Sunday, 27 November 2005

Sunday Times on Roy Keane

Most of the media reporting on football can be quite superficial. This article from the Sunday Times Online about the departure of former Manchester United captain Roy Keane seemed more interesting than most.

Photos from Google Images

The Sunday Times November 20, 2005

End of the affair by DAVID WALSH

Both Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson were resigned to the end of their amazingly successful relationship

In the end, the exit happened with almost funereal solemnity. A meeting at Manchester United’s training ground between four men; Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s chairman David Gill, Roy Keane and his friend and adviser, Michael Kennedy. There wasn’t a word spoken in anger, not one raised voice during the last 30 minutes Keane would spend at Carrington.

................... Living Legend Roy Keane

Keane had sensed what was coming from two brief conversations two days before. Having recovered from injury and come through four training sessions, he expected to make his return for United’s reserves against West Bromwich Albion on Thursday. But the day before, one of the physios who works with the reserves told him he wasn’t in the team.

Surprised, Keane spoke with Ferguson and asked him why he wasn’t playing for the reserves. The manager told him he should speak with Kennedy. At that moment Keane sensed his United career was over. He spoke with Kennedy, who had already taken a call from Gill. It was agreed that all four men would meet at Carrington at 9am on Friday.

Kennedy travelled from London to Manchester on Thursday evening and was picked up Keane at eight o’clock the following morning. Though Keane believed the meeting would end in his departure from the club, Kennedy hoped things could again be patched up. They talked things over before heading on to Carrington.

The meeting began at nine and Ferguson quickly made clear he believed the time had come for the player to move on. Kennedy tried to say they had had their differences before and had always been able to continue working together, but it was different this time. Neither the manager nor the player had the stomach for reconciliation.

As the meeting progressed, it was clear the anger, the resentment and the recriminations had, temporarily at least, dissipated. In its place, an overwhelming sadness: like a father telling his favourite son he would have to leave the family home. Keane sat mostly in silence, knowing it was no time for argument. God knows, there had been enough of that. All he said was that he respected the manager’s decision.

....................It takes a worried man, Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson explained how he felt Keane was no longer good for the club. When United’s own supporters booed the team at the Stade de France, after the 1-0 Champions League loss to Lille two weeks ago, it greatly upset the manager and, in part, he blamed Keane for that. For years the skipper had challenged everybody at Old Trafford to raise their standards and always the challenge came leaden with accusation.

In the end, Ferguson felt Keane was challenging him and therein lay the reason for the Friday morning meeting. It lasted about 25 minutes, before Keane left, followed by Ferguson. Gill and Kennedy were to perform the last rituals and make sure Keane was given a decent burial.

What was clear was how much both men were upset by the extraordinary turn in the Ferguson/Keane relationship. Gill never wanted it to end like this and Kennedy didn’t believe it had to end as it did. Perhaps they were both reacting emotionally whereas Ferguson and Keane saw it differently. Yes, it was sad, but the time had come for departure.

....................Manchester United chairman David Gill

Kennedy is used to negotiating with Gill and though they enjoy a good relationship, they like to argue and bluff and say not a penny more when they don’t mean it. But not on this morning: the terms of Keane’s exit from Old Trafford were agreed without the usual haggling. He would be paid the full value of his contract and whatever Keane might earn by joining another club would not affect that.

United also agreed that Keane would be given a testimonial game by United, an offer that he will consider when a little time has elapsed and the dust from his departure has settled. After leaving the meeting, Keane left Carrington for his home in Hale, south of Manchester. As is his way at the important moments, he rang his parents and family in Cork and told them what had taken place. Soon, there was word from Cork that Keane’s United career was over and before Gill and Kennedy had finalised their agreed statement, the news had filtered back to Manchester.

Ferguson conducted a press conference at 11am, during which he was relaxed and good-humoured. There was nothing about his demeanour that had hinted at what had taken place two hours earlier. Journalists left Carrington only to return almost immediately. Suddenly everybody knew and when it came, the press release was still warm. It began: “Manchester United has today reached agreement with Roy Keane for Roy to leave the Club with immediate effect.” It wasn’t the most thought-out or well-structured sentence but it perfectly reflected the nature of Keane’s exit.

After agreeing a settlement for his player that he felt was generous, Kennedy drove to Keane’s house. He was surprised by how relaxed the player seemed to be. If he was hurting, it did not show. For a while they watched coverage of the story on Sky News and it was obvious how gutted Kennedy was that the end had come. “It’s for the best, Michael,” Keane said, “it’s the right thing. Time to move on.”

By the time Kennedy got back to his office in London, it was five o’clock on Friday afternoon. Prospective new employers were already expressing their interest; Premiership clubs, a Serie A club, an offer from America and, most persistently, Celtic. Kennedy’s feeling was that Keane wanted to move on and quickly.

IN THE breakdown of the relationship between Keane and Ferguson, the key factor was the player’s disenchantment with what he saw as falling standards at Old Trafford. He felt many players were not working hard enough and not being made to work hard enough. He believed Ferguson had delegated too much responsibility to Carlos Queiroz and when Keane’s relationship with the Portuguese coach took a serious turn for the worse at an Algarve training camp last summer, that affected the player’s relationship with Ferguson.

The rift would not have ended in separation if it hadn’t been for the censored MUTV interview of two weeks ago. So many mistakes were made: Keane was allowed to do the piece even though it was certain he would speak his mind. Then Gill and Ferguson agreed the interview should not be broadcast and made a small problem much greater.

From there it temporarily got better before it worsened again. Keane explained what he had said to his fellow players and they were okay about it. Ferguson took a different view, less conciliatory view than his players. He felt Keane should apologise to the players, a request that was never going to be agreed. Nothing better reflected the gulf that now existed between manager and player because Keane felt let down by Ferguson’s reaction to the MUTV controversy. Ferguson had publicly criticised Keane for saying things that should have remained inside the dressing room.

Keane doesn’t do diplomacy and at the key Thursday morning meeting after the MUTV controversy, he couldn’t hold himself back when Queiroz spoke about the need for loyalty. From where Keane stood, Queiroz had left United for Real Madrid and had no right to lecture others on loyalty. That putting down of the assistant manager in front of the other players may well have been the final straw.

What is undisputable is that Keane saw the end coming. On the Thursday evening, two and a half weeks ago, the player rang Kennedy and said he felt the time had come for him to leave United. Kennedy tried to dissuade him, but Keane seemed adamant. He asked Kennedy to prepare a statement announcing his departure from the club. Kennedy agreed to prepare the statement on condition that Keane would sleep on it and confirm his attentions in the morning. There was no follow-up call in the morning and Kennedy believed another crisis had been averted. The reprieve would be shortlived.

They will remember Keane and they will miss him. There is a story told about the Monday after the Middlesbrough game, before Keane played the pundit on MUTV. It concerned a moment in the changing room at Carrington after Kieran Richardson told his teammates about ordering a Bentley Continental. Keane, it is said, heard the young player talk of his new car and related it to the 4-1 thrashing suffered by the team at the Riverside two days before. He then gave his teammate a severe dressing-down. Richardson, it is said, later cancelled his order for the new car.

Whether Richardson did or did not act on Keane’s stridently delivered advice, it is certain the former captain wielded enormous influence on his teammates. Now Keane is looking for a new club. He lost his last battle at the club, beaten by the man with the ultimate power. But if this turns out to be Ferguson’s last victory, it shall be no victory at all.

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