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Roy Keane Interview in The Times Today


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Roy Keane hits back at Sir Alex Ferguson: A powerful interview in today's Sunday TimesFerguson and me… it was strictly business Roy Keane came under fire for criticising Manchester United’s Champions League exit. Never one to shirk a challenge, he now hits back David Walsh Published: 18 December 2011

inline_photo.png?2After over 12 years at United ‘I thought I was more than an employee’ (Francesco Guidicini)

The interview is arranged for the Marriott Hotel, once the Four Seasons near Manchester airport; the hotel that was his first home when he joined United in the summer of ’93. He hated those weeks of room service, rubbish television, solitude and being Britain’s “most expensive footballerâ€. It wasn’t the hotel’s fault and on these once-in-five-year occasions when he agrees to an interview, this will be the venue.

His allegiance to old places is matched by devotion to old habits. The interview is timed for 2pm but he will be here before then. As sure as others are late, he is early. A room is booked the day before and I am changing into fresh clothes when there is a knock. It is 1.40pm, 20 minutes before the appointed hour. Can’t be him.

“Who’s there?†No answer.

It’s definitely him.

For a second you feel like Mark Bosnich on the Australian goalkeeper’s first morning at The Cliff, an hour late for training. “I got lost on the way from the hotel,†he said. “Got f****** lost?†Keane said witheringly.

Bosnich didn’t have a brilliant career at Manchester United.

Shirt buttoned, pants fastened, you open the door.

“Roy, you actually caught me with my trousers down,†you say, by way of apology.

“Isn’t it usually the other way round?†he says, smilingly.

This meeting is no accident. He wanted it. Things on his mind.

Seven days earlier, he was working for ITV at Manchester United’s Champions League tie against Basel in Switzerland.

Before the game he watched a pre-recorded interview with United’s 19-year-old England international Phil Jones and sensed Jones didn’t quite grasp the seriousness of United’s predicament. “Too relaxed,†Keane thought, “maybe they’re thinking they’re going to get through because they are Man United.†He sees it like this because he still is Man United.

inline_photo.png?2 In Basel, United couldn’t get the draw they needed. What had seemed a simple qualifying group had undone them. Keane felt 38-year-old Ryan Giggs was United’s best player and that the younger players hadn’t heeded the warnings of disappointing draws against Basel and Benfica in earlier matches at Old Trafford.

“People have talked about the young players,†he said in his post-match analysis, “you’ve had Jones, [Chris] Smalling, [Ashley] Young coming in, everybody building them up, but they’ve got a lot to do. It’s a reality check for some. I’d be getting hold of some of those lads, saying, ‘You’d better buck up your ideas’.â€

Minutes later a journalist asked Sir Alex Ferguson what he thought of Keane’s criticism.

“I don’t know why you are bringing this up from a television critic,†Ferguson said. “That’s nothing to do with it. Roy had an opportunity to prove himself as a manager and it’s a hard job.†Ferguson’s response betrayed annoyance at the question but it also spoke of a strained relationship with his former skipper.

In his programme notes for the game against Wolverhampton Wanderers three days later, Ferguson returned to the criticism prompted by the failure in Basel. “We will take a lot of stick from critics and even from people we thought were perhaps on our side but we mustn’t dwell on that either,†he wrote.

Keane saw this as an attempt to portray him as the enemy and decided that was it. Enough was enough.

He comes to this hotel room knowing exactly what he wants to say. “Believe it or not, the [Wednesday evening] comments didn’t really upset me. I know what he’s capable of and Man United have just been knocked out of a group they should have coasted through.

“I remember him doing punditry before for the BBC and ITV, but all of a sudden this idea of being a TV critic or pundit is not good. That didn’t bother me. And if you want to question my managerial record, listen, you could question every pundit’s managerial skill in relation to his and we’re all going to come up short. But I would also say that without players like myself, maybe he wouldn’t have such a good managerial record because players who go down the punditry road, it’s soon forgotten that we put bodies on the line for him.â€

Though mildly irritated, Keane would have let Ferguson’s Wednesday evening comments pass. Saturday’s dig was a different matter. “There was an angle there of trying to get the fans to look differently at me and I thought, ‘I can’t have that’. I thought it was ridiculous.

“I can hardly do the TV wearing the United scarf and if me telling the young players to pull their socks up is such a hard thing to accept, I ask myself what kind of world are we living in.

“I also said the other night that the senior players have to lead the way, set the tone, whether it’s training, how you prepare for a match, how you behave around the hotel.

