A Brief History of Roy Keane


Born in Mayfield, county Cork in 1971, Roy Maurice Keane grew up one of five siblings in a working-class family. At the age of nine, Keane took up boxing, training for a number of years and winning all four of his amateur bouts. Around that time, he was developing into a footballer of great promise at local club, Rockmount. Despite many of his teammates receiving scholarships at academies in England, Keane was constantly rejected, largely because of his small height and build. In his late teens, while working labouring jobs, Keane signed for Irish club, Cobh Ramblers on a semi-professional basis. He rapidly made his way into the first team as well as the underage side. But when he lined out for Cobh’s youths in an FAI Cup semi-final against Belvedere, Keane was spotted by Nottingham Forest scout, Noel McCabe, who invited him to England for a trial. He immediately impressed Brian Clough and was signed by the two-time European Cup winners in the summer of 1990. Although he initially struggled with homesickness, Keane persevered and broke into the Forest first team. He made his first-team debut against Liverpool in the early part of the 1990-91 season and earned himself a regular starting berth. Keane’s relationship with Clough though was often tempestuous. After a mistake in an FA Cup third-round tie with Crystal Palace, which cost them victory, Clough punched Keane in the dressing room. Former Forest midfielder Scot Gemmill also revealed that Clough idolised Keane to the point that he would offer to untie his boots after games. Subsequently, Keane has spoken with great affection for Clough, “On top of everything, Brian Clough was a good man. He kept me grounded.” Keane played in a League Cup final for Forest but in 1992 the club was in trouble, battling at the foot of the table. Despite performances which earned him the club’s Player of the Year Award, it wasn’t enough to save them. In his contract, Keane had a clause which would allow him to leave in the event of relegation. The course of history could have been very different, though. Blackburn agreed a fee and Keane was set to join Kenny Dalglish’s side, but a paperwork error allowed Alex Ferguson and Manchester United to swoop in and sign him for a British record of 3.75 Million Pounds. In Keane’s first season Old Trafford, he faced stiff competition in central midfield from Paul Ince and Bryan Robson. But he quickly forced his way into the first team. With Robson suffering from multiple injuries, Keane became a main stay as United won the Premier League title and completed a League and Cup double with a 4-0 win over Chelsea at Wembley. In 1995, United lost out on the title to Blackburn, and that summer Ferguson began a squad overhaul. Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis left the club and were replaced by players from United’s successful Youth Team – David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. Keane assumed the role of a senior player and one of the manager’s most important. United won a League and Cup double, vindicating Ferguson’s decision. When Eric Cantona shockingly retired in 1997, Keane was named United captain. But his first year as skipper was marred by a horrific cruciate knee injury sustained against Leeds United, ruling him out for almost a year. He returned as United were embarking on an historic campaign, which would culminate in a treble of the Premier League, the FA Cup and Champions League titles. In the semi-final against Juventus, Keane picked up a yellow card which would rule him out of the final. United were 2-0 down, but Keane dragged the team through despite the disappointment of his lingering suspension. Ferguson later revealed his awe for the performance of his captain. “It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.” Moving into the next decade, Keane was arguably the leading midfielder in the country alongside his old foe Patrick Vieira. United would win three of the first four titles in the 21st century and Keane was named PFA Player of the Year in 2000. He was rarely removed from controversy, though. After a Champions League game at Old Trafford in 2000, he complained about the lack of atmosphere, claiming that those in the corporate boxes were too busy eating prawn sandwiches to cheer on the team. Keane was sent off eleven times during his United career, most notably for a studs-up over the knee challenge on Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Håland. The two had a long-running feud dating back to Keane’s knee injury when Håland, then of Leeds, was said to have accused him of faking it. Keane later revealed that he intentionally set out to hurt the Norwegian, and Håland would never play professionally again. Later in his career when his body started to betray him, Keane became more outspoken particularly against his teammates. In an infamous interview on club station MUTV, he questioned the desire and application of the United squad and took shots at Rio Ferdinand most notably “Just because you are paid a 120,000 Pounds per week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham, you think you’re a superstar?” Keane witheringly suggested. Ferguson and the club decided it was time to cut the cord and Keane departed the club in November 2005. In total, he won 17 major honours including seven Premier League titles and a Champions League And he is still United’s most successful captain, lifting nine major trophies. Keane finished his career with a brief spell at Celtic and then moved into management, first with Sunderland and then Ipswich. He is currently Martin O’Neill’s assistant with the Republic of Ireland and is also a pundit on ITV. subtitles by Joydeep Roy

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