Sunday, November 20, 2005

There's Only One Keano
By Imtiaz Mussa

Friday, November 18, 2005, 10:30 AM
My alarm has been going off for a couple of minutes already. I struggle to get the strength to get out of bed to turn it off but eventually I get there. I throw some clothes off my chair and proceed to check my e-mail. Then, I hop onto the BBC’s website to check up on the latest sports news from across the pond. While still trying to gain focus, I see the front page has the Manchester United logo and a picture of Roy Keane. And then, it all becomes clear. “Keane Leaves Man Utd”

I think a little background on who Roy Keane is would be of some help. Keane is an Irish midfielder who is well known for his tough tackling and leadership. Keane was playing for Irish side Cobh Ramblers when he was spotted by scouts for Nottingham Forest. Former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough was considered to be one of the greatest player evaluators in the history of English football. That certainly proved to be the case with Keane. The 20 year old Keane quickly became one of the best midfielders in the Premiership. In 1993, Nottingham Forest was relegated from the Premiership and Sir Alex Ferguson pounced on the chance to sign Keane from a cash strapped side. At the time, the £3.75 million paid was a record.

Manchester United was heading toward a time of transition. Bryan Robson who captained the side was set to retire and Keane was seen as his replacement. Also getting ready to head out the door were Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes. Ironically, all three have ended up managing in the Premiership. But Ferguson did not really bring in replacements for them. Instead he went with a group of youngsters which was heavily criticized by television pundit Alan Hansen. The quote Hansen used after United lost their opening fixture in the 1995 season was, "You won't win anything with kids." The team won the Premiership and the FA Cup that season. The players who Hansen was referring to: David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, and Nicky Butt. Along with Keane, they would be the backbone of Manchester United for the next eight years. Keane would ascend to the captaincy in 1997 following the retirement of Eric Cantona, who is widely regarded as the greatest player to ever play in the Premiership. It should be noted that the Premiership has only existed since 1992.

Keane's total trophy haul with Manchester United includes: 7 Premiership titles (1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003), 4 FA Cups (1994, 1996, 1999, 2004), a European Cup (1999 - though Keane missed the final through suspension) and an Intercontinental Cup (1999). Keane was voted PFA Players' Player of the Year in 2000. Keane was also picked on the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest living footballers picked by Pelé.

United have fallen on tougher times having to watch Arsenal and Chelsea take the last two Premiership titles. Members of that “Golden Generation” are now getting older and have moved on (Beckham to Real Madrid in 2003, Nicky Butt to Newcastle in 2004, Phil Neville to Everton in 2005). Ferguson has attempted to bring in a new generation of players but they have not lived up to the lofty expectations.
The last time he wore the jersey

His criticism of several of his fellow Manchester United players after a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough was deemed too damning and was subsequently pulled from transmission on United's own TV station, MUTV. Keane is thought to have blasted Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea, Alan Smith, Liam Miller and, perhaps most notably, Darren Fletcher, saying "I can't see why they all rave about Darren Fletcher in Scotland." Keane was widely supported by United fans after the outbursts. While some believed that the MUTV tirade caused friction between him and the players, most players agreed that the outburst was justified. Alan Smith, Keane's midfield protégé even admitted that it spurred him into a Man-of-the-Match performance in the 1-0 defeat of Chelsea. Keane had been out since September due to a broken bone in his foot. But as Ferguson said during his Friday press conference following training, Keane practiced and was close to returning.

At 34 years old and entering the last year of his contract, Keane was ready to move on at the end of the season. That is exactly what makes his exit so shocking. Keane's representative Michael Kennedy met United chief executive David Gill at Old Trafford on Friday to thrash out details of Keane's severance, and the stunning news was then announced.

There is no doubt that United fans were surprised by the timing of this but deep down, there was a feeling after the comments were made on MUTV that Keane’s exit could be coming sooner than expected. Sir Alex Ferguson has always made it clear that no one player is bigger than the club and he will not stand for any player saying something as detrimental as Keane’s remarks.

What does Keane do now? When it became a fact that United would not extend his deal, people thought that he would play a year for Scottish side Celtic. He grew up a fan of the Glasgow side and reportedly went up there this weekend to see Celtic play Rangers. Keane also said that he could not see himself playing for another Premiership side but that could change. Many people believe that Keane will be a manager one day. That process could be expedited if he could find a role as player-coach. Portsmouth is the one team in the Premiership that would be an ideal fit. The other possibility is that he becomes the manager of Ireland. The Irish failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and have dismissed Brian Kerr. Keane would be the fans’ choice.

Keane departure also means that Manchester United need to find a new captain. These are the possibilities:
Rio Ferdinand – The central defender has worn the armband whenever Keane has missed a match. Last year, Ferguson said that he would be the next captain of the Red Devils. However, he has had a run of really poor form and his tendency to go out and party in London has angered Sir Alex. But at 27 years old, he is the right age to be a captain for the long term.

Gary Neville – The argument can also be made for Giggs and Scholes that they are the longest serving players and therefore, should be given a chance. Since Neville is the most outspoken and youngest (30) of the trio, he would be the choice. But how many years does he have left in the tank?

Ruud van Nistelrooy – The Dutch striker has been the captain for the past two games and has been playing like one. United look like a different team with Ruud wearing the armband. It is not crazy to believe that he will finish the season as United’s captain. However, there was speculation over the summer that he wanted to go abroad. Would Sir Alex give it to him in the midst of that?

Michael Ballack – Here is the ultimate longshot. United fans are now convinced that Ballack is the perfect choice to be Keane’s long term successor. His contract at Bayern Munich is set to expire at the end of the season and Munich may try to cash in at the January transfer window and sell him at a cut price. Sir Alex wants him so badly that he is willing to pay him £100,000 per week and hand him the captaincy. United have also been linked with former Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld in a play to try and give Ballack a familiar face to work with. But Real Madrid are thought to be the frontrunners right now.

Roy Keane’s departure means that Manchester United will now have to move on to a new era. That is what is in the best interest of the club. But one more time as the fans at Old Trafford will always sing: "Keano, There's only one Keano, There's only one Keano, There's only one Keano."


Blogger Tony said...

I remember those comments clearly. That United team deserved every word of it they were playing so mediocre. I'm just embrassed as a United fan to see how Keane left the team. He deserved a farewell from the fans. It's just pathetic. Simply pathetic.

Neville should be the next captain. If not, Giggs. Pick the person who has shown leadership and fire on the team.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Obviously it won't happen now, but Bone, what do you think the odds are United makes a play at Steven Gerrard? It seems like every summer Chelsea's after him. Think United might make a pass at him this one, especially since Liverpool is going through it's typical Premiership struggles?

12:49 AM  
Blogger Imtiaz Mussa said...

Gerrard would look pretty good wearing a Man Utd jersey but right now the cost is a bit much. Liverpool would demand 25 million pounds for him. But there is one thing that makes a move to Manchester more appealing than a move to Chelsea. It is the fact that SG was born and raised Liverpool and in consideration of the close proximity, it would not be as bad as going to London. Many speculate that is the reason why Gerrard chose not to leave Liverpool last year when a contract was thought to be wrapped up. He asked his dad who told him to stay at home at least for one more year.

Chances that Gerrard will ever come to Old Trafford, probably 25-1.

1:19 AM  

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