Roy Keane with Paul Ince in his first season at Manchester United, over twenty years ago
Roy Keane is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in a Manchester United shirt. Sure, there were players such as Cantona, Ronaldo and Giggs who were technically superior to the Irishman, but Keane would turn losses into draws and draws into wins with his sheer will to win and his boundless desire to excel. A born leader, and a born winner. He was Sir Alex Ferguson’s leader on the pitch and in his 480 appearances for the club he won title after title, relentlessly demanding high standards from everyone around him.
Since leaving the club he has had a well-documented falling out with United’s legendary ex-manager and has been outspoken regarding the quality of his former teammates – with high-profile exits in the European Cup to FC Basel and, more recently, to Real Madrid in Ferguson’s final European Cup game. It was announced some time ago that Roddy Doyle would ghost write Keane’s second book “The second half” – and extracts have been widely published in the press over the past few weeks.
But what do we make of the book after all? A good read? A compelling read? Would Keane finish every chapter in the style of Alan Partridge, proclaiming “Needless to say, I had the last laugh”? Would there be a chapter entitled “I hate Fergie”? Some footballers release abysmal books. Succumbing to the 21st century’s demand for celebs, need to be famous and rich footballers – we’ve seen twenty year old Wayne Rooney release “My Story So Far” and of course, everyone’s favourite left back Ashley Cole had a belter called “My defence” (a 20p car book steal if there ever was one). But Keane’s story is different. He is to the point (as you’d expect), quite insecure about his management, and demonstrates self doubt throughout.
On Manchester United…
Obviously the first book covered a significant part of his United career, but it was still fascinating to read his thoughts on what was the autumn of his Manchester United career. Keane’s arrival in the summer of 1993 was a battle Alex Ferguson knew he had to win with Blackburn Rovers having agreed, in principle, a deal to bring Keane from Nottingham Forest to Ewood Park, while George Graham and Arsenal were also sniffing around. At £3.75million, a then British transfer record, surely he is one of the best buys of all time.
Here you had a galloping, commanding self assured twenty two year old strutting around Old Trafford like he owned the joint and eventually replacing the original Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson – who was to have one season with Keane before departing to take on the managerial position at Middlesbrough.
There is of course still a strong affinity and emotional connection with the club. The well documented extract about Keane turning to his son and asking him who he supports during the 2013 Champions League final and his subsequent no nonsense response of “Manchester United”, whilst ridiculing City in he process. He speaks of hating the fact he had to wear blue at Ipswich, as “City are blue, all of my biggest rivals are blue”, and of course that he never lost to City.
He will always have that competitive streak and, of course, his affection for the club – why wouldn’t he? He provided so many unforgettable performances and moments – those two home debut goals against Sheffield United, that late winner against City at Maine Road, that thunderous drive to score past Bayern Munich in 1999, the fact he turned down offers from the German club and Juventus to stay as captain, those two August goals at Highbury to silence the Clock End, and of course that header against Juventus in the same year.
Keane speaks of his disappointment at how he departed the club. His last game of course was against Liverpool in the 0-0 draw at Anfield. Not the way we all would have wanted to see Keane’s leave the field of play for United for the very last time. A broken foot caused by “Steven Gerrard’s blades” as he puts it in the book. What followed in the weeks to come would apparently seal the skipper’s fate, when he criticised the team in the infamous MUTV interview, which has since been ‘destroyed’. The method of censoring the public from the horrific scenes was humorously lambasted by Keane, describing the whole process as attempting to get rid of a nuclear warhead. However, Keane is adamant that the seeds (see next section) for his departure were set some time before after a falling out with Carlos Queiroz, which came to a head in the manager’s office during that conversation about the interview.
Below is an extract from that meeting that literally had me laughing out loud. Keane was arguing with Ferguson and Queiroz when he remarked that “no player had a problem with the content of the tape” (I’m sure it was on a DVD but everyone always refers to it as a tape), when new signing Edwin van der Sar piped up:
VDS: “Do you know, Roy, I just think you could have used a different tone.”
Edwin. Dutch International – six million caps.
So I said, “Edwin, why don’t you shut the f*ck up? You’ve been at this club two minutes and you’ve done more interviews than I’ve done in my twelve years. It was MUTV – I had to do it”
So he took that; he accepted it.
