Ah, Roy Keane, now there’s a name that divides opinion. Some still haven’t forgiven him for his fallout with Mick McCarthy in Saipan back in 2002 which led to him being sent home from the Ireland squad weeks before the World Cup.
Nowadays though, the hardman from Cork has settled nicely into his role as a highly-strung pundit with opinions that cut like glass. So when you turn on your T.V. and see him delve into a five-minute rant aimed at some nimble-footed player with fluorescent boots, it’s easy to forget that Keane used to actually walk the walk to back up all the talk.
Here then is a quick look at two of his greatest games out on the soccer pitch.
Manchester City 2 – 3 Manchester United (93/94)
Having just joined Manchester United from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1993 for a then British transfer record of £3.75million, this is the game that made everyone begin to realise that United had bagged themselves a bargain. City went two-nil up in the first half and the fans decked out in sky blue at Maine Road started to dream about their first derby win of the decade.
Yet Sir Alex Ferguson, then just a humble Alex Ferguson, gave his players the full wrath of his now legendary hairdryer half-time team talks and sent the players back out with their tails up. From the whistle, Keane started flying into tackles and taking the fight to the City team. Suddenly they looked nervous and mistakes started creeping into their game. Eric Cantona took advantage and managed to bag two goals to bring the game level going into the closing stages.
With Eric Cantona playing so well, he must have been wearing his lucky socks. In 2020, United’s old kit man Albert Morgan revealed on a podcast that Cantona had to have the same pair of socks to wear at every game to feel he could play to his best. Wearing the same clothes is a common superstition across many sports with football and poker being the most prominent.
It was Keane though who had started the comeback by taking the game by the scruff of its neck and it was he who would decide it, when he stormed onto the end of a Dennis Irwin ball into the box and smashed home the winner.
Juventus 2 – 3 Manchester United (98/99)
Another magical and courageous comeback with the same scoreline as the previous example, this match is commonly regarded as Keane’s magnum opus and is the greatest portrayal of the dogged and driven personality that the man possesses. It was a hot and sweaty night in Turin during the Spring of 1999 and Manchester United had a lot of work to do to make it to their first European Cup final in 31 years.
The first leg of the tie held at Old Trafford a few weeks before had ended in a 1-1 draw, and had Juventus feeling that progression to the final was all but guaranteed. That feeling was solidified within eleven minutes of the second leg when professional goal-hanger Filippo Inzaghi netted twice to leave United on the edge of elimination. Yet Keane refused to lie down and let the game wither out and instead pulled his socks up and put in one of the greatest performances in soccer history.
By getting stuck in with hard but fair tackles and breaking up numerous Juventus attacks, he began to re-build the confidence amongst the United players. Then on the 24th minute, Beckham whipped a corner in and Keane made a darting run into the box and timed his jump to perfection to glance a header past Angelo Peruzzi and into the net. Game on.
However, disaster for Keane struck, as minutes later the ball bobbled in midfield to the greatest player in the world at the time Zinedine Zidane. Zidane took the ball and set off on one of his glided runs at an out of position United defense, leaving Keane with little option but to scythe the Frenchman down. The ref rightly brandished a yellow card for the tackle and this now meant that if United progressed to the final, Keane would be suspended and unable to play.
Lesser men would have shrunk into themselves. Keane though still managed to place the team on his back and inspired the victory, with goals coming from Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, to take United to the final in Barcelona and complete an incredible treble. A showing of real tenacity.