In the years of Manchester United’s dominance of English football, it was their “never-say-die” spirit under Sir Alex Ferguson which set them apart from their challengers.
Their ability to scrape a win even on days when they hadn’t been at the races could not be solely attributed to luck simply because it happened so often.
Those 90th-minute winners became a trademark under Ferguson as his players never wilted in their belief — and few players embodied that attitude quite like Roy Keane.
On the day of July 19, some 28 years ago, Ferguson made one of his greatest-ever signings in acquiring Keane from Nottingham Forest for £3.75million in July 1993 — a record transfer fee at the time.
He would go to make 480 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 51 goals in his 13-year spell at Old Trafford before heading to Celtic for the final year of his career, retiring in 2006.
Keane’s trophy cabinet contains seven Premier League winners’ medals, along with four FA Cups and a Champions League winners’ medal from their famous Treble success in 1998-99.
Mirror Sport takes a look back over his illustrious and eventful career, which had as many highs as it did lows…
The making of Keane
Born in Cork, Keane began his career playing for Cobh Ramblers in his native Ireland after failing to gain an apprenticeship in English football.
But his performances were noted by legendary boss Brian Clough, who took him to Nottingham Forest before he completed his high-profile switch to Old Trafford two years later.
It wasn’t all rosy between the pair. While Keane was a fans’ favourite at the City Ground, Clough was once so furious with the midfielder after a shoddy backpass against Crystal Palace that he knocked the player to the floor with a single punch.
Recalling the incident in his autobiography, Keane wrote: “When I walked into the dressing room after the game, Clough punched me straight in the face.
But like the sturdy, old-fashioned character he was, the Irishman refused to dwell on the incident and trained the next day.
“He was upset, he was heated and he punched me. I remember thinking, ‘I still think you’re a brilliant manager’, he later said.
Still, when Forest were relegated to the second tier in 1993 it was inevitable that Keane had outgrown them. He left for United later that summer, coinciding with United’s rise to prominence under Ferguson.
Man Utd success
The most successful teams in football are often constructed with a solid backbone, the dependable players who know how to win.
For United, that spinal cord consisted of Peter Schmeichel in goal, Gary Neville in defence, Roy Keane in midfield and the assortment of striking talents up front.
As a player, there was nothing spectacular or eye-catching that Keane did. He was not as talented as Zinedine Zidane, as graceful as Patrick Vieira or goal-friendly as Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes. But mentally, he was unrivalled.
Keane was a born winner and with that comes a fiery, valiant spirit that reverberated around the dressing room. If players were not pulling their weight, Keane would be the first to tell them.
He also sacrificed himself for the greater good of the team. After a sensational display for United in their semi-final win over Juventus, he was cautioned for a challenge which meant he was suspended for the 1999 Champions League final.
United might have won in Barcelona without him, but they may not have got there without him.
It was no coincidence that in his 12 years at the club, United won seven league titles. But after his exit to Celtic in 2005, United had to wait until 2007 before they would taste success in the Premier League again.
Ferguson and Keane shared a frosty relationship towards the end of his time at the club, with the latter claiming he was forced out as the club tried to get him off the wage bill.
But there was no doubting in the legendary Scot’s mind that Keane had been one of the greatest to ever pull on the United shirt.
Despite earning a reputation for being a quiet character away from football, controversy was never far away from Keane. In fact, it followed the outspoken midfielder.
During the 1997-98 season, Keane injured his cruciate ligament after a challenge from Leeds’ Alf-Inge Haaland. While it was claimed he made it his personal mission to exact revenge on their next meeting, Keane denied this.
That would arrive three years later in the Manchester derby when Haaland lined up for Manchester City. Keane wrote in his book: ”I did want to nail him and let him know what was happening. I wanted to hurt him and stand over him and go: ‘Take that, you c***.’
“I don’t regret that. But I had no wish to injure him.”
His shocking knee-high challenge continues to earn millions of hits on YouTube such was the horror behind it. It didn’t end Haaland’s career as it was claimed — he was back playing four days later — but Keane had enjoyed the final jab in this fierce battle.
Only a year later, Keane was sent home from the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup squad in Korea-Japan in 2002 after a falling out with manager Mick McCarthy amid concerns over the conditions of their camp in Saipan.
Keane was infamously spotted by TV reporters walking his dog, Triggs, after refusing to play under McCarthy again. It was claimed he had unleashed a tirade at his former boss after being accused of faking an injury against Iran.
Later, Keane admitted he regretted the way the incident played out and added: “To play in the World Cup. It would have been nice to play, A lot of people were disappointed, particularly my family.”
Some footballers struggle in their careers but make it as a coach, while there are others who are superb as players but struggle as a manager. Keane belongs to the latter category after some mixed fortunes in the dugout.
His first job in management took him to Sunderland where he guided the Black Cats to promotion in the 2006-07 season. But they struggled to stay in the top flight and when he departed in December 2008 Sunderland were down in 18th position, with the players allegedly celebrating his departure.
Now 49, he has not been hired as a manager since his leaving Ipswich Town after an 18-month stint at Portman Road came to an end in January 2011. He opted to join Ireland as assistant to Martin O’Neill in 2014 and remained in the role until 2018 when the pair left their positions.
Away from the pitch, Keane has used his piercing words and no-nonsense analytical style to make a name for himself as one of football’s most captivating pundits.
When he speaks, people listen and with regular stints on Sky Sports, as well as joining ITV for Euro 2020, his blunt assessments and criticisms safely make him a box office attraction.
With the new Premier League season approaching, football fans will be eager to see what Keane makes of Man United’s forthcoming campaign.