Published: 23 Apr 2001
Another season, another title and yet again, it seems Roy Keane is in the media for all the wrong reasons. After the media-bombarded Beckham, it seems everybody is always ready to put the boot into Keane, as he is so often ready to do to his opponents. Alfe Inge-Haaland is the latest to feel Keano's on field aggression. But of late has Roy just been thinking too much Roy of the Rovers stuff and not as we want him, Roy of Manchester United and for us Irish folk, Roy of the Republic of Ireland?
I first became aware of Roy Keane in the 1990-91 season as he played for Nottingham Forest. He seemed to be intent on winning a personal battle with Justin Edinburgh in the 1991 FA Cup Final and in my mind that took an edge off his game. Getting personally involved in a feud with a player of lesser ability hampered him and how he must have been torn apart inside to see Spurs take the cup. The first time I saw him in a green shirt was for the Republic against Poland in a Euro 92 qualifier in Poznan in October 1991. Big Jack Charlton picked Keane to play wide on the right much to the displeasure of Eamon Dunphy & John Giles who said that Keane was untried & not yet fit for this level. In the next 90 minutes of football, he rammed those accusations down their throats as he gave a magnificent display for a 19 year old making his debut in International football. The game finished 3-3, Keane probably man of the match in his attacking role.
Throughout the summer of 1993 once the fantastic celebrations of bringing home the title had died down, it was magnificent to see him sign for Manchester United reputedly for 2/3 of what Blackburn Rovers & Arsenal had offered him in weekly wages. In short Keane WANTED to play for the best and he wanted to play for united. Alex Ferguson points to this fact too in his autobiography "Managing my life" when he says "I made it clear how vital I felt his role could be in the successful years I was sure lay ahead for Manchester United" and "my overwhelming advantage this time was that I was dealing with a player who was set on playing for the best team in the business". Roy Keane had arrived at Britain's biggest club. But there lay one person in his way of becoming United's midfield general.
United started that 93/94 season away to Norwich with a 2-0 win and in the second home game Keane scored 2 goals against Sheffield United. Paul Ince was United's midfield general, Keane playing in front of him was to get on the end of moves and it paid off nicely in the first half of the season. He became the first Manchester United player to score in the Champions Cup for over a quarter of a century with his 2 goals away to Kispest Honved in Sept. 1993 and with the Republic he helped clinch a place in the World Cup finals of 1994. In the second half of the season United's massive lead at the top of the Premier League was whittled down from 16 points to 3, but not even suspensions & injuries could prevent United from doing the double. Keane's first season and he had a League & Cup winners medal.
In USA 94, Roy Keane proved himself on the world stage. The Republic marched to a stunning win over Italy, with Keane instrumental in a 5-man midfield that defended & attacked as a brilliant unit. Keane had players of similar stature around him in this team, McGrath, Townsend, Sheridan, Houghton etc. Keane was the highest profile & most talented of them all, but worked as a cog in the wheel. As with Manchester United, he formed part of a unit, a successful unit, although the difference being that for the Republic, success was the second round of the World Cup finals, for United it was domestic superiority & eventually dominance in Europe.
Keane was obviously put out by having to play for long periods at right full back during the 1994/95 season. Ince was still the main man, maybe not in Keane's eyes, but for the moment, in Fergie's. The previous season, Fergie had the option of Bryan Robson as well as Keane, Ince & McClair for central midfield. Seeing McClair & Ince in central midfield obviously made Keane have a think about one or two things, but being a model professional he played on at full back. In the replay of the 1995 FA Cup semi final though, he showed an alarming willingness to hurt an opponent when he stamped on Gareth Southgate of Crystal Palace. A lot of the ex-United players name that 1993/94/95 team as their favourite as in the words of Mark Hughes "it could look after itself". Sparky had almost dislodged a Sheffield United players testicles in January 95, Eric got 9 months for kicking a fan & then Keane's stamp on Southgate. Just what had Roy learned from his peers?.
Once Ince had departed in the summer of 1995, Roy Keane was now United's midfield general. But how had his changed him ? Within 6 months of becoming United's engine, Jack Charlton departed the Republic of Ireland scene and Mick McCarthy now named Keane as his main man for the future. Again though frustration got the better of Keane in McCarthy's first game. Stamping on a Russian opponent as Ireland were out thought, out passed & outclassed in a 0-2 Landsdowne Road defeat pointed to a thought that Roy himself might have thought he was now too good for those around him. Still no sign of this though with Manchester United thrilled us all with another domestic double, the first side ever to do it twice in England. Keane was magnificent that season, with crucial goals, such as against then runaway leaders Newcastle in December 1995. But in that team, Keane still had players of equal & higher stature at Old Trafford. Not least was there Eric Cantona, but players who were at the club longer than him, Pallister, the brilliant Schmeichel, Denis Irwin & club captain Steve Bruce.
In the 96/97 season, United were again Champions but narrowly missed out in Europe. Keane had shown just how vital he was to United when in November 1996 against Juventus at Old Trafford, following an injury to a team-mate, he was forced to play at Centre Back for most of the game. That night he showed true class dominating the towering Alen Boksic in the air & on the ground. At the end of the game it was academic to united who lost 0-1, but Keane had now shown he was as skilled at playing at centre back as he was at central midfield, right of midfield, or at full back. In short, world class. But as the burden of European failure seemed to loom large on Cantona, his departure spelled another senior pro leaving and now it was looking like the rags to riches story was complete - Roy Keane captain of Manchester United & Ireland.