Welcome to Manchester United, Edwin.
Captain of the club for the treble. 480 appearances. 51 goals. The bloke still loves the club and is of course bitter in how it ended.
On Carlos Queiroz…
Ferguson remarked in his book that Keane’s “hardest part of his body is his tongue” and indicated that Queiroz was hurt by a number of things that Keane was saying. Keane states that he used an analogy regarding the repetitive training regime instilled by United’s assistant manager, likening the scenario as to “making love” to your wife the same way time and time again. Of course, I can’t ever imagine Keane using the phrase “make love” when directing an insult towards someone, but you get the gist of it. This again was during the infamous meeting in Ferguson’s office – a build up of what had surely happened during pre-season.
Keane and Queiroz had a disagreement at United’s 2005 pre-season training camp in the Algarve. Keane was already in Portugal for a family holiday before meeting up with the squad the following week. Queiroz had arranged villas for all the players, but Keane and his wife felt the new villa (chosen by Queiroz) wasn’t up to the standards for a family with young children; so opted to stay at the original villa whilst the other players stayed in the villa complex. Keane believes that Querioz changed towards him following his decision. The following extract demonstrates that relationship breakdown and of course Keane’s perceived belittlement by the Portuguese:
There was often a practice match at the end of training, ten v. ten, or eight v. eight. This time, I ended up being the last man standing, the last player to be picked. Carlos looked at me, and I said, ‘Carlos, what—?’
He had a bib – and I’ll always remember this like it was yesterday, because I’m surprised I didn’t knock him out. He just threw it at me. The other players were looking at me and he went, ‘Oh, you just stand up front.’
I was a midfielder; I didn’t play centre-forward. It was like he was saying, ‘You stand up there, so you won’t do any harm.’
That got my back up, and rightly so. But I wasn’t one for arguing with staff on the training ground.
I could count the number of arguments I’ve had with staff on the training ground on one hand. But I was thinking, ‘Am I missing something?’ And I concluded, ‘Probably.’ But I wasn’t thinking of the villa in Portugal at that time.
Even on a Sunday morning, blowing out of your arse following too many beers and some extremely regrettable ‘fist pumping’ dancing from the night before, we’ve all thrown a strop at being asked to play left back, haven’t we? Keane would surely have been taken aback by this request and of course, how dismissive Queiroz was of the situation.
For me, this is an extremely interesting part of the book. It is a side of Keane I’ve never read about before. He appears to be wary of taking the Sunderland job in the first place – was it out of self doubt, or perhaps the fact that he hadn’t finished his coaching badges? Who knows. But he eventually comes around and takes the hot seat at the Stadium of Light. Its extremely insightful to hear him talk about players. He speaks really highly of Jonny Evans (who he had on loan at the club), loves Dwight Yorke’s character – look out for a great story of him leaving Australia, a Lamborghini… and, of course, tons of women – and thinks Greg Halford is a bit a of a berk.
As the Sunderland journey unravels you can sense Keane grows more comfortable with the role, like he is ‘earning it’. He speaks on numerous occasions about having to earn respect and the way that he dealt with disciplining players. His manner, or manner in which he wants to be perceived, is that of a fair one – which may be due to his ‘unfair’ dismissal from Manchester United. But one of the key takeaways is the repeated questioning of his ability to perform at that level. After he recounts keeping Sunderland up, you can sense the desire and belief and over-optimism for the second season – which Keane regrets, having just survived relegation – a more realistic goal should have been set.
Keane was quite open about what happens behind ‘closed doors’, explaining that Kieran Richardson wanted a certain squad number and a guarantee that he would take penalties prior to signing, Sunderland staff coming to him with marital issues and having a fight with Peter Schmeichel following the revelations that Keane felt the big Dane’s screaming at Paul Parker, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin were all for show in front of the Old Trafford crowd.
One of the most lighthearted and comical parts of the book was Keane’s first day in the Sunderland office:
I’d never had an office before. Now I had a secretary. I had a phone – a phone with buttons, and different lines. I had a leather chair that swung around, a swivel chair. For the first few days I used to swing around on it. If any of the players or staff had peeped through the office window and seen me going ‘Wheeeh!’ The phone would ring, and I’d be pressing different buttons, trying to get the right line.
