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کتاب: زندگینامه الکس فرگوسن / فصل 11

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NINE - KEANE

ROY Keane was a player of energy, of guts and blood, with a fine instinct for the game and its strategies. He was the most influential presence in the dressing room in the time we worked together. Roy took a lot of the onus off me in making sure the dressing room was operating at a high level of motivation. A manager could never be dismissive of that kind of help from a player.

But by the time Roy left United in November 2005, our relationship had broken down. I have strong views about the sequence of events that led to him joining Celtic. But first, I should set out why he was such an immense driving force for our club.

If Roy Keane thought you weren’t pulling your weight he would be right on top of you, straight away. Many players faced his wrath for committing that crime and there would be no place to hide from him. I never felt that was a bad aspect of his character. In all my time, the strong personalities have helped shape the team’s actions. Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona: those players enforced the will of the manager and the club.

In my playing days, managers seldom interrogated players in the adrenaline-drenched moments straight after the match. The initial finger-pointing tended to come from the players, often in the bath. Or there would be confrontations while the water was still running: ‘You, you missed that chance, you …’ As a player I was always having a go at the goalkeepers and defenders for conceding goals. So I knew that if I missed a chance at the other end, I would be receiving it back with interest from those with the less glamorous jobs whom I had criticised on previous occasions. Those were the risks of being outspoken. These days, managers always have their say after the game. If they want to analyse, criticise or praise, there’s an area of managerial involvement right after the final whistle where influence can be brought to bear: 10 to 15 minutes.

With Roy there were episodes of great friction and drama as he tried to impose his will on the team. On one occasion, as I came into the dressing room, Roy and Ruud van Nistelrooy were at it, hammer and tongs. They had to be pulled apart by the players. At least Van Nistelrooy had the courage to stand up to Roy, because not everyone did. He was an intimidating, ferocious individual. His mode when angry was to attack, to lay into people.

I believe – and Carlos Queiroz was at one with me on this – that Roy Keane’s behaviour pattern changed when he realised he was no longer the Roy Keane of old. We’re certain of that. Acting on a conviction that some of his strengths had been stolen from him by injury and age, we tried to change his job description, for his benefit as much as ours.

We tried to alter his role by discouraging him from charging all over the pitch and making forward runs. Every time a team-mate received the ball, Roy would want it off him. That was an admirable quality. The religion at United was that when one of our players had the ball, we moved, and all the others supported the play. Roy was at an age where he shouldn’t have been doing that, but he could not accept the new reality.

I think he could see the truth of what we were saying to him, but to surrender to it was too threatening to his pride. He was a player constructed around his own passions. In the season prior to the fall-out, he was beginning to show physical signs of weakness in terms of getting back to fulfil his defensive duties. He wasn’t the same player – but how can you be, after hip operations, and cruciate knee ligament operations, and being on the front line of so many ferocious battles for so long?

The energy Roy expended in games was quite exceptional, but when you enter your thirties it’s hard to comprehend where you’re going wrong. You can’t change the nature that has driven you to so much success. It became transparent to us that we were no longer dealing with the same Roy Keane.

Our solution was to tell him to stay in that same area of central midfield. He could control the game from there. Deep down, I believe, he knew that better than anyone, but he simply could not bring himself to abandon his old talismanic role.

That was the long-term context to the confrontation that ended with him leaving the club and joining Celtic. He thought he was Peter Pan. Nobody is. Ryan Giggs is the closest you might come to that mythical ageless figure, but Ryan never had any serious injuries. Roy had some bad ones. His hip problem was the one that caused the biggest deterioration in his physical prowess.

The first major fracture in our relationship appeared in pre-season, before the 2005–06 campaign, on our trip to a training camp in Portugal. Carlos Queiroz went out to set it up because it had been his idea, and led us to the most marvellous facility. Vale do Lobo. It was out of this world. Training pitches, a gym and small houses, which were perfect for the players.

I arrived there at the end of my summer holiday in France. All the staff and players were nicely ensconced in their villas. But bad news awaited me. Carlos was having a nightmare with Roy.

I asked what the problem was. Carlos explained that Roy considered the houses at Vale do Lobo to be beneath the required standard and was not willing to stay in his. According to Carlos, Roy had rejected the first house because one of the rooms lacked air conditioning. The second threw up a similar problem. The third, which I saw, was a fantastic house. Roy wouldn’t take it. He wanted to stay in the next village, Quinta do Lago, with his family.

That first night, we organised a barbecue on the patio of the hotel. It was beautifully presented. Roy approached me and said he needed to talk to me.

‘Roy, come on, not now. We’ll talk in the morning,’ I said.

After training I pulled him to one side. ‘What’s going on, Roy?’ I started. ‘I’ve looked at the houses, they’re fine.’