“But that doesn’t mean you shield the young players who are international players, who are in around Manchester doing whatever they’re doing, but there seems to be this thing, ‘How can you criticise a young player?’ These same young players are going to try to win the European championship for England this summer. Do we wrap them up in cotton wool?â€

He reaches for a jug of water on the table, fills the two glasses and moves easily back to the subject of Ferguson and why he believes his ex-manager wished to portray him as a traitor. “I know how this works,†he says, “absolutely. When I spoke to Alex about management before I left United, the two words he always used were power and control. I understand power and control over people inside the football club, understand that 100%. But not power and control of the people who have left the club. He’s trying to have power and control over me but I left Man United six years ago. So I just thought, ‘You didn’t need to go there’, but having said that, it didn’t surprise me.â€

On November 18, 2005, he left Manchester United after a falling out with Ferguson over an interview given to MUTV about the team’s performance in a 4-1 loss at Middlesbrough. Keane was critical of teammates and at a subsequent meeting he took offence to assistant coach Carlos Queiroz lecturing him on loyalty, reminding the Portuguese he was the one who had run off to Real Madrid when the chance came.

United’s statement on Keane’s departure talked of a parting “by mutual consentâ€, a bow to PR that fooled no-one. He was being shown the door. The statement prepared by the club thanked him for “11½ years at the club†when he had in fact been 12Ã… years at Old Trafford. United paid up his contract but couldn’t buy his silence.

In an interview almost two-and-a-half years later with Tom Humphries of the Irish Times, Keane spoke for the first time about his leaving of Manchester United. His hurt at the manner of the exit was still apparent. “The day I left United, in hindsight, I should have stopped playing. I lost the love of the game that Friday morning. I thought football is cruel, life is cruel.†He accused people at United of not being honest with him.

That interview was published on April 5, 2008. Ten days later Keane received a letter from Brabners, Chaffe, Street, solicitors acting on behalf of Manchester United. It was a standard legal threat: unless there was a full retraction and apology, in terms approved by Manchester United, and an undertaking not to make any further criticisms, the club would consider all of its legal rights and remedies. United threatening to sue him: Keane was furious.

“I count my blessings to have played for Manchester United. All of my family are United fans and I don’t have any bitterness towards Man United, please let’s make that clear. But when you get a letter from lawyers representing the club through your letter box, you wonder what it was all about.

“I rang David Gill [united’s chief executive], ‘What’s this all about, David?’ I did an interview to promote Guide Dogs for the Blind, I touched upon my leaving United. ‘What’s it all about’, I asked David.â€

Without Gill needing to tell him, Keane knew. The letter wouldn’t have been sent unless Alex Ferguson wanted it sent. United’s lawyers followed up the original correspondence with repeated requests for the apology but were told by Keane’s representative, Michael Kennedy, that there would be no apology.

Kennedy had not been instructed to acknowledge the original letter.

Eventually, Brabners, Chaffe, Street went away.

It is remarkable that in recounting the story of his now discordant relationship with Ferguson, Keane is calm, relaxed and matter-of-fact. “My experience when leaving United couldn’t tarnish my time at the club. Take nothing away from the 12½ years, I loved every minute of it. I would like to think that I was more than another employee but maybe, ultimately, I wasn’t.â€

The key to his disappointment is the breakdown in the relationship with Ferguson. They enjoyed the most successful manager/captain relationship in the history of the club and surely it had to have been good back then?

“I look back at the relationship and I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t about me being good for him and good for the club. People say he stood by me in difficult times. But not when I was 34, not when I was towards the end and had a few differences with Carlos Queiroz. All of a sudden then, ‘Off you go, Roy, and here’s the statement we’ve done, and here this and here’s that’.â€

“Do you believe the comments that led to your exit wouldn’t have led to your departure if you’d uttered them at 27?â€

“Absolutely. I had disagreements with the manager over many years. I remember one really bad one, I might have been 26 or 27, something happened at a Christmas do, it was a proper blazing row, but he dealt with it.

“Clever management, you recognise when players are really important to you.

“I go back to the two words, power and control. ‘Say this, Roy, do this, pull this in a little bit’, what I did or said was always for the good of the club. I suffered for that towards the end, then it was unacceptable. The difference was that I was 34.â€


inline_photo.png?2Keane declined to go to a banquet to mark Ferguson’s 25 years as United boss (John Peters)On the day before the interview, he watched a television re-run of a 1996 Champions League tie in Vienna. A must-win game that United won 2-0.

