Player profile – Roy Keane

Player profile – Roy Keane

Roy Keane was a fantastic midfielder who captained both Manchester United and Republic of Ireland.

Nottingham Forest

Born in Cork, Ireland in 1971, Keane played junior football and had unsuccessful trials with Ireland schoolboys before signing semi-pro forms with Cobh Ramblers. His performances drew the attention of Nottingham Forest and he signed for the Midlands club in the Summer of 1990 to play under the legendary manager Brian Clough.

Keane at Nottingham Forest

Such was Keane’s talent he went straight into the Forest first team. Keane racked up three seasons with Forest in the heart of their engine room which included a losing appearance in the 1991 Cup final against Tottenham. Keane’s high energy, action packed performances and late runs into the box had been a big reason for Forest’s run to the final. Unfortunately in the last of his three seasons with Forest he couldn’t prevent relegation which sadly bought down the curtain on the career of the great Clough.

Two of the greatest managers in the history of the game, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson

Manchester United

A fee had been agreed with the big spending Blackburn managed by another footballing great Kenny Dalgleish and Keane was all but ready to start the 1993/94 season with the Lancashire club.
However Sir Alex Ferguson got wind of this, arranged a hasty meeting with Keane to persuade him otherwise and the rest is history – he was a Manchester United player.

Keane’ s first season was remarkable, not only did he force himself into United’s midfield as first choice in competition with England’s ‘Captain Marvel’ Brian Robson and also ‘the Governor’ Paul Ince but he also won a League and FA Cup double with United.

The 94/95 season was less successful with his near employers Blackburn winning the league and Everton dispatching United in the FA Cup Final. Keane and United were not deterred and United won the league comfortably in the next two seasons.

Keane then took over as club captain following the shock departure of Eric Cantona. Things didn’t go well though, Keane suffered a traumatic injury early in the season when he lunged at Leeds United’s Alf-Inge Haland to win the ball, missed and caught his knee badly. Keane was to miss the entire season and Arsenal were to win the league. It was largely accepted that Keane’s absence was a big factor.

Keane driven by his rejection from the Irish schoolboy team and his determination to recover from the career threatening knee injury was a man possessed the next season and United grabbed the title back in 1999 as well as the Champions League and FA Cup for an amazing treble.

The next season saw Keane enter contract negotiations with United. The matter continued for much of the season until it was eventually concluded with Keane being made the highest paid player in the country. United finished the season with another title and Keane was the PFA Player’s Player of the Season.

2001 saw Keane seek retribution on Alf-Inge Haland for the part he played in his knee injury back in 1997 and he was sent off for a reckless, knee-high tackle on Haland in the 2001 Manchester Derby. The tackle was bordering on assault and he was banned for five matches and fined £150,000. Keane had got his revenge.

Revenge on Haland

“I’d waited long enough. I ******* hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****. And don’t ever stand over me again sneering about fake injuries.

Man Utd v Man City
Roy Keane sent off by Mr Ellery after tackle on ale Haaland has the last word as he walks off

And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there’s some for him as well. I didn’t wait for Mr Elleray to show the red card. I turned and walked to the dressing room. My attitude is an eye for an eye.”

Keane at his rip-roaring best

Success was maintained and more league titles followed but Sir Alex was becoming increasingly exasperated with Keane’s outbursts.

One of which was when he famously accused the United fans of going through the motions:

“Away from home our fans are fantastic, I’d call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don’t realise what’s going on out on the pitch. I don’t think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell ‘football’, never mind understand it.”


Keane’s frequent tongue lashings towards even his own teammates had become too much for the manager Sir Alex Ferguson who was renowned for keeping matters in house and Keane was jeopardising this.

“Roy was taking them all down,’’ Ferguson writes, sounding as if he is describing a mafia shoot-out.

Sir Alex was also aware that Keane was struggling with a chronic hip condition which had previously required minor surgery. After a final row it was agreed that Keane would leave United if he could sign a contract with another club.

Keane finished at United with 33 goals in 326 appearances, 7 titles and 4 FA Cups.


With his time at United having ended unceremoniously he signed for Celtic for the reminder of the 05/06 season. Celtic are a much loved club in Ireland due to their religious allegiance and it was a dream of Keane’s to represent the green and white hoops in Glasgow. His debut was however a game to forget as Celtic were dumped out of the Scottish Cup by first divide Clyde. Keane soon found his feet however and ended up with another title and the Scottish League Cup.