Roy erupted, issuing a long list of complaints, which included the air conditioning. Then he started on Carlos. Why were we doing the pre-season here?, and so on. It was all criticism. It placed a strain on his relationship with us. He became quite reclusive, I thought, on that tour. I was disappointed. Carlos had worked his socks off to make the trip right for everyone.

When the visit was over, I resolved to bring Roy up to the office to at least get him to say sorry to Carlos. He was having none of it.

When we were embroiled in an argument once, Roy said to me, ‘You’ve changed.’

I replied, ‘Roy, I will have changed, because today is not yesterday. It’s a different world we’re in now. We have players from twenty different countries in here. You say I’ve changed? I hope I have. I would never have survived if I hadn’t changed.’

He said: ‘You’re not the same man.’

We had a real set-to. A proper argument. I told him he was out of order. ‘You’re the captain. You showed no responsibility to the other players. It’s not as if we asked you to live in a hovel. They were nice houses. Good places.’

The bad feeling didn’t subside. The deterioration in our relationship really started there. Then came the MUTV interview episode, in which Roy let rip at some of the younger members of the squad for supposedly failing in their duties. We had a rota for MUTV interviews, and on this occasion it was Gary Neville’s turn. On the Monday after we played Middlesbrough, I was not particularly interested when a press officer informed me that Roy was taking over the slot from Gary. It didn’t strike me as significant.

But apparently Roy had been giving the other players terrible stick about Saturday’s game. Cut to 4 p.m. I receive a call at home: ‘You need to see this.’

In the interview Roy described Kieran Richardson as a ‘lazy defender’, doubted why ‘people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher’ and said of Rio Ferdinand, ‘Just because you are paid a hundred and twenty thousand pounds a week and play well for twenty minutes against Tottenham, you think you are a superstar.’ The press office had phoned David Gill right away. It was stopped pending a decision from me on what we ought to do with the tape. ‘OK, get the video to my office tomorrow morning and I’ll have a look at it,’ I said.

Jesus. It was unbelievable. He slaughtered everyone. Darren Fletcher got it. Alan Smith. Van der Sar. Roy was taking them all down.

There was no game that week and I was due to go to Dubai to visit our soccer school. That morning Gary Neville called me from the players’ dressing room and asked me to come in. Down I went, expecting Roy to have apologised. I took my seat. Gary promptly announced that the players were not happy with the training. I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘You what?’ I said. Roy had a major influence on the dressing room and I believe that he had used that influence to try and turn the situation. Listen, Carlos Queiroz was a great coach, a great trainer. Yes, he could be repetitive with some exercises, but that’s what makes footballers: force of habit.

I let them have it. ‘You pulled me down here to complain about the training? Don’t you start, the pair of you … Who are you talking to?’ And I walked out.

Later, Roy came up to see me and I told him, ‘I know what’s happened.’ Then I started on the video. ‘What you did in that interview was a disgrace, a joke. Criticising your team-mates. And wanting that to go out.’

Roy’s suggestion was that we should show the video of the interview to the players and let them decide. I agreed and the whole team came up to see it. David Gill was in the building, but declined my invitation to take a seat for the show. He thought it best to leave it to me. But Carlos and all the staff joined the audience.

Roy asked the players whether they had anything to say about what they had just seen.

Edwin van der Sar said yes. He told Roy he was out of line criticising his team-mates. So Roy attacked Edwin. Who did he think he was, what did Edwin know about Manchester United? Van Nistelrooy, to his credit, piped up to support Van der Sar, so Roy rounded on Ruud. Then he started on Carlos. But he saved the best for me.

‘You brought your private life into the club with your argument with Magnier,’ he said.

At that point, players started walking out. Scholes, Van Nistelrooy, Fortune.

The hardest part of Roy’s body is his tongue. He has the most savage tongue you can imagine. He can debilitate the most confident person in the world in seconds with that tongue. What I noticed about him that day as I was arguing with him was that his eyes started to narrow, almost to wee black beads. It was frightening to watch. And I’m from Glasgow.

After Roy had left, Carlos saw I was quite upset. Never in his life, he said, had he witnessed a scene of that nature. He called it the worst imaginable spectacle in the life of a professional football club. ‘He needs to go, Carlos,’ I said. ‘One hundred per cent,’ he said. ‘Get rid of him.’ I was away until the following Wednesday, but phoned David Gill from Dubai and told him, ‘We need to move Roy out.’ His response was that, from the accounts I had given him, there was no choice. He said he would need to speak to the Glazers, who approved the move. I agreed with David Gill that the club would pay Roy’s contract up and honour his testimonial. No one could say we had treated Roy unjustly.

When I returned from the Middle East, David instructed me that the Glazers were coming over on the Friday, and that he had phoned Michael Kennedy to say we wanted a meeting with him. We called Michael and Roy into the meeting and set out our decision, with all the details.