Ferguson asked Keane to man-mark Rapid’s most creative player, Didi Kuhbauer. Late in the game Kuhbauer broke forward, Keane pursued, there was a chance of a goal and a late fightback but the United midfielder made the tackle, snuffed out the danger but got stood on by Kuhbaeur, suffering a gash that would need 19 stitches.

“Watching that old game, I was reminded of the time when not just me but all the players put their bodies on the line. Then the manager is being interviewed afterwards. ‘But Roy got injured?’ says the TV guy, ‘We’ve moved on’, he says and I understand that. It’s about the team, I’m not daft, but there is that question now, ‘What was it all about?’â€

In his mind the perceived truths about the United manager are not absolute truths. “People say Ferguson always does what’s right for Man United. I don’t think he does. I think he does what’s right for him. The Irish thing [Ferguson’s aborted legal action against John Magnier over the breeding rights to Coolmore Stud stallion Rock Of Gibraltar], I was speaking to the manager about it. This didn’t help the club, the manager going to law against its leading shareholder.

“How could it be of benefit to Man United? It wasn’t and we know what happened [in the end]. What was that all about? Power and control. ‘They’ve used me, they’ve treated me badly’, Ferguson told me in his office. I said, ‘You’re not going to win’, and he said, ‘I don’t care, no-one does that to me’, and I go, ‘Okay, off you go, I’m not going to change your mind’. Amazing what happens.â€

He understands by publicly talking about his broken relationship with Ferguson that he will worsen an already difficult situation. This, he can accept because the alternative meant not standing up for himself; that is to say not being Roy Keane.

“[Roberto] Martinez [Wigan’s manager] made a point about it a year or two ago, suggesting certain managers were in Ferguson’s pocket, although he then claimed what he said was misrepresented. But you see it. Ex-players and even managers, like lapdogs around him, nodding their heads.

“My attitude is that like everyone else, I’m entitled to my opinion but it’s as if you can’t have a go at certain people, you can’t defend yourself [against them].â€

The spirit that made him Manchester United’s most successful skipper still burns but at 40 Keane has mellowed. He is enjoying life. His work with ITV has allowed him to spend time with Martin O’Neill, Gareth Southgate and Andy Townsend and he’s enjoyed that. He spent two great days with Marcel Desailly on a work trip to Nigeria recently and last Saturday evening at the Bernabeu stadium he watched the Real Madrid v Barcelona game in the company of Davor Suker.

In Basel for United’s game he met Gary Pallister on the street and ended up going for coffee with Pallister, Bryan Robson and Andy Cole. Nicky Butt, he met last week. “I always enjoy the chat with Butty, we met by accident but I keep in touch with him anyway. He lives around the corner, bought my old house off me, I gave him a hell of a deal on that. I bloody did. He says I ripped him off.â€

Perhaps, you suggest, that in the end the differences with Ferguson were natural, two strong personalities colliding. That when you compare his relationships with the two great managers of his professional career, Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson, he simply had more affection for the former?

“Yeah, I think that would be right. I think I liked his personality probably a bit more. And that’s nothing against Ferguson or anything like that. I think I identified with Cloughie a bit more because of the way he was.

“He was a bit different, a bit strange, but I liked the way he spoke about the game. I will always hold him in high esteem because he brought me to England, let’s not get away from that and he put me in the team pretty quickly.

“I think you can be a great manager but you can also be a good man. I think it’s allowed.â€

If there is a sadness in the fall-out from his Manchester United exit and the breakdown of his relationship with the manager, it is that he no longer feels comfortable at Old Trafford.

“I’ve got a family, I’ve got a son and I always thought I’d go back and watch some games with him. Apart from two testimonials, he’s not been in the stadium since I’ve left. I’ve been back maybe three times, Gary’s and Scholesy’s testimonial games and I think I did one game for Sky, United v Arsenal.â€

“On a free Saturday, wouldn’t you take your son to Old Trafford?â€

“Not in a million years.â€


“I don’t know.â€

“You must know?â€

“I really don’t because, to be fair, United would look after me. It’s not as if they don’t want me there.â€

“You must regret this?â€

“Nah, I don’t. That’s the way I am. I can be funny like that. It’s not just United, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going back to Sunderland, nor would I be comfortable going back to Ipswich. Forest, I’ve not felt too bad about. Went back to watch them at the City Ground a couple of months ago when Steve McClaren was there. I left Forest and it was okay, the ending was okay and I think that’s the difference.â€

He laughs as he says this, like a kid who has unravelled a knot more easily than he thought he could. Other knots are more difficult. He was invited to last month’s banquet celebrating Ferguson’s 25 years at Manchester United. “Anne Wiley, the club secretary, got in touch, but I didn’t go. Everyone to their own. Martin [O’Neill] said to me, ‘You’ve got to move on’, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable. ‘No, not for me’, I said. I did get in touch with Anne, didn’t just not turn up. The way it ended, the legal letter, I couldn’t have gone and sat there like everything was great, he would come in and we all stand up and clap. I couldn’t do that.â€

He speaks earnestly but without malevolence, everything delivered with matter-of-fact neutrality.

