use any physical means to make sure the opposition's star creative player did not create and, with a bit of luck, did not even get a chance to play.

Defenders may be rough and tough, clumsy and lumpen, may flatten and upend, but on the whole they are not thugs, even though their main job is to stop, to negate. Generally they wait, ready to react, rather than go out looking for trouble.

It's mostly a midfield player who gets given the specific, destructive job, and often given a specific man to destroy. Norman Hunter of Leeds used to bite legs. Tommy Smith of Liverpool ate razor blades and half a cow for breakfast. Nobby Stiles of Man United, despite being thin and weedy, kicked anything human that dared move. "Chopper" Harris of Chelsea chopped bodies into little pieces, then spat them out, looking innocent.

More recently, Vinnie Jones of Wimbledon was a master of the black arts, verbal, emotional and physical. That infamous incident when he grabbed Gazza by the balls, caught on photograph, occurred in 1987, when Gazza was young and fresh in the Newcastle team. The minute they kicked off, Vinnie got behind him and bellowed in his ear: "I'm Vinnie Jones. I'm a fucking gypsy. It's just you and me today, fat boy . . ." Gazza, despite all his cockiness, was shitting himself even before the assault happened.

Today, I can't honestly think of a comparable figure. Vinnie looked and acted the part, almost a pantomime baddy, but they don't build them like that any more. Modern footballers are more like ballet dancers, thin and slender. They're taller than they used to be, on average by three inches, and about a stone lighter. I did actually do some proper research once, when I was really, really bored, going through my programmes comparing Cup final teams from the 1930s with those from the 1990s. Today, Thierry Henry is how they'd all like to look - and play.

Robbie Savage gets booed by the opposition, and he does put it about, but he's in the Blackburn team for his enthusiasm and hard work. Kicking their best players up the arse, that's an optional extra. There must be some old-style thugs, in build and character, in the lower divisions, but I can't think of any in the Premiership. Claude Makelele is probably the best midfield stopper, but he's quite small, doesn't glare and scowl, and is certainly nowhere as vicious and vindictive as Roy Keane. Keano saw his job as intimidating his own players as well as the opposition. He could take it and not moan, but that commonly was the mark of the hard man: show no weakness.

One of Sven's problems is that we are no longer breeding midfield enforcers, trained to break up the opposition's players, or their legs. Steven Gerrard has been tried, but he's not a reliable tackler. Michael Carrick is being touted for that position, but he's a powder puff. One glare from Vinnie and he'd faint.

I wonder if it's anything to do with nomenclature. Until recently, young professionals started as "apprentices", and then graduated to "the stiffs". All very workmanlike. Now they graduate from "academies", as if they were intellectuals, eating pasta, supping red wine, wanting to be creative.

Yes, of course, Keane was good, excellent even. I'd always much rather have had him in my team than against. And all players, even the most creative, have a nasty streak. But Keano was a role model with a nasty role that football is now choosing to do without.

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