Roy said publicly later that he was disappointed I didn’t end his Manchester United career on my own. But after the original confrontation, I was finished with him. There was no way I wanted another war with him or even to get involved with him again.

I walked out to the training pitch and told the players, and registered the shock on each face.

I always felt that my best moments as a manager were when I made quick decisions based on irrefutable fact, on conviction. It was so clear to me what I had to do to stem this crisis. If I had prevaricated, it would have given Roy more strength in the dressing room, more confidence in his own mind that he had been right, more time to convince everyone he was correct in his behaviour. And he was not right. What he did was wrong.

There was so much to look back on, so much to process as Roy Keane became an ex-Manchester United player. High on the list would be the 2002 World Cup, and Roy flying home after a bust-up with Mick McCarthy, the Republic of Ireland manager.

My brother Martin had taken me for a week’s holiday for my 60th birthday. At dinner I didn’t take my phone along with me, but Martin had taken his, and as we left, it rang. It was Michael Kennedy saying he had been trying to contact me. Michael made it clear there had been an eruption in Saipan, where the Republic of Ireland team had arrived to prepare for the World Cup. ‘You need to talk to him. You’re the only man he’ll listen to,’ Michael said. I was baffled. I couldn’t imagine what Michael could have been so distressed about. He told me the story of Roy’s confrontation with Mick McCarthy. The number Michael gave me was no good so I suggested Roy should ring me instead.

Keane’s voice came on the line. ‘Roy, what on earth are you thinking about?’ Roy unspooled all his anger at McCarthy. I said: ‘Calm down. A bit of advice. You cannot afford to make your children go to school every day with this as the background to their lives. Think of your family. It will be horrendous. Forget the World Cup finals. This will be the biggest story all summer.’ He knew I was right. I told him to get back in there with McCarthy, just the two of them, sort it out and tell the manager he would be playing. Roy agreed. But by the time he went back, Mick had already given a press conference to explain what had been going on. There was no way back for Roy.

I defended Roy to the hilt because he had come from Manchester United, with the high standards we had. Going to a substandard training base, with no training kit, is a reasonable issue to get angry about, and as captain he had every reason to complain. The question in life is: how far do you take a grievance?

As bad as the conditions were in Korea, Roy shouldn’t have pushed his anger to such levels. But that was Roy. He was a man of extremes.

I always protected my players and Roy was no exception. It was my job. For that reason I can’t apologise for the times I stuck up for them when there were sound reasons to lurch the other way. There were times when I thought, ‘Christ, what were you thinking about?’ Cathy posed that question to me many times. But I couldn’t take sides against my players. I had to find solutions other than castigating them in public. Sometimes I had to fine or punish them, of course, but I could never let it out of the dressing room. I would have felt I had betrayed the one constant principle of my time as a manager: to defend. No, not to defend, but to protect them from outside judgments.

In modern football, celebrity status overrides the manager’s power. In my day you wouldn’t whisper a word about your manager. You would fear certain death. In my later years, I would hear constantly about players using their power against managers, and the player receiving the support of the public and even the club. The player will always spill his resentments to whoever might care to listen, but the manager will not do that, because he has wider responsibilities.

I think Roy realised he was coming to the end of his playing career and was starting to think he was the manager. He was assuming managerial responsibilities, and, of course, it’s not a managerial responsibility to go on Manchester United television and slaughter your team-mates.

By stopping it going out, we saved Roy from losing the respect of everyone in that dressing room. But once the meeting in my room developed such a venomous tone, that was the end of him.

The one thing I could never allow was loss of control, because control was my only saviour. As with David Beckham, I knew the minute a football player started trying to run the club, we would all be finished. The real players like that. They like a manager who’s tough. Or can be tough.

They like the manager to be a man. There’s a reward. The player will be thinking: ‘1. Can he make us winners? 2. Can he make me a better footballer? 3. Is he loyal to us?’ These are vital considerations, from the player’s side. If the answer to all three is yes, they will tolerate murders. I had some terrible mood-storms after games and was never proud of my outbursts. Some nights I would go home assailed by fear of the consequences. Maybe the players wouldn’t be talking to me next time I entered the training ground. Perhaps they would be raging or conspiring against me. But on Mondays, they would be more terrified of me than I was of them, because they had seen me lose my temper and were not keen to see it happen again.

Roy’s an intelligent guy. I saw him reading some interesting books. He’s a good conversationalist and good company when he’s in the right mood. The physio would come in and ask, ‘What sort of mood is Roy in today?’ because that would determine the whole mood of the dressing room. That’s how influential he was in our daily lives.

With his contradictions and mood swings he could be wonderful one minute and antagonistic the next. The switch would flick in a moment.