You ask him how long he believes Ferguson will keep going? “It will be the manager’s choice when he decides to go. I don’t think it will be anytime soon. I think he looks well, he doesn’t look in any way jaded and even that defeat in Basel, as much as you might say it was a massive setback, it will probably spur him on to see these young players improve. Everyone thinks they [the young ones] are going to be top players, they are going to do well even if some of them are taking longer to adapt to the Champions League than they probably should.â€

You suggest that United, unprepared to pay the astronomical wages demanded by the very best players, could find themselves behind City and Chelsea in the English hierarchy, the old aristocrat unable to compete with the nouveaux riches.

This is the theory that animates Keane’s loyalty to his old club.

“No, that won’t happen. Dismiss that straightaway. Just won’t happen. The manager won’t let it happen, the supporters wouldn’t let it happen. City still have a lot to do and you never dismiss United.â€

He returns to the moment of his departure from United, that notorious interview with MUTV, and how it might so easily not have happened. “I swapped games with Gary Neville, I was meant to do Tottenham at home, Tottenham never win at Old Trafford, that would have been easy.

“But MUTV is dangerous, United get beaten 10-nil and let’s look on the bright side, let’s take the positive, it wasn’t 11. So I swap with Gary, I get the away game at Boro and it’s like, ‘Go easy on the lads here’.

“They were beaten 4-1 and I’ve got to say it was great that it wasn’t five.†That would have been easy, but it wouldn’t have been Keane.

“I see myself on the sideline with a team†— go to the next page for Keane on life outside management

When Saturday comes, Keane misses it still

inline_photo.png?2Keane accepts, but does not fear, the notion of never managing again (Paul McFegan)

Every Saturday, Theresa, his wife, notices it. The agitation. He is there but he’s not there; present but not available. Roy Keane has had two manager’s jobs, Sunderland and Ipswich Town, and he awaits the opportunity to begin again. “I feel my role is out with a club somewhere, I really do, and as much as I’m enjoying my time off, I see myself on the sideline with a team.â€

And on Saturdays it hurts. He thinks about the clubs that would suit him, the ones that wouldn’t, and knows there are plenty of both. People ask if he fears he might not get another chance; he says he doesn’t fear it but he accepts it. He’s never been a believer in divine rights. But, deep down, he thinks there will be another job, that his passion for the game will take him to new challenges.

Saturdays, though, are tough: all those games, and he is checking on Teletext all the time. It drives him crazy. To lessen the agitation, he now goes to games. “I was down to Wigan four weeks ago, when they played Blackburn. Wigan’s a good club for me because there’s generally spare seats in the far stand, away from the main one.

“Dressed in jeans, cap over my ears, scarf over my chin, I went to the woman at the window. ‘Can I buy a ticket?’ She said, ‘Can we have your details?’ ‘Do you have to?’ I asked. She said it was okay and I handed over my 20 quid, got my ticket. ‘Good value’, I thought. Watched the game, enjoyed it, pie at half-time, six goals, no one recognised me, didn’t have to make small talk, good day.†Encouraged, he returned to the DW stadium two weeks later for the Arsenal game. Parking his car a mile from the ground, he ran from there and returned to the lady he had dealt with for the Blackburn ticket. There were just over 19,000 people inside the ground, leaving more than 5,000 empty seats.

“With my cap and scarf, she didn’t know who I was. ‘Listen, I was here two weeks ago and bought a ticket then, can I buy one now?’ She said this was a different category game and she needed my details. I gave my name and address. ‘You’re not on the system’, she said. ‘I know’, I said, ‘but I bought a ticket two weeks ago and you said it was okay’. ‘That was for Blackburn’, she said. ‘Okay’, I said, ‘I’ll buy a season ticket’. She said it wasn’t possible. ‘You’re not on the system’. And I said, ‘I think your club is £37m in debt and you don’t want my money’.

“I did give her a little bit of lip and she said she would call security. ‘Call them’, I said. The security guy came along, put his hands on my arm. ‘Get your hands off me’, I said. He did. I strolled back to my car and drove home.â€

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Weird bloke. Totally committed on the field, but walked out on his team mates and country just before a world cup, because he didn't like Mick McCarthy and thought the training facilities were beneath him. Some people are too complex for their own good.

