'He took them all on that night' - 20 years ago Roy Keane produced a performance that cemented his legacy
"I can’t afford to sit back and hope we get through the game and that I will be okay for the final. If you go out with that attitude, I know for a fact that it would backfire. Being in the final is all that matters."
The words of Roy Keane before he turned in the greatest display of his career were to come back to haunt him, but 20 years to the day since his commanding performance in the Champions League semi-final against Juventus, you suspect his views would not be altered.
The date of April 21st 1999 has long since been hailed as Keane’s finest hour, as he dragged United into the Champions League final after they fell 2-0 behind against a Juve team the included Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Alessandro Del Piero in Turin.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford, the tie seemed to have slipped away from Alex Ferguson’s side as two Filippo Inzaghi goals pushed Juve to the brink of the final.
Yet Keane rarely worked to a conventional agenda and after his header gave United hope, Dwight Yorke fired United into an away goals advantage with eleven minutes still to play in a frantic first half.
Sandwiched between those two goals was a moment that robbed Keane of his only chance to play in a Champions League final, as he was booked for a foul on Zidane mid-way through the first half.
The yellow card ensured Keane would not play in the final if United plotted a route through, yet his compatriot and room-mate Denis Irwin, a starter in that game against Juventus, recalls his performance merely moved up a few levels after his booking.
"We were two goals down against one of the best teams we played against in that era and he pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a fantastic headed goal and then his performance was just fantastic," Irwin told the Sunday World.
"They had an incredible midfield with Davids, Deschamps and Zidane, but Keany took them all on that night and came out on top. He was just incredible and it was a tragedy that he couldn’t play in the final."
Irwin also reflected that one of United starter on that night in Turin was more than a little concerned that he would face the wrath of Keane, after his wayward pass led to the booking.
"I remember Jesper Blomqvist was trying to avoid Keany for a few weeks after that semi-final because it was his pass that led to the booking," adds Irwin.
"Roy had a word with him on the field at the time, but I think Jesper thought more would come. A lot of the lads were wary of Roy and didn’t want to upset him, so poor Jesper probably feared what was coming to him."
A late clinching goal from Andy Cole secured United a place in their first European Cup final since 1968, with victory against Bayern Munich in the most dramatic fashion imaginable allowing Ferguson’s side to clinch a unique place in the game’s history books as they became the first English side to complete a League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Juventus 2-3 Manchester United - United win 4-3 on aggregate (Champions League semi-final 2nd leg, April 21st 1999)
Juventus: Peruzzi, Ferrara, Di Livio, Conte, Inzaghi, Iuliano, Deschamps, Birindelli, Pessotto, Zidane, Davids. Subs: Rampulla, Montero, Fonseca, Amoruso, Tudor.
Man Utd: Schmeichel, G. Neville, Irwin, Johnsen, Stam, Beckham, Butt, Blomqvist, Keane, Yorke, Cole. Subs: Van Der Gouw, May, Sheringham, P. Neville, Scholes.