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 Red11 REDitorial

Published: 17 OCT 2003

by John Ryan

Since 1997, Manchester United has been captained by an Irishman whose name automatically inspires all those around him and opposing him to raise their standards in order to achieve success. Roy Keane, signed in August 1993 from Nottingham Forest for a then record 3.75M has just embarked on his eleventh season as a Manchester United player. At thirty two years of age and after a number of injuries throughout his career, Roy Keane has seen and done all there is to know about in football with one of Europe's top clubs. But as the years progress where does Roy's future lie? Certainly the football world in general believes Roy will end up as a football Manager once his playing days end, but will that management role be at Manchester United?

When Alex Ferguson announced in 2000 he would retire from managing Manchester United at the end of 2002, Manchester United's Boardroom staff began searching feverishly for a suitable replacement. Managers from across Europe and beyond were interviewed and met and subsequently re-interviewed as time went by. But as the end of the season in 2002 approached one fact became alarmingly clear. There are very few managers that could replace Alex Ferguson. When Ferguson himself announced he would remain at Old Trafford for another three years it was a relief to the Boardroom and fans who had scratched their heads for so long wondering who would follow the Govan legend. If any lesson had been learned by the whole exercise it is that the job of managing Manchester United will require someone who is at least as mentally tough as Alex Ferguson, someone who can come to terms with the size of the club, someone who will have the respect of every player who plays from Manchester United's youth sides right up to the team that takes on the cream of England & Europe week in week out and someone who can deal with the press and media that can make the life of a Premiership manager almost intolerable. It was testament to the regard Alex Ferguson is held in the world of football that coaches like Luis Van Gaal, Fabio Cappello, Ottmar Hittzfeld and Martin O'Neill were all mooted as replacements. Yet in the end as soon as Ferguson indicated he was ready to stay on, the job was his.

As a player Roy Keane has no equals. In ten seasons at Old Trafford he has won seven championship medals, three FA Cup medals and the Intercontinental Cup. For the Republic of Ireland he has played in the 1994 World Cup finals and in truth no player could have done more to ensure Ireland got to the 2002 World Cup finals. Luck, or lack of it has marred his career at several stages. He damaged his cruciate ligament in September 1997 which kept him out of action until August 1998. He was suspended for the Champions League final of 1999 and in 2002 he returned home from the World Cup before a ball was kicked. What happened between Keane & Mick McCarthy will forever be remembered by Irish Fans who lamented losing the Captain of the Irish team. The bad luck was that Roy did not have his row with McCarthy before going to Saipan, maybe it could have been sorted out if they had the fall out two months before going to Saipan & Roy Keane in the peak of his career could have shown the world just how good a player he is. But every knock Keane takes is something that adds another dimension to his character and drives him on for more success. Roy Keane is a born winner.

When he stops playing football, no doubt job offers will flood in. But for Manchester United fans it would be very strange to see Roy Keane with any other club apart from Manchester United. Just like with Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce, they seemed born to wear the red jersey and it no doubt took a lot of getting used to seeing Robson with Middlesboro and Bruce with Brimingham as a player & Sheffield United as a manager. When Robson & Bruce both called time on their Old Trafford careers job opportunities at Manchester United were limited. Alex Ferguson was going nowhere and Brian Kidd was his trusted assistant. As Roy Keane draws nearer retirement, so too might Alex Ferguson contemplate swapping one of the worlds biggest jobs for more time on the golf course and attending horse races. And the questions have to be asked. Will Roy Keane be the next Manchester United manager? Would it make sense for him to gain experience elsewhere first? And if Roy were to take the job, could he handle being Manchester United manager?

Comparing Manchester United to the last great English footballing dynasty, Liverpool, is difficult because United have not yet had to change a Manager since the beginning of this era of success. Liverpool promoted from within when Shankly, Paisley & Fagan stepped down. The only parallels between the Managerial situations was Liverpool appointing Kenny Dalglish as player-manager in 1985. Dalglish landed the domestic double in his first season in charge and also led Liverpool to championship honours in 1988 & 1990 and FA Cup glory in 1989. European honours could, arguably have followed, had English clubs not been banned from Europe between 1985 and 1990. But in march 1991 Dalglish resigned as manager citing pressure as the reason. No doubt the Hillsborough disaster played a part in his decision, but ultimately he has not been the same as a Manager since. He did a fantastic job with Blackburn Rovers but since then has achieved little or nothing. Like Dalglish was at Liverpool, Roy Keane is adored by the fans of the club he plays for. In his never ending quest for success Keane almost quit as a United player in September 2001 after being sent off at St. James park Newcastle. Roy later revealed in his autobiography that he contemplated "jacking it all in". As the pressure on Roy grew, Alex Ferguson spoke to him, calmed him and returned him to being United captain, ready to take on the world. If this pressure grew on Roy as Manager of Manchester United, who could he talk to? It would be impossible for him to shy away from the media and although Keane is anything but a quitter, could a Dalglish like scenario arise? Or worse still, if criticism came from within the club, would it be like the world cup in 2002 where Roy could not work with people he had no respect for?

