Manchester United's bid for Cesc Fabregas serves as a reminder of how much the club still misses Roy Keane
It is 20 years ago this summer that Manchester United completed one of the most significant signings of the Sir Alex Ferguson era by luring Roy Keane to Old Trafford from Nottingham Forest
With United submitting a £26m offer for Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas within 24 hours of arriving in Sydney on the Australian leg of their pre-season tour, it served as a reminder of how Keane’s shadow still looms over the team, despite the success achieved by the club since his acrimonious departure in November 2005.
Eight years on, the one thing United still lack is a commanding, dominating midfielder in the Keane mould.
Michael Carrick, Keane’s immediate £18.6m successor – the former Tottenham player happily took the Irishman’s number 16 shirt on his arrival at United in August 2006 – has been an unqualified success at Old Trafford and is now finally gaining the recognition that his performances have deserved.
But there have been more failures than successes – Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson, anyone? – and a ghost from United’s past, a player actually billed as the new Keane, will come face-to-face with the club when David Moyes’s team play the A-League All-Stars here in Sydney on Saturday.
Remember Liam Miller, the free transfer signing from Celtic in 2004, who spectacularly failed to live up to his somewhat over-optimistic billing?
Perhaps because he was Irish, from Cork just like Keane, Miller found himself bracketed alongside his more illustrious fellow countryman when he arrived at United prior to Keane’s final full season at the club.
But the reality was that Miller ultimately sunk without trace, unable to cope with the pressure of life at United, and he made just 22 appearances in two seasons before being loaned out to Leeds prior to his sale to Sunderland.
Miller then drifted into anonymity, moving on to QPR and Hibernian before heading to Australia to play for Perth Glory two years ago.
The A-League has worked out well for Miller, though, and after two years in Perth, he recently moved to Brisbane Roar, where his performances have earned him a place in the All-Stars team to face United this weekend.
Alessandro del Piero had been due to play before being ruled out through injury, while Emile Heskey, who has enjoyed goalscoring success with the Newcastle Jets, has also withdrawn from the squad.
Brett Emerton, the former Blackburn midfielder, will lead the All-Stars team, but at 32, Miller will be given the chance to remind United what all the fuss was about 10 years ago.
And with David Moyes busily searching for reinforcements for a midfield which has become too reliant on Carrick – just like United became too reliant on Keane – Miller’s story offers a reminder of the perils of player recruitment.
In Fabregas, at least, Moyes is looking to add proven quality, but there is no doubt that United are now reaching a point where, 20 years after signing Keane, they need to get it right in midfield.
They cannot afford any more Liam Millers.