Only when the Roy Keane section of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book is fully digested will Manchester United’s supporters fully decide which camp they are in.
ALEX FERGUSON’S relationship with Roy Keane was the most complicated and intense of his 39 years in management. “Loyalty” is their new battleground, where Keane made his counter-attack with a spiky response to his old boss’s portrait of him in his autobiography.
“I do remember having conversations with the manager when I was at the club about loyalty, and in my opinion I don’t think he even knows the meaning of the word,” Keane said on Tuesday night, after Ferguson’s memoirs had described the eruption over an MUTV interview which ended ‘Keano’s’ Manchester United career.
Ferguson’s view has always been that Keane has played to the gallery since leaving Old Trafford, presenting himself as the exiled people’s gladiator, purged for challenging the leader’s authority. A player of “guts and blood”, according to the book, Keane was tactically smart to yoke himself to David Beckham with his retaliation against Ferguson. “To constantly criticise other players at the club who brought him a lot of success, I find very strange,” Keane said. This was a coded appeal to United’s fans to take his side against the former manager who now sits in the directors’ box.
From the outset Ferguson was clear about his reasons for wanting to re-live the fall-out with one of his most valuable players, who was a warrior to compare with “Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona” – the type of player who “enforced the will of the manager and the club.”
He contends that Keane broke an agreement not to discuss the bust-up of November 2005: chiefly in a newspaper interview in December 2011 in which Keane again raised the spectre of Rock of Gibraltar and Ferguson’s conflict with the Coolmore racing duo of John Magnier and JP McManus. Keane’s most wounding comment in the final showdown with Ferguson at the Carrington training ground was: “You brought your private life into the club with your argument with Magnier.”
This was the point where other players who had gathered to watch Keane’s infamous MUTV tirade against some of United’s younger players began walking out of the room. “The hardest part of Roy’s body is his tongue,” Ferguson writes. In that scene is the moment where Keane, in Ferguson’s view, makes a play to be the shadow or de facto manager: a dressing room insurrectionist who would lead the players to freedom.
Except that his attack on Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea and others had already alienated many in the squad, including Edwin van der Sar, who stood up to Keane. In the backdrop, two long-running themes stand out. One is tension between Keane and Carlos Queiroz, Ferguson’s No 2. The other is Keane’s refusal to accept the new role assigned to him by the United coaching staff after a run of debilitating injuries. Hence Ferguson’s comment about him thinking he was “Peter Pan.”
Without Keane’s show of temper and alleged awkwardness on a training trip to Portugal, where he was unhappy with his accommodation and generally displeased with Queiroz’s arrangements, the relationship might have continued in its existing, fragile form. But the Vale do Lobo trip left resentment on both sides. Meanwhile Ferguson wanted him to stay in a holding position in front of the back four to spray passes around while Keane still wanted to motor up and down the pitch.
Also noticeable is how Keane’s undulating moods set the tone on the training ground. On one of his bad days, players and coaches would regard him with trepidation.
Trust and “loyalty” were abused, from Ferguson’s viewpoint, when Keane tried to use MUTV to “take down” players he considered guilty of slacking, especially as the club felt they had helped him with off-the-pitch scrapes. While Keane made plain his indignation about the book, on Tuesday night, he declined to address the specifics of the clash in the autumn of 2005. Did he start or encourage a revolt about United’s training? Was he menacing and aggressive with Ferguson and the other players while the MUTV interviews were being discussed? Was he obsessed with the Rock of Gibraltar dispute and did he use it to undermine Ferguson’s authority?
Before answering those questions, Keane will try to calculate how it might play with the public and press to present his side of the story. Ferguson clearly believes Keane has been striving for the high ground from the moment he elected to deviate from a confidentiality agreement, either written or spoken. United considered legal action when Keane, then Sunderland manager, accused them of “lying” to him in the build-up to his departure, but in the end decided to deny him “his day in court”.
Ferguson conceded at that point: “He was still a hero to them [the fans], after all.” Only when the Keane section of Ferguson’s book is fully digested will United’s supporters fully decide which camp they are in. On one side Keane has sought common cause with the “players who helped the manager win lots of trophies”, while Ferguson has offered a portrait of a volcanic, volatile presence who was increasingly reluctant to accept the manager’s authority.
Most United fans may feel that while Keane went on to fail as manager of Sunderland and Ipswich, Ferguson rebuilt the side around Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, won another Champions League title and dominated the Premier League once more. Keane can fight over the “loyalty” card, but there was only one winner on the field of play.
- Paul Hayward, Telegraph.co.uk