Despite the poor ending of his time at United he was still held in high regard by Sir Alex:

“He became a good captain through that. To my mind he was the best player, in all my time here, fantastic.”

Keane announced his retirement in 2006 as he approached his 35th Birthday.

It was a boyhood dream for Keane to play for Celtic.


Keane led his country as he did his club with passion and fire in his belly. However it was his on the edge style which often led him to bubble over with his emotions. Matters came to the head in a training camp for the 2002 World Cup in Saipan Korea. Keane had a large disagreement with the manager Mick McCarthy , himself a past Ireland player, Keane wasn’t happy with what he deemed as unacceptable training equipment and a general low expectation of ability to compete in the tournament from the whole Irish set up. He left the camp but was persuaded to return. Trouble flared again, Keane would leave but not return this time.

On his former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy:
“Who do you think you are having meetings about me? You were a crap player and you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and you’re not even Irish you English ****!”

Nearly twenty years after the event some Irish natives believe Keane deserted his country in it’s hour of need. Others believe he was correct for demanding high standards. What is sure is that the popularity of Keane splits the nation.

Keane ‘looking for more’


Keane had explosive battles with both Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. No quarter was given and full blooded challenges were the only dishes on the menu in these games.

“Aggression is what I do. I go to war. You don’t contest football matches in a reasonable state of mind.”

Vieira reflected on their past-runs through the Irish Mirror

“The thing is, there was Roy Keane and then there was myself [raises one hand above the other],” said Vieira.

“He was always seeing the back of my shirt. He always has a number four shirt in his mind.”

Vieira added: “I always loved to play against him because we share the same passion for the game, and I think he was a fantastic leader, captain for United.

“Every time I played against him I knew it was going to be tough, it was going to be difficult – he’s winner.

“I looked forward to playing against him because you wanted to play against the best – and at that time he was one of the best… until I arrived.”

With old foe Vieira

Playing style

Keane was the ultimate competitor and would attempt to dominate a game with his box to box running and aggression. Roy was a fierce character with his shaved head and veins bulging out of his neck and many an opponent was beaten before the game started.

It would be a disservice to say his footballing skills were limited and his passing was excellent. After all he flourished in midfield alongside the outstanding talents of Beckham, Scholes and Giggs. His greatest ability was to get the best out of himself and his teammates with his never give up attitude. He also chipped in with his fair share of goals and was a big threat in the air with is heading ability particular in his early career.

Recent years- Sunderland

Keane had fallen out with Sunderland chairman’s Niall Quinn for his perceived role in the Irish training camp meltdown in Saipan but that didn’t stop Quinn from thinking that Keane would make an excellent manager.

Keane signed a three year deal in 1996 and would go on to miraculously bring Sunderland from the foot of the table to an automatic promotion from the second tier as champions, Keane’s future as a heavy weight manager appeared all but certain. He enhanced his reputation the next season by steering Sunderland clear of relegation however the end was nigh and the next season he resigned four months into the season in December 2008 with Sunderland 18th in the table and citing differences with the owner.


Keane took on the job at Ipswich for eighteen months between 2009 and 2011 however he couldn’t get anywhere near navigating Ipswich to promotion which was his remit after nearly twenty years in tier two for the East Anglia outfit and he left with a whimper.

Media work covering Champions League games for ITV followed for the next few years before Keane teamed up with Paul Lambert to work as his assistant at Aston Villa. However the bigger job of working under Martin O’Neill as Ireland manager appealed and he took it just four months into the Villa role.

A five year spell followed for O’Neill and Keane at the helm of the national tram. However the direct football style employed with more focus on results than skill, didn’t capture the imagination of the passionate, carefree Irish fans who are used to frenetic games such as Gaelic football and hurling and their time was difficult. It was announced that in 2018 that O’Neill and Keane had left their roles by mutual agreement.

The pair were not without work for long and In January 2019 O’Neill was announced as the Nottingham Forest boss with Keane as his assistant.

Keane with managerial sidekick Martin O’Neill

Sir Alex Ferguson Managing My Life My Autobiography 1999-08-10

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