Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Keane parts with Manchester Utd

AP , LONDON

Manchester United captain Roy Keane, front, is followed by Dennis Bergkamp of Arsenal during the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, on May 21. Keane is leaving after 12 years at the club, a spokesman said on Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

When Roy Keane said Manchester United needed to get rid of players, he probably didn't mean himself.

Keane's 12-year stay at Manchester United ended Friday, with the grittiness and abrasiveness that spurred the club to dominate English soccer throughout the 1990s leading to his exit.

The Irishman had long been regarded as manager Alex Ferguson's spokesman, disciplining players and relaying the coach's instructions. However, he may have gone too far two weeks ago when he singled out players for criticism in an interview with the club's in-house television station.

Although Keane had already said he expected this season to be his last at Old Trafford, his sudden departure surprised former teammates and fans.

"I thought he'd be there for a few more years and I thought that he'd maybe go into coaching there," said David Beckham, who played alongside Keane until leaving for Real Madrid in 2003.

"He's won everything in club football ... and he's done it by gaining respect throughout the football world -- from the players that he's played with and those he's played against."

Ferguson paid a then British record ?3.75 million (5.5 million euros) in 1993 to get Keane as a replacement for former England captain Bryan Robson.

A combative midfielder -- defending at one end of the field one minute and scoring at the other the next -- Keane's drive and ambition propelled Manchester United to the European Cup, seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Intercontinental Cup.

Keane may now get the chance to end his career at Celtic, as he previously said he would like to. Even with the 34-year-old increasingly injury-prone, there's unlikely to be a shortage of clubs interested in signing someone so competitive he can inspire his team without playing.

Knowing he was banned from the 1999 Champions League final, he dominated a Juventus midfield containing Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Edgar Davids to carry his team through to what would be a famous triumph over Bayern Munich in Barcelona.

And when Manchester United won the final, the players formed a tunnel on the field for Keane to walk through with the trophy aloft.

"He was one of the best players the club has ever had," said former teammate Nicky Butt, who played in that game.

"He was a leader -- that's how he will be remembered."

However, the same never-say-die attitude also led to a string of bust-ups even before criticizing his teammates for a poor attitude or lack of ability.

In 2000, he slated fans he said were more interested in "prawn sandwiches" than football and, two years later, quit the Ireland team on the eve of the 2002 World Cup finals after berating manager Mick McCarthy over training facilities and tactics.

Still smarting from a preseason argument with Keane, Ferguson refused to let the club's television station broadcast the interview in which Keane lambasted teammates including Rio Ferdinand.

"There is a shortage of characters. The players have been asked questions and they are just not coming up with the answers," Keane said.

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