Southgate’s chest. Haaland’s right leg. Now, the Sunderland hot seat has felt the wrath of Roy Keane.
On Roy Hodgson…
The now England manager has only one mention in the book, but again – I was a laugh out loud moment at what actually happened, rather than what is perceived to have happened. A few weeks before United traveled to Moscow to challenge Chelsea for the European Cup; Sunderland had beaten Fulham 3-1, which of course helped Keane towards safety. Keane spoke earlier in the book about his experience with Steve Cotterill’s head banging off the table following Sunderland scoring a late equaliser against his Burnley side, but his encounter with Hodgson:
As a manager I was enjoying the chats with other managers after the games. Not so much enjoying what was being said, but picking up on their vibes and listening out for a little snippet of wisdom. I’d be thinking, ‘What makes this club work?’, or ‘What are the staff like?’ So I went up to see Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, and his assistant, Ray Lewington.
It was like the scene in Steve Cotterill’s office at Burnley the year before, but without the humour. Steve had turned his disappointment into a joke, but this was different. They were all going, ‘We’re f*cked, we’re f*cked.’
It was embarrassing. I had my Diet Coke and one of those little sausages, and we left. I remember thinking, ‘My goodness, they are f*cked.’
Ahh. The great escape. The overused BBC and SkySports montage with those pesky trumpets being played. Hodgson the hero. When in fact, the now England manager appears to be a crumbling nervous wreck, stuffing his tie in his mouth in a moment of panic and realisation that yes, we are f*cked!
Any Manchester United fan who saw those 480 appearances and witnessed the influence of Roy Keane at the club will have dashed out to buy the book, independent of the much hyped Ferguson or Vieira (reason why both were not included above) clashes. With Ferguson, both are winners, both needed to have big egos to be successful and both have fallen out as a consequence. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham never saw eye to eye; but as long as you do the business on the pitch, who care how you get on off of it.
Keane did the business for over twelve years and Ferguson picked him 480 times – as referenced earlier in the article, its better to remember Keane as the galloping captain, the winner and leader over numerous matches whether it was at Maine Road, the cauldron of Anfield or in the Stadio Delle Alpi. Ferguson has had his say, Keane now has had his.
The Vieira tunnel clash; the legendary tunnel clash where Roy Keane stood up to the 6’4 Arsenal captain who was having a pop at Gary Neville. You’d expect nothing less from Keane in that situation. But what is overlooked in the phenomenal performance Keane put in at Highbury that night as United wiped the floor with Arsenal. His sublime outside of the boot pass into the path of Giggs to set up Ronaldo for the third was exquisite, having won the ball off Robert Pires in the process. “We’ll see you out there!” – we did indeed.
The anecdotes, the insight and the memories are all in there. It doesn’t seem that long ago United were heading to South Africa for the 1993 pre-season tour, which of course was Keane’s first with the club. In that time he became the leader of Manchester United and instilled his own influence and standards into what became a European Cup winning team. The agony at missing out of the final in Barcelona in 1999, is of course closely followed by that header to drag United back in the game. 2-0 down away at Juventus? United should have been dead and buried.
The fight with Alan Shearer, the fury at Jason McAteer – all overshadowed by the embarrassing ‘Phil Neville’ curtains – no wonder Keane gave him a shove – it was all part of the Keane story at Old Trafford. He admits his battle with his demons, speaks about boozing a lot and how he inherited his anger from his father. A must read for all Manchester United fans.
There is only one way to conclude and that is of course to obtain Keane’s opinion on the club:
I loved everything about United. From the day I signed for them. I just think it suited my personality. I loved the team, I loved the way we played. I liked all the lads, I liked the training, I liked the way we travelled. I liked the pressure. I liked the United fans. I thought they were pretty switched on, even when we lost – they’d be going mad, but a nice mad. I liked the demands. The kit. The badge. The history. I liked living in Manchester. I got on well with the manager. There was trust there – a big word in football. I liked the staff. Everyone at the training ground. The groundsmen. The different coaches over the years. Brian Kidd. Jim Ryan. Steve McClaren. Walter Smith. Carlos Queiroz. Micky Phelan. And winning – I enjoyed the winning.