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05th Nov 2023

Alex Ferguson comments before Roy Keane testimonial expose a commonly held myth

Patrick McCarry

Alex Ferguson

“No shouting at my little boys!”

Time heals many wounds, but the past 17 years have only seemed to widen the gulf between Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson.

Keane was at Manchester United, under Ferguson, for 13 seasons but the end, when it came, was abrupt. As his incredible football powers were waning, by a few degrees but noticeable still, the United captain became frustrated with the younger crop of players at the club.

Believing that many of them may not have what was required to be truly great, Keane was critical of several players behind the scenes. When he opted to air some of his doubts during a proposed in-house interview with MUTV, the club fined him £5,000. Within a month of that October 2005 interview, which was never aired, Keane left the club.

The Cork native joined Celtic in January 2006 and helped them to a league title but his time there was hampered with injury. Although it was not confirmed when Celtic faced off against United in his testimonial match, this would be the last time Keane would play for the Scottish champions. The match itself would raise over £2.5 million, with the bulk of it going to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Ferguson has stated that Keane was his most important ever signing at United, ahead of club legends such as Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and Cristiano Ronaldo. While Keane still holds a degree of resentment over his hasty departure from the club – he once remarked that embracing Ferguson was ‘like hugging a hedgehog’ – the Scot openly acknowledges how vital he was to the club’s success.

There is a video of a pre-match interview carried out by Ferguson, back in May 2006, to set the scene for that testimonial game. Not readily available for years, it recently found its’ way onto YouTube and is well worth a watch.

Alex FergusonAlex Ferguson of Manchester United applauds Roy Keane of Celtic after his Testimonial match, at Old Trafford on in May 2006. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“I can see myself in Roy” – Alex Ferguson

In the 2006 video, filmed by Setanta Sports [now Viaplay], Alex Ferguson was in good spirits as he looked ahead to the Roy Keane testimonial match.

Manchester United had finished second in the league to José Mourinho’s Chelsea. They had won the League Cup and would go on to sign Michael Carrick, that summer, before going on to win the 2006/07 Premier League.

“There will be about 20,000 Celtic fans here, which is unbelievable,” Ferguson remarked. “More importantly, there will be about 50,000 Man United supporters, which is a recognition of the contribution Roy Keane made to the football club.

“Roy has an unquenchable thirst to win a football match, and that spread throughout the team. His influence was staggering. For 10 years, particularly in his time as captain, he was the biggest influence in this football club.”

Asked about the relationship between manager and player, during Keane’s time at the club, Ferguson said, “I often say this, that I can see myself in Roy, and I was very comfortable with that.”

When the subject Keane’s “abrupt” departure in November of that season, Ferguson said he was pleased Keane was getting a proper send-off from the Old Trafford faithful. “Our fans will give him a fantastic reception, and quite rightly so, because they, more than anyone, will have appreciated what he has done here.”

The Scot was asked if Roy Keane was “irreplaceable” and, smiling, said, “Well, we’ve been looking for a replacement for Roy for three or four years and we haven’t found anyone, and I don’t think there is anyone out there.”

Those comments from Ferguson expose a myth about the end of Keane’s time at United being a sudden shove, rather than something was was gradually coming to an end. Ferguson had brought in players like Juan Sebastian Veron, Kleberson and Liam Miller from 2001 to 2004 as he tried to plan for United after Keane. Darren Fletcher, too, was thrust into centre midfield to see if he had what it takes. He has since spoken of how Keane was invaluable in helping him bed into the United midfield.

Keane himself had turned 34 at the start of his final season at United. Gary Neville would later observe, on a Soccerbox episode featuring Keane, that his old teammate would not have been able to take staying on at United but playing less and less minutes each season.

Keane would play the first half for Celtic and the second half for United. Ferguson joked that he had told Keane, when he was playing for Celtic, “for 45 minutes, no shouting at my little boys!”

Roy Keane speech at his testimonial

The first half of the game ended 0-0 and Roy Keane switched over to Manchester United for the second 45 minutes. It would be the last time Keane would play under the formidable United manager.

United won the game 1-0 after a Cristiano Ronaldo goal, in a portent of things to come. With Ruud van Nistelrooy moving on, that summer, Ronaldo took on more of the scoring burden and finished the following season as joint top-scorer with Wayne Rooney.

As for Keane, he and Ferguson shared a few words on the pitch at the end of the game. The former United captain looked reluctant to say anything but was handed a microphone and encouraged to address the crowd.

“I haven’t really got too much to say,” he began. “I’d just like to thank first of all the United and Celtic fans for showing up – thank you.

“I’d like to thank the players. I know it’s been a long season, probably this is the last thing they needed, but I do appreciate it – thanks very much. That’s it, really. I hope you’ve had a great night. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. All the best.”

While Keane has not mended those bridges with Alex Ferguson yet, he is back in a better spot with his former club. He spoke of being uncomfortable attending games at Old Trafford for a few years – often spotted instead at Nottingham Forest and Salford United games – but that has changed in the past five or six years.

Earlier in 2023, he even appeared in a club promo video – reliving his old ‘prawn sandwiches’ speech – for the launch of some away kit.

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