Looking at other options Roy Keane might have when he retires, where else could he go? With his hunger for success, it is hard to see him working with some of the lesser Premiership clubs, harder still lower division clubs. Glasgow Celtic could be an option, as he openly admires Celtic football club. Roy would undoubtedly attract attention from abroad, but would moving to a foreign club uproot his family? Managing the Republic of Ireland would also be an option, but Roy would probably not work with those he feels stabbed him in the back in Saipan and Brian Kerr seems intent on managing Ireland for a number of years to come. Certainly, becoming Manchester United manager would be Roy's best option. It would mean no disruption to his family life, working with players of the talent he has worked with in his playing days and with a club he knows inside out.

For Manchester United, Roy Keane would be the most sensible choice of new manager. It would provide minimal disruption to a club sailing along under the stability of Alex Ferguson. Keane could spend time working alongside Ferguson before taking over as Manager. And having spent over six seasons as club captain so far and negotiating his contracts in 1998 & 2001, Keane is aware of the financial constraints imposed by the PLC. He has the respect of the players in the dressing room, which an outside manager might not command and his age is certainly a plus for Manchester United. Keane is young, energetic and would bring new ideas to a club he is so familiar with. Undoubtedly each day in the job would be spent searching for improvement on all fronts. He has never had trouble with the media while playing for Manchester United and rarely are his comments to SKY TV or BBC or any other broadcaster seen as inflammatory. It is only his infamous "prawn sandwiches" comment in November 2000 that has ever really attracted public debate and even then that comment only further endeared him to United's travelling fans on away days. Keane's private life is something he cherishes and something that most likely will never be leaked to the media. Roy Keane is not the kind of man to have his private life debated in newspapers like Sven Goran Ericsson and Roy is not one for attending gala nights out with media photographers waiting for him to make a slip. Away from the field of play Keane is a gentleman and has all of the off field attributes expected from a Manchester United manager.

When Alex Ferguson looks at Roy Keane he must think he's staring a younger version of himself in the face. Ferguson might not have been in the same league as Keane as a player, but Ferguson's achievements as a player are no mean achievements either. He had the same fiery temperament that Keane possesses. Ferguson always wanted to win and was willing to go that extra distance to achieve success. As men, both came from working class backgrounds and through hard work & dedication they rose from their surroundings. Ferguson from Govan in Glasgow, Keane from Mayfield in Cork. Although neither admit to possessing the ball skills of players like Pele, Maradona or Zidane, their dedication to the game took both to the heights of their playing days. Ferguson used experiences drawn from his playing days to deal with his interaction with players. For example, after being dropped from the team to play a Scottish Cup final & only hearing about when the jerseys were being handed out to the players, he swore he would never do that to any player who played for him. Bryan Robson in 1994, Steve Bruce in 1996 & Teddy Sheringham in 1999 were all left out of cup final line ups but no doubt were comforted by Ferguson explaining his actions. And looking at Roy Keane, the experience he has gained in his playing days will help him in Management. The way he felt mistreated by Mick McCarthy will surely help him lay down rules for how he treats players. He has undoubtedly learned from Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson and also from Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy and his earlier coaches at Rockmount FC & Cobh Ramblers in Cork. Just exactly what he has learned will only be put to the test when he does decide to go into management.

All in all Roy Keane is destined to manage Manchester United, the club so far he has given ten seasons a cruciate ligament and a hip to. Manchester United is an integral part of Roy Keane's life and although nothing will match his playing days, taking United to glory in England & Europe as a manager would crown an Old Trafford career that in it's infancy brought the domestic double as a player. It makes sense all round to make Roy Keane the next Manchester United manager & would please the fans, the staff, Keane, Ferguson and maybe even the PLC. there would be no more fitting sight than to see Roy Keane manage Manchester United to the Champions League. None more fitting that is, if he does not with that trophy as a player first.

John Ryan

Copyright 2003 Red11. All rights reserved.
Not to be reproduced without permission of the authour.

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