King in exile Keane sees Class of '92 move closer to the throne
Former team-mates have assumed positions of control by displaying loyalty to Ferguson
Published 24/04/2014 | 02:30
"There has been a lot of talk about Keaney becoming manager of United one day and I can see that happening somewhere down the line," writes a senior Manchester United player in his 2005 autobiography, a tome created just before Roy Keane left Old Trafford under a cloud.
"He knows a lot about the game, he articulates that knowledge very vocally, he commands respect and can draw the best out of others," he continues, before adding a warning.
"He's got all those qualities going for him, but you just never know who is going to make it and who isn't when they go into management."
The author of that book was Ryan Giggs, the stopgap solution for the rest of this season, and a man who is today confidently described in certain quarters as a future United boss.
His words make for interesting reading now, even if quite a lot has happened since that book was released, not least in his own life. (Chapter 7 which is titled 'Family' would probably have to take a different slant if they ever decided to publish an update.)
Now that the 'Class of '92' are moving into a position of control at Old Trafford, it's striking that they have overtaken Keane in the notional long-term chain of command despite the fact that the Irishman was the most influential presence in that dressing-room during the peak of their powers.
He was tipped as a longer-term option for Manchester United manager yesterday, but the advocate was his fellow Corkman David Meyler, a player who takes a fair bit of ribbing from his Irish colleagues because he is such a Keane disciple.
"He'd sort out a lot of stuff there fairly lively," said the Hull midfielder with a knowing smile.
That is a very hypothetical scenario, however. Keane needs friends in higher places to make it plausible.
Speculation that he could return to the club as an assistant to Louis van Gaal was greeted with surprise by United sources who stress that the hierarchy have a lot of thinking to do when it comes to selecting a new boss before considering the politics of his support staff.
And the crucial caveat is that while Alex Ferguson may not have the final say in choosing David Moyes' successor, he will be very much part of the process and that would not bode well for the Corkman if this idea became a runner.
All this speculation about their number two must be enervating for the FAI when he hasn't even sat in the dugout next to Martin O'Neill for a competitive match yet, but the nature of football seems to be that those in employment are in greater demand when vacancies arise.
Since Keane was appointed, he's been mentioned as a possible option for Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday, clubs that looked elsewhere when they previously had a vacancy and he was out of work. His managerial stock was seriously dented by his inglorious stint at Ipswich and the education under O'Neill is part of the rehabilitation process.
It must be annoying for the 42-year-old that what is arguably his ultimate job at United has come up twice in the last year and he's not part of the discourse whereas team-mates with no managerial experience whatsoever are further up the pecking order.
Their reputations are intact because they remained as trusted lieutenants to Ferguson and are now viewed as part of United's fabric. Keane is on the outside looking in, perhaps going against the grain by blaming senior players – including Giggs – for Moyes' strife. On his recent appearance in UCC, Keane said that the Welshman and Rio Ferdinand should have done more this term to help the under-fire Scot.
Giggs would probably have taken that with a pinch of salt. In the aforementioned book, he discusses a media outburst from Keane in the wake of their 2002 Champions League collapse at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen.
"The senior players who were used to it just thought, 'Here he goes again'," he recalled. Gary Neville has discussed the natural changing of the guard that accompanied Keane's turbulent falling-out with Ferguson that preceded his abrupt departure from the club, stressing that the younger members of the group needed room to breathe and were terrified of his outbursts.
His exit allowed Neville's generation to become the dominant voices. Ferguson gave Neville the armband, just nine months after the former skipper's memorable Highbury tunnel bust-up with Patrick Vieira which arose from the Frenchman picking on Neville.
In the acclaimed documentary which revolved around the midfield legends, Keane said he was irate because his opponent was picking on a 'weak link', which was a slightly surprising description of Neville given he was an experienced pro who turned 30 in the month of that incident.
As a respected Sky pundit and number two to Roy Hodgson, Neville has a certain gravitas. Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt will stand next to the respected Giggs in preparing for his managerial bow against Norwich on Saturday.
Slowly, they are circling the throne while the man who once seemed destined for that position is now an unlikely wild-card option and even then it's as somebody else's right-hand man. For 'Keaney', it's a strange turn of events.