Leader. Warrior. Fighter. Provocative. Brash. Critical. Fearless. Winner. Champion. These are just a few words that would describe the many layers of Premier League legend Roy Keane.
Keane won everything with Manchester United. The fiery midfielder joined the Red Devils from Nottingham Forest as a budding footballer with huge potential. It was at Forest where Keane learned the art and craft of football. Under the masterful eye of legendary manager Brian Clough, Keane evolved into an intelligent, talented and passionate player. It was only a matter of time before a big club swooped in for his services and Sir Alex Ferguson was happy to take the young Irish lad to Old Trafford.
Following the departure of fellow legend Eric Cantona, Keane was handed the captain’s armband after impressing Sir Alex Ferguson with his exceptional leadership skills. At the time the baton was passed, even Keane would never have believed how many trophies he’d lift with Manchester United. He relished the responsibility of being captain and was an inspiration on the field. He would fight for every ball. He would never give up and many times, Keane would carry the burden of victory on his own shoulders. He was always accountable, win or lose. He is one of the best captain’s the Premier League has ever seen.
There are so many highlights in Keane’s Premier League career, but there are also some low lights. The lowest being his tackle on Norwegian player Alfe-Inga Haland. It was cruel and intentional and he admitted in his autobiography that the tackle was an act of revenge following a past incident involving the two that had led to a major injury for Keane. That tackle on Haland pretty much ended the Norwegian’s career, but Keane never apologized and had no remorse for his actions. This is the darker side of a great footballer. It’s definitely a blemish on his career, but in the Irishman’s eyes, it was justice.
Keane’s passion was often misunderstood and criticized as prima donna behaviour. Whether it was the prawn sandwiches comment aimed at Manchester United fans for lack of support at Old Trafford, the 2002 World Cup tantrum aimed at Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, or the dig at Rio Ferdinand and fellow teammates on MUTV following a 4-1 whipping to Middlesbrough, Keane said what he felt and had no filter when delivering his message. Was he wrong to challenge his teammates desire to win? Was he wrong to point the finger at the fans for not throwing their support behind the team? Was he wrong to question his country’s preparations for the world’s most important football competition? Perhaps he went about things in the wrong way, but his overall message was generally honest and his ultimate point was about winning and being a winner. He was fearless and challenged players and anyone else involved at club or international level.
His brash approach however wore thin at the club where he was beyond revered. The comments against his teammates following that loss to Middlesbrough was the last straw for the one person he couldn’t cross at the Theater of Dreams, Sir Alex Ferguson. Once his mentor and once his biggest believer, Keane’s rant after the Middlesbrough game and his admission on MUTV that he would play for another club were too much for football’s greatest manager. His relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson had deteriorated to a point where it was completely irreparable. The love affair was over. His departure was abrupt. He was shown the door. The Roy Keane chapter in the Manchester United history books was closed.
Keane did go on to play ten games for Celtic and won the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish League Cup. Even he would admit that these don’t count for much and after retiring, he will always be recognized as a Manchester United player. Nothing more, nothing less.
The bottom line is Keane made 323 appearances for Manchester United scoring 33 goals. He was part of the incredible treble winning side in the 1998-99 season. He won seven Premier League titles. He won four F.A. Cups. He won the Community Shield four times and the Intercontinental Cup once. He was voted Footballer of the Year and Players Player of the Year in 2000. In 2004 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. He became a football icon. He also won a Champions League trophy but because he didn’t play in the final due to suspension, he never truly felt he’d won Europe’s biggest prize. He actually called his medal worthless. Can you imagine John Terry saying that? You certainly didn’t see Manchester United’s captain lifting the trophy at the end of that incredible match versus Bayern Munich. Some might say that’s bitterness, but it could also be the mark of a true winner.
Since hanging up his magical midfield boots, Keane has gone into management and experienced promotion success with Sunderland, taking them to the Premier League. However, the love affair between Sunderland and Keane ended after numerous bust-ups with players and disagreements with potential new owners and the board. Eventually, he walked out. After a little time away from the game, he joined Ipswich Town in the Championship but was sacked after only twenty games in charge. It will be some time before we can discuss his managerial legacy. It all depends on whether or not he will accept another challenge. Many have questioned his methods and approach. Perhaps he learned a thing or two watching Brian Clough.
Despite his flaws, Keane was a talented and fascinating football talent. He is now fascinating fans and the media as an exceptionally entertaining football pundit with ITV. No player or manager is immune to his honest feedback and analysis. One man he did finally make nice with in his new role on TV is former manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Upon retiring, Roy Keane praised Sir Alex for his incredible achievements and contributions to the game. Their relationship since his playing days is certainly not the same, but at least he took the high road and showed respect to the man who gave him his big break.
Roy Keane’s career has been captivating. Whether you are in the media, a Manchester United fan or a neutral, he has definitely provided good fodder for column inches and talk in the local pub. Whatever you think of the man, the player was one of the best we have seen. There is no doubt Roy Keane is a Premier League legend.