His cruciate ligament injury kept Keane out of the game for 11 months, but he returned a better player after a gruelling rehabilitation period. Keane was at fault himself for the lunge on Haaland, but Haaland's post match comments in my mind, always earmarked him as a man who would one day be sought out for retribution. And I think we saw that in the latest Old Trafford Manchester Derby. After Keane's return from injury came the start of where I think his current problems lie. During the 98/99 season he became locked with the club in a row over a new contract & wages. After a long battle, he got what he wanted & personally, I just wonder what this victory over Manchester United meant to Roy Keane. As a huge fan of Keane myself, I was delighted to see him stay at Old Trafford, especially on that night in Turin when we seemed to be crashing out of Europe losing 2-0, Juventus made the mistake of despatching Zidane to mark Keane from a corner, no contest, goal for Keane & the rest is history. And not even a yellow card resulting from a poor pass by Blomqvist in the first half of that game, could stop Keane working his genius. I think it's better left to Alex Ferguson to describe Keane's performance. "The minute he was booked & out of the final, he seemed to redouble his efforts to get the team there. It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field."
Manchester United won the treble, but in truth, of the final 3 games Roy Keane really only competed in one. Injury after 8 minutes of the FA Cup final and suspension in the Champions League final make me wonder if Roy Keane is now a bitter man. He did so much to get his team mates to the final in Barcelona, going through a sending off in the FA Cup semi final replay, injury in the FA Cup final and sitting out the Champions League final, does he now resent the fact others do not presently seem to match his standards? Is this a reason he is calling for the current United side to be broken up? Sure, we all feel new faces are needed, but to openly advocate that some of your team mates should be sold on is bound to infuriate them. And what of Paul Scholes who also missed out on that night in Barcelona? With his vital goals for England to get them to Euro2000 Scholes could have been forgiven had he said his team mates were not good enough, but he chose to let others do the talking. And playing out of position in Munich, where his effect was dampened surely annoyed him. Yet Scholes remains calm to the last.
As I write this, we are still coming to terms with our defeat in Munich, and with not being able to beat Manchester City. But I've seen such a change in Roy Keane over the past 2-3 seasons that I feel we have to dig beneath the surface of our captain. Of late he has criticised the FAI, the Ireland players and now the Manchester United players. Will he criticise Alex Ferguson? Now that would really be crossing the line. An Irish Journalist called Kevin O' Shaughnessy wrote an imaginary piece in the Irish Independent a few weeks back. He imagined he was playing for the Republic and made a drastic error only to recover & clear the ball off the line. And then in his fantasy, Roy Keane berated him. He hit Keane & got sent off for violent conduct. It may be a dream/nightmare, call it what you will, but in reality, is an incident like this around the corner? Will a United or Ireland player finally lose patience with their success frenzied captain?
It is all very well for Roy to criticise the FAI & the current United players, but in my opinion, this could all have been started by Roy getting that £52K a week contract. The fans backed him to the hilt, some outrageously suggested 10,000 of us donate £1 a week to pay him what the club wouldn't and that showed Roy the fans loved him. Then he got United to a Champions League final, sacrificing himself to he United cause. He ran himself into the ground so that 13 other players could wear the red that night in Barcelona on United's biggest night. Does he now question the willingness of 11 that same 13 to do for him, what he did for them?
Possibly, Roy has overstepped the mark recently for both club & country. He is the captain & star player for both sides. But what effect is he having now on those about him? Again, in O'Shaughnessy's article in the Irish Independent, he points to the fact that as Keane has become more outspoken & so blatantly critical (hands waving, veins pumping from his forehead) of his team mates that players for Ireland like Damien Duff & Robbie Keane who thrive on confidence, have had poor spells for Ireland. And when Robbie Keane is so inform at Leeds without any Roy Keane like captain to chew his ear off, it is worrying. In fact since Schmeichel's departure from Old Trafford, it seems that for Ireland & United, only Gary Breen seems to react when criticised on the field of play by Keane. Gary Neville may have refuted Keane's post Munich cries, but on the field, players in the red & green shirts seem to cringe after a Keane tongue lashing.
If Roy's words are to be fully digested, I think he's saying this to us; "Bring in more players of my quality". Yes, that will bring us a better team, maybe even another European Cup, but if Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids or Rivaldo was to receive the abuse for simple mistakes like the abuse Gary Breen, Robbie Keane, Andy Cole, Wes Brown & Jaap Stam have all received over the past few months, who knows what might happen. If any of us were in a job where every mistake we made was met with a torrent of abuse, a new job would be sought very quickly. All I would say to our Captain Fantastic is "you are a living legend" but I think often there is as much to be gained by saying "unlucky, stick it in the net next time" rather than mouthing off. Is Roy Keane simply a man who always seeks revenge? Revenge like he sought with Haaland, like the way in which he managed to get £52K a week out of an Old Trafford board who felt he wasn't worth that, like the way he got revenge on impatient fans at the Dynamo Kiev game by labelling them "Prawn Sandwich eaters" or the way in which he now says the current United side has reached "the end of the road", knowing he himself will never be sold, but those not matching his standards might well be?
There is only one marvellous, fantastic, brilliant Roy Keane and I'm blessed he plays for the 2 teams I love, but although he might get away with his comments at international level no player is bigger than Manchester United. If his words to his team mates are doing as much damage to their confidence as they are to motivate them then the lack of confidence is blacking out the motivation. For a little country playing on the world stage, The Republic of Ireland needs to be confident. And as we saw in our glorious treble season, confidence and the belief you are always going to score are vital to Manchester United. How can that be achieved when your captain is saying you're not good enough? Fresh faces we need yes, selling half our team, no. Our greatest night was won without Roy Keane in Barcelona and maybe in future before putting his team mates to the sword, Roy might just have a little think about that. Or is that what makes him so angry every time he wears a Manchester United shirt?
© 2001 by John Ryan & Red Eleven. All rights reserved.
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