Strength and conditioning coach on how boxing transformed Roy Keane's fitness
“Roy, do you drink tea?”
That was the starting point for a conversation that would change Roy Keane's footballing career.
In 2000, Mick Clegg began working with Manchester United as a strength and conditioning coach. He was initially called in as a consultant but Steve McClaren, then assistant to Alex Ferguson, was so impressed with his efforts that he urged the club to offer him a permanent position.
Two years before Clegg's arrival, Keane was already implementing major changes to take his game to the next level. In his book 'Red', former United teammate Gary Neville recalls 1998/99 as the season Keane upped the ante. He writes:
"There were two Roys that I knew at United. I couldn’t give you an exact date when one transformed into the other but there is no doubt that there was a change, a dramatic one, in the way Roy went about his daily work around the 1998/99 period.
"You probably couldn’t spot it from his performances, but Roy would probably tell you himself that he reached the point where he realised he had to look after himself better – drink less, eat the right foods, stay out of bother. His body fat must have shrunk from 12% to about half that – the lowest in the club. Doing his weights, or his yoga, he became a machine.
"He became an inspiration, not just in his performances but the way he pushed himself off the pitch, working like a dog even though he was already one of the fittest players at the club. I loved training with Roy in the gym because you knew you’d be pushed to the limits."
A couple of seasons on and Keane was looking to push on further. Keane was having issues with his knee (anterior cruciate ligament) and the S&C coach was asked to worked closely with him to tailor a gym routine.
Clegg's first encounter with the Cork native set them on the right path. He recalls:
"I was asked to come in and work with Roy and when I got there I found he was already warmed up ready for action and of course I had never met the guy before so the first thing I said to him after shaking hands and saying hello 'Roy, do you drink tea?'"
Keane, like any good Irishman, answered in the affirmative and the pair headed for the canteen at United's Carrington training facilities. Both men sat and talked for over an hour and Clegg came around to an understanding on how Keane could get the best of his work-outs.
'One day at the Manchester United gym, Roy Keane came to me and said 'Mr Clegg, you use me in the gym like I am a crash test dummy for your development'.
"I replied to him 'Roy, you are benefiting form cutting edge revelations so shut it and do it!' Roy did. After years of working with Roy, I observed he has more levels of grey matter than he was ever renown for. He is a truly great sportsman."
One of the main components of Keane's new routine was regular boxing training. The United captain only had one problem - finding people to spar with.
Keane turned 30 in August 2001 and he continued to work with Clegg on honing his training techniques, and improving his pugilistic skills.
"Both Roy and I share a love of boxing," says Clegg.
"Roy would wind me up until I told him to shut up. He encouraged me to have a go at him, he liked to stimulate aggression from everyone around him and that made him successful.
"He turned amateur boxing techniques into boxing for football, boxing-type training for reactions, speed, balance and power."
The changes Keane brought into his training and preparations kept him at the top of his game for five more seasons before one injury too many took its' toll and he left United in 2005, moving on to Celtic before hanging up his boots for good in 2006.