In one deep sense, him leaving was the best thing that could have happened, because a lot of the players were intimidated by him in the dressing room, and those players emerged well from his departure. John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher were certainly beneficiaries. When we went to France to pay Lille in Paris in November 2005, the players were booed on the pitch in the warm-up, partly as a consequence of what Roy had said in the MUTV interview. Fletcher and O’Shea took most of the heckling.

I think the dressing room relaxed when Roy left. Relief swept the room. They no longer had to listen to the barrage that some of them had grown to expect. Because he’d been a declining force, the gap he left was not as big as it would have been three years previously. I watched him in a Celtic v. Rangers game and said to Carlos beforehand, ‘He’ll be the star man today.’ Roy was never in the game. He played a passive role. The dynamic, fist-clenching, demanding Roy Keane wasn’t there. He loved it at Celtic Park. I spoke to him about it and he praised the training, the facilities, the Prozone. Things did settle down between us. About two months later I was sitting in my office discussing team business with Carlos, when a member of staff called to say that Roy was here to see me. I was startled.

‘I just want to apologise to you for my behaviour,’ he said. That’s when he began describing the scene at Celtic and telling me how well his work was going. But when I saw him in that Rangers–Celtic game I knew he wouldn’t carry on with it.

Changes were already in motion before Roy left, but they weren’t yet apparent. There is one abiding truth about Manchester United: we are always capable of producing new players, fresh names, and we had them on tap again as Roy was heading out. Fletcher was acquiring maturity and experience; I brought Ji-Sung Park to the club; Jonny Evans was breaking through.

Often first-team players can’t recognise the regeneration going on around them because they can’t see beyond themselves. They have no clue what’s going on further down the scale. Giggs, Scholes and Neville were exceptions. Maybe Rio and Wes Brown. Others would have no idea. They see their job as playing. But I could see foundations developing. That wasn’t a great period for us in terms of trophies. Yet when you’re managing change, you have to accept the quieter spells and acknowledge that transformations take longer than a year.

I could never ask for three or four years to achieve change, because at Manchester United you would never have that time, so you try to expedite it, and be bold sometimes: play young players, test them. I was never afraid of that. It was never just a duty, but a part of the job I loved. It’s who I am. I did it at St Mirren and Aberdeen and Manchester United. So, when we faced those periods, we always put our trust in younger players.

In terms of recruitment targets, Carlos fancied Anderson strongly. In one day, David Gill travelled to Sporting Lisbon to sign Nani and then drove up the motorway to buy Anderson from Porto. They cost a bit of money, but it showed what we thought, as a club, about young talent. We had a good defensive nucleus of Ferdinand, Vidić and Evra. We were a solid unit at the back. Rooney was developing. We let Louis Saha go because he was always picking up injuries. We had Henrik Larsson for a while, and he was a revelation.

After an initial rapprochement, relations with Roy soured again. I saw a remark he had made in the newspapers to the effect that he had washed Man United out of his life. His claim was that we would all have forgotten him by then. How could anyone forget what he did for the club? The press used to see him as a quasi-manager, because of his winning appetite, and the way he drove the team on. They would ask me all the time: ‘Do you think Roy Keane will be a manager?’ As his career in coaching developed, it became apparent that he needed to spend money to achieve results. He was always looking to buy players. I didn’t feel Roy had the patience to build a team.

In the 2011–12 season, we crossed swords again when Roy was highly critical of our young players after the defeat in Basel, which knocked us out of the Champions League, and I responded by referring to him as a ‘TV critic’. If you studied his final days at Sunderland and Ipswich, his beard would get whiter and his eyes blacker. Some might be impressed with his opinions on TV and think: ‘Well, he’s got the balls to take on Alex Ferguson.’ From the minute he became a TV critic, I knew he would focus on United.

As for blaming the young players? He wouldn’t have aimed that accusation at Wayne Rooney, who wouldn’t have stood for it. The senior players would sort him out. Fletcher and O’Shea are the two he picked on, and they were booed as a result by our fans when we played Lille in Paris. His two spells in management proved one thing: he needs money. He spent at Sunderland and failed. He spent a lot at Ipswich and came up short.

He gave an interview to David Walsh of the Sunday Times saying I only looked after myself, and used the John Magnier/Rock of Gibraltar situation as an example. Unbelievable. That day in my office, when we clashed, I saw the anger in him. His eyes blackened. He went on about John Magnier that day as well. I never understood his obsession with the Rock of Gibraltar affair.

In the arrangement we reached on that momentous Friday, it was agreed that no one would ever talk about our fall-out. I would have honoured that agreement, but for the fact that Roy breached it first. When Roy was at Sunderland he accused United of insulting him and lying to him in the build-up to his departure. The club considered legal action against him. Roy said he would not retract the accusation. My feeling was that he was looking for a day in court to impress the fans. He was still a hero to them, after all. So my advice to David Gill was to pull the legal action. I feel we preserved our dignity.

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