In his explosive autobigraphy Sir Alex Ferguson targets Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Rafa Benítez but it is former United captain Roy Keane who comes in for the most criticism
The main victim of Sir Alex Ferguson’s new book is Roy Keane, who receives far more than the hairdryer treatment.
He gets savaged. Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Rafa Benítez are also targeted by Ferguson in “My Autobiography” (Hodder & Stoughton, £25) but nothing like the ruthless criticism of Keane, his former captain at Manchester United.
Elsewhere, the Glazers get off lightly and there is little significant debate about Rock of Gibraltar.
The Keane material is extraordinary. Ferguson starts the chapter devoted to his sentence-by-sentence skewering of Keane with some praise, hailing the midfielder’s many gifts as a powerhouse between the boxes and his ability to motivate team-mates with his ferocious glare and orders.
Ferguson, though, detected a change in Keane’s behaviour as his footballing powers ebbed, following hip and knee surgery. “He thought he was Peter Pan,’’ Ferguson writes. “Nobody is.’’
The detail of the collapse of their understanding is fascinating. Keane, according to Ferguson, objected to the quality of accommodation at Vale do Lobo on a pre-season training camp.
This carried echoes of Keane’s complaints about the Irish facilities on Saipan before the 2002 World Cup finals. Ferguson backed Keane in public then but admitted that he felt the Irishman took his grievances too far.
In Portugal, Ferguson and Keane argued. Tension increased in 2005 when Keane did his infamous MUTV interview which was so critical of some of the younger players that it was never broadcast.
Ferguson relates elements of the interview in which Keane called Kieran Richardson “a lazy defender”, wondered why “people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher” and made the disparaging verdict on Rio Ferdinand that “just because you are paid £120,000 a week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham, you think you are a superstar”.
Others in Keane’s crosshairs included Alan Smith, even Edwin van der Sar. “Roy was taking them all down,’’ Ferguson writes, sounding as if he is describing a mafia shoot-out.
Ferguson orders Keane and all the players to watch the interview. Van der Sar has a go at Keane, who questioned what the keeper would know of the club’s culture.
For a dressing-room built on unity, this was devastating. Ferguson compliments Ruud van Nistelrooy for backing Van der Sar. Keane simply launched into Van Nistelrooy as well.
Keane then raised the controversial issue of Ferguson’s dispute with United shareholder John Magnier over Rock of Gibraltar’s stud rights, criticising the manager for blurring the lines of personal and business. The gloves are well and truly.
“The hardest part of Roy’s body is his tongue,’’ Ferguson writes. He noted that Keane’s eyes narrowed when he was angry.
“It was frightening to watch. And I’m from Glasgow.’’ The moment Keane left the room, Ferguson and his staff agreed that the Irishman had to leave the club.
Even after Keane’s departure, the pair have continued to spar. United even contemplated legal action against their former midfielder in 2008 following his acerbic remarks about Ferguson. “People say he stood by me in difficult times,’’ Keane told the Sunday Times. “But not when I was 34, not when I was coming towards the end. All of a sudden it was, ‘‘Off you go, Roy’’.
“People say Ferguson always does what is right for Man United. I don’t think he does. I think he does what is right for him. The Irish thing (Rock of Gibraltar) I was speaking to the manager about this. That didn’t help the club, the manager going to law against its leading shareholder. How could it be of benefit to Man United?’’
In 2011, after Keane criticised United’s Champions League exit to Basel, Ferguson wrote in his programme notes dismissively of “people we thought were on our side”. Two years on, he has written brutally about Keane, laying bare the breakdown in what had been a supremely successful working relationship. Keane’s imminent appearance on ITV will be worth watching even more than usual.