The Irishman and the Scotsman formed a perfect pair, with Keane’s aggression on the pitch mirroring Sir Alex’s fiery passion on the sidelines. The two of them played a major role in orchestrating United’s trophy haul during the late 90s and early 2000s.
Under Ferguson, Keane won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups, and four Community Shields. He also lifted Manchester United’s first European Cup since 1968.
Like most football captains and managers, Keane and Fergie had their ups and downs. It can be easy to forget that their professional relationship worked just fine for more than ten years.
Then, things fell apart spectacularly.
Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane: The good years
It was a paperwork blunder that brought Fergie and Keane together.
In 1993, the Irishman was set to join Blackburn, then managed by Kenny Dalglish. However, the Rovers messed up the paperwork, and proposed to finish the deal off a few days later than initially agreed.
Upon hearing that Keane had agreed to join Blackburn, Sir Alex immediately phoned Keane and asked him to sign for United instead.
It didn’t take long for Keane to become a United legend. In his fifth season, he took over as club captain, a role he would retain until 2005.
That year is when everything came to a head.
Bigmouth strikes again: Roy Keane’s temper caused his United exit
Hot-headed off and on the pitch, Keane never shied away from speaking with the press. United’s PR team knew they would have to work extra hours every time Keane opened his mouth.
This was particularly true of Keane’s later years at United. The first months of the 2005-06 season were marked by Keane’s constant bickering. First, Keane let Fergie know that he wasn’t happy with the quality of the Portuguese resort where United had set up their pre-season training camp.
Keane’s beef with United escalated quickly. With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, he admitted that he was “prepared to play elsewhere”.
If handled differently, it shouldn’t have been an issue. However, Keane’s unexpected confession came during a live interview for Manchester United TV (MUTV).
It was as unprofessional as it gets from a United captain, and Ferguson had none of it.
Gaffer and captain managed to patch things up and go on with the season, but their peace treaty wouldn’t last long.
After a 4-1 defeat against Middlesbrough in November 2005, the Irishman publicly called out some of his teammates, blaming them for the poor performance and result. Rio Ferdinand was singled out by Keane, who had some harsh words for United’s star signing.
“Just because you are paid £120,000-a-week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham, you think you are a superstar.”
Once again, Keane’s rant was set to be televised live on MUTV. It was soon pulled from transmission, but the damage was already done.
Two weeks later, Keane left Manchester United by mutual consent.
Do Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane get on these days?
In all fairness to Keane, it’s not all his fault. Sir Alex has had his share of angry rants and spats with players over the years. In 2003, he famously kicked a boot into Beckham’s face during an argument.
Although Keane and Fergie managed to maintain a decent professional relationship for years, they just didn’t mesh well on a personal level. In 2019, Keane explained that, unlike other United players, he never tried to become friends with Ferguson.
“I never felt I was in with Alex Ferguson or because I was captain, we were pals. Never, I always kept pure, kind of professional; and this idea of having a cup of tea and a biscuit upstairs in the canteen, not for me.”
Time has yet to heal the wounds caused by the split. In an interview with Off The Ball two years ago, Keane was happy to reopen old wounds.
“I wouldn’t forgive Ferguson. The media spin, how I apparently upset everybody, it was all nonsense.”
Keane went on a long personal attack against Ferguson, suggesting that nepotism reigned supreme during his time at United.
“Ferguson came out afterwards and said he always did what was best by Manchester United. Nonsense. His brother was the chief scout for Manchester United for a long time. I’m surprised his wife wasn’t involved in the staff somewhere.”
We can safely assume Roy Keane didn’t celebrate Sir Alex’s 80th birthday.
Featured image credit: Getty