Written by John White for Manchester United Then & Now

Sir Alex Ferguson described Roy Keane as the best he’s ever worked with, aspiring footballers and Reds everywhere worshipped the ground he walked on but above all else, Keano epitomised the unwavering spirit and desire to succeed which Manchester United stands for. The Cork-born midfielder began his career with Cobh Ramblers after failing to gain an apprenticeship in English football. However, the legendary Brian Clough took him to Nottingham Forest for a bargain £47,000 in 1990 before he completed a then-record £3.75 million switch to Old Trafford in the summer of 1993, spurning advances from Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers to join the inaugural Premier League Champions of 1992-93. Two goals on his home debut, a 3-0 win over Sheffield United, served notice of what would follow and the gladiatorial Keane won the first of seven Premier League winners’ medals, the first of four FA Cup winners’ medals and the first of four FA Community Shield winners’ medals in his debut season helping United secure a second consecutive Double with a 4-0 thumping of Chelsea on a rain-soaked pitch at the old Wembley Stadium in the 1994 FA Cup final. Along the way he added a UEFA Champions League and Intercontinental Cup winners’ medals. Following the retirement of the enigmatic French genius, Eric Cantona, in May 1997, Fergie handed Keano the captain’s armband and the Irishman repaid the Boss’s faith in him as he rallied United’s troops in the heat of some fierce battles at home and abroad and commandeered the midfield. However, his first season as skipper was cut short by a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained in a tackle with Leeds United’s Alf-Inge Haaland at Elland Road, Leeds in September 1997. The 1998-99 season more than any other saw Keano rise to Legend status among the United faithful but it was a season of mixed fortunes for the fiery Irishman. On his way to leading United to their historic Treble, a sending-off in the FA Cup semi-final replay victory over Arsenal was followed by a yellow card during arguably his greatest display in a United shirt, the UEFA Champions League semi-final second-leg tie away to Juventus, forcing him to miss that unforgettable night in Barcelona when United were crowned Champions of Europe after defeating FC Bayern Munich 2-1 at Camp Nou.

In addition to his fifth Premier League winners’ medal Keano scooped the prestigious Professional Footballers’ Association Players’ Player of the Year Award and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year Award in 1999-2000. Prior to the start of the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals in South Korea & Japan, Keano was involved in a huge bust-up with his Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, which led to Keane’s premature departure from the finals and what looked to be the end of his international career. Irish sport had never witnessed a bigger controversy than the Roy Keane-Mick McCarthy explosive disagreement in Saipan which became known as ‘The Saipan Affair.’ However, he made a shock return to international action under Brian Kerr in May 2004, a year which also saw him inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, but retired from the international scene in the autumn of 2005 following Ireland’s failure to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals. Prior to his decision to quit international football he broke a metatarsal bone in his foot in United’s Premiership match against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday 18 September 2005 which proved to be his last ever game for United. On 19 November 2005, United fans all over the world were in shock when their Caesar announced that after conquering the south he was moving north across the border to join Glasgow Celtic, a team he had supported ever since he was a young boy. “Whilst it is a sad day for me to leave such a great club and manager I believe the time has now come for me to move on,” said Roy on the day of his departure. Paying tribute to his out-going general on the pitch Fergie said: “Roy is the best midfield player in the world of his generation and one of the great figures in our club’s illustrious history.” Six months after joining Celtic and helping them secure the Scottish Premier League title and Scottish League Cup, Keano announced his retirement from professional football on 12 June 2006 following medical advice. Keano’s contribution to the history of Manchester United is indelibly recorded in the club’s history books and along with Eric Cantona, who like Keano was not afraid to speak his mind in front of the media, particularly if he felt his colleagues were not reaching the high standards he expected, define the 1990s for Manchester United.

Roy Keane pulled on a Manchester United shirt 480 times from 1993-2005 and scored 51 goals for the club. He made 67 international appearances for the Republic of Ireland and scored 9 goals, 1991-2005.

Roy Keane – Manchester United 19 July 1993 – 18 November 2005

Born: 10 August 1971 (Cork)

Signed: 19 July 1993

Debut: 7 August 1993 v Arsenal at Wembley in the Charity Shield, Score: 1-1 (United won 5-4 on penalties)

Goals Total: 51

Appearances Total: 480

Position: Midfielder

Left United: 18 November 2005

Honours: Premier League (7): 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2oo3. FA Cup (4): 1994, 1996, 1999 & 2004. FA Community Shield (4): 1993, 1996 & 2003. UEFA Champions League 1999 & Intercontinental Cup (World Club Championship) 1999.

Did You Know That?

Before embarking on a career in football, Keano took-up boxing when he was just 9-years old and trained for a number of years, winning all four of his bouts in the novice league. His favourite footballers when he was growing up were fellow Irishman, Liam Brady, Glenn Hoddle of Tottenham Hotspur (another team he supported as a boy) and United Legend Bryan Robson.


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  1. Despite all the media focus on the fallout between Roy Keane and Sir Alex, John White shows that there was a lot of respect from the gaffer for his midfield general. Recommended by Bryan Robson, Sir Alex made the right decision at the right time.

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