It’s hard to believe that it’s almost a decade since legendary Manchester United captain Roy Keane left the club.
Replacing him was a task Sir Alex Ferguson never achieved. Maybe the manager knew it was impossible, so he didn’t bother trying after the failed Owen Hargreaves experiment.
The man who Ferguson had once claimed he was “honoured” to be associated with was irreplaceable.
You can’t read anything on Keane without that night in Turin getting a mention, which typified the “fire in his stomach” nature. Ferguson claimed the captain competed “as though he would rather die of exhaustion than lose — he inspired all around him,” against Juventus in the Champions League semifinal in 1999.
The only reason that performance fills so many column inches is because it was a vital game that allowed United to win the unprecedented Treble.
The fact that Keane knew he wouldn’t be playing in the Champions League final thanks to a suspension added to the heroics of his performance, but the reality is Keane put in shifts like that time and again during his 12 years at United.
He was a warrior on the pitch and he took his teammates and the fans with him. He was the inspiration and the catalyst for so many results because of the example he set when he played.
If he could work that hard, there was no reason why anyone else shouldn’t.
Against the likes of Liverpool, Leeds, City and Arsenal you could always rely on him to show up. He knew just how much it meant to the fans to get results in those games and he was a winner.
The rivalry seemed to bring out an even fiercer edge to him.
Keane enjoyed the nastiness from opposition fans and loved giving them something to shout abuse about.
Scoring the 87th minute winner in the 1993 derby at Maine Road after going in 2-0 down at half-time, his repeated rucks with England captain Alan Shearer, his late winner against Leeds to help United win the title in 1996, confronting Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel before the 4-2 victory after they had promised revenge for having their unbeaten run ended, decking Alf Inge Haaland in a City shirt after he had stood over him in a Leeds shirt calling him a diver and countless other iconic moments of him berating referees, opponents and his teammates.
Keane’s United career was about so much more than these individual moments though. The impact of his general presence on the field was immeasurable and he would let his teammates know about it if they fell short of his expectation.
Rio Ferdinand recalled how in his first training session at United, after becoming the most expensive defender in the world, he passed the ball sideways to Gary Neville. Keane tore a strip off him, shouting: “That’s the easy pass! You’re not at Leeds or West Ham now!”
However, while Keane’s high expectations of himself and those around him made him a world class player, they eventually lead to his downfall and have probably contributed to his failed stints as a manager.
His unrelenting quest for perfection has put plenty of noses out of joint over the years, some probably quite literally, and brought his time at United to a close.
The start of his final season at the club was a terrible time for the supporters and Keane spoke like he was one of them.
He has revealed in his new autobiography “The Second Half” that he had huge reservations over Ferguson’s feud with John Magnier and JP McManus about the racehorse, the Rock of Gibraltar.
Ferguson’s decision to take legal action started off a chain of events that allowed the Glazers to purchase the club.
The Glazer takeover was soul destroying and was followed by the painful defeat on penalties to Arsenal in the FA Cup. This, coupled with Roman Abramovich’s takeover at Chelsea, apparently spelt the end of the glory days at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho was expected to dominate English football indefinitely and bringing the Premier League trophy back to Manchester looked to be a distant dream.
A couple of months in to the 2005-06 season, United were battered 4-1 by Middlesbrough, with an aging and injured Keane not on the field. This defeat was a culmination of everything that was going wrong and something that the captain had predicted.
United were sixth in the table following the Middlesbrough defeat and Keane was foolishly invited to give his opinion of the game on MUTV. He infamously ripped his teammates apart and although the interview was pulled, his comments made it to the press.
While Keane didn’t say anything the fans weren’t also thinking, the appropriateness of the captain coming out with such stinging criticism was questioned. This was something that split the fan base.
Some believed it was the captain’s place to speak out about the problems, while others thought it was something that should have remained behind closed doors.
-The end of United career-
Ferguson was the camp with the latter though and fined Keane five thousand pounds for speaking his mind. The manager wasn’t interested in Keane’s sniping anymore, regardless of how accurate it was, so his cards were marked.
Had Keane been 10 years younger, maybe the manager would have shown more patience. But the former captain has claimed that the manager was only interested in sticking by him when he had something to offer.
A fight with Peter Schmeichel and details of his departure from Manchester United are covered in Roy Keane’s second autobiography.
“People say he stood by me in difficult times,” Keane told the Sunday Times last year. “But not when I was 34, not when I was coming towards the end.” There was shock among the fans when Keane’s departure was announced soon after.
While it was clear that everything wasn’t rosy behind the scenes, it was always assumed the pair of them would get through it and patch things up.
The idea that this midfield legend could leave under a cloud just a few months in to the season seemed totally unimaginable before it happened but in hindsight, supporters probably should have seen it coming.
Both Keane and Ferguson are idolised by the fans, but their huge flaws cannot be ignored. They are too alike for their own good, which is a comparison neither would welcome these days, but it is why both of them were immensely successful during their partnership at United.
It was also why they were unable to bury the hatchet and allow for Keane to leave with his head held high at the end of the season and why their bickering has been ongoing ever since.
Neither can seem to contain the bitterness they feel towards each other, with bad feeling over spilling in their autobiographies and newspaper interviews more frequently in recent years.
For the most part, supporters sided with Ferguson, with some not reacting very well to Keane’s repeated (yet often deserved) criticism of the club. He is deemed to be bitter about his departure, despite claiming that United were “still the best club on the planet” after City won the league in 2012, insisting “they’ve got the best supporters and the best manager” and that “they’ll bounce back.”
His public berating of the team, particularly now he doesn’t have the title of captain to justify his opinion, has tainted how he is viewed by some fans, which is sad for them. But Keane won’t lose any sleep over it.
-By Simon Patterson/ESPN FC