Great player for United, but not a truly great player, and a truly nasty piece of work. Oh, and a crap manager.

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Take off the blinkers mate,Keano was truly world class,tell me some one better??

Graeme Souness (at Liverpool) Lothar Matthaus (at Inter), Marcel Desailly (at Marseille and Milan), Edgar Davids (at Juventus), Frank Rikaard (at Milan) and Patrick Vieira (at Arsenal) I would all put above above him. There are others that I would put on a par with him such as Essien when he was at his best.

Another of the Manchester United players that our media fawn over/overrate.

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Agreed Ballack and Blue. We wouldn't have been pissing about against Wigan if he had been in the team. The kind of players you need away in the north in December are all too rare these days.

Also on the Ireland thing, he went to Korea because he was promised by McCarthy that things would be done properly and it wouldn't be a half arsed operation as had regularly been the case. He turned up and the kits and all sorts of things weren't there. So he had a set to with McCarthy and as a result of that left.

Edited by Spiller86
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what a great read...i think keane was a great player whether you like him as a person or not...think he's bang on about fergie too...may have achieved a lot but the way he won't let anyone criticise him or the team is a joke and actions of a spolit kid, not 70 year-old man

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I'm sure I'd dislike him if it wasn't for the fact that he played for my country.

On 1st September 2001 in Lansdowne Road Ireland beat Holland 1-0 in the qualifiers for the World Cup. This remains the best football match I ever attended and the single best sporting performance by anyone in any field I have witnessed. Keane was the best defender, best midfielder and best attacker on the pitch for either side.

As for his oddness I have it on good authority that he suffers from depression. McCarthy pushed his buttons on that trip to Saipan and knew exactly what he was doing.

One good story which you may not know emerged from the team meeting when McCarthy accused Keane of feigning injury to miss out on a friendly. Predictably enough Keane blew his top and in a furious tirade tore strips off McCarthy before storming out.

You can imagine the stunned silence in the room which was eventually broken by reserve goal keeper Dean Kiely who piped up from the back

"I can do a job for you in the middle, Mick."

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Graeme Souness (at Liverpool) Lothar Matthaus (at Inter), Marcel Desailly (at Marseille and Milan), Edgar Davids (at Juventus), Frank Rikaard (at Milan) and Patrick Vieira (at Arsenal) I would all put above above him. There are others that I would put on a par with him such as Essien when he was at his best.

Another of the Manchester United players that our media fawn over/overrate.

Apart from LM,Keane was still the best midfielder around,if he could score as prolifically as lamps,he would of been Zidannesque.When he played he was awsome,his touch, passing ,drive,energy and overall awe he had over so many,wished he'd played for us

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Apart from LM,Keane was still the best midfielder around,if he could score as prolifically as lamps,he would of been Zidannesque.When he played he was awsome,his touch, passing ,drive,energy and overall awe he had over so many,wished he'd played for us

His drive, energy and will to win were world class. His touch, passing, skill and goal scoring were not.

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Apart from LM,Keane was still the best midfielder around,if he could score as prolifically as lamps,he would of been Zidannesque.When he played he was awsome,his touch, passing ,drive,energy and overall awe he had over so many,wished he'd played for us

"If he could score as prolifically as Lamps" - thats a pretty huge if when you consider that Lamps is one of the best goal scoring midfielders EVER.

As for Keane being better than any of the players I listed, sorry thats a nonsense. No danger he was better than Souness when he played with Dalglish at Liverpool. Not. A. Chance. Ditto Rikaard when AC Milan won back to back European Cups in the late 80s. Desailly was a force of nature in his prime at Milan and even when he was past it he was still bloody effective with us.

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Bumstead you must at least acknowledge that in his role as tackling enforcer there were few better than him. I rank him right there with Viera. Although our own crazy man Dennis Wise was alright as well :wink:

As a tackling enforcer I agree he was top class. My disagreement with Ballack and Blu is just based on him saying there are no midfielders that are better which is not remotely true.

When youve seen midfielders of the class of Matthaus, Sammer, Cambiasso and the rest I mentioned, players that were complete midfielders: strong, intelligent, great tacklers, great passers who could score, create for themselves and you hear players like Roy Keane (who was a basic ball winner, very good at it) lauded as the best ever midfielder I just cannot agree. As a ball winner I rate Keane highly, as an all round midfielder? Nothing out of the ordinary.

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