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Roy Keane - Saipan Backdrop
It is instructive to look at the backdrop against which Roy Keane found himself in the 2001 / 2002 season leading into the 2002 World Cup. Even by Roy Keane's standards it was turbulent and troubling.
Last Season for United Manager
Manchester United began the season looking to win the Premier League title for an unprecedented fourth successive time. Alex Ferguson had announced that he was going to retire at the end of the 2001-2002 season. Ferguson was the man that "I owed...everything."[Page 215] "I didn't want him to leave...couldn't believe that United would let him go."[Page 240]. The Champions League Final was to be played in Glasgow - Ferguson's home town. The manager had "...set that as our goal for the season at the club."[Page 232].
Persistent Injury Worries for Roy Keane
Roy Keane also had his ongoing injuries to contend with throughout the season. His "knee was a constant worry."[Page 241] The reason it was a worry because it was the knee that had suffered the cruciate ligament rupture. He must have had serious and very understandable concerns about his career. He also missed four weeks due to a hamstring injury in April 2002.
Keane Quits Football
Earlier in the season Keane had been sent off after an altercation with Newcastle United's Alan Shearer. In his autobiography Keane says that he had been baited by Shearer and he "Fell into the trap."[Page 236]. After this sending off Keane's mind was so scrambled that he decided, at thirty years of age, to quit football forever. Keane said that the only reason that he changed his mind was because of his manager's entreaties. "I did it for Alex Ferguson. He'd stuck by me through everything; quitting now would be a slap in the face, the last thing he needed when the club was struggling."[Page 239].
Keane's Extended Contract Negotiations
Another major consideration for Keane during the season was his own contract negotiations. These were protracted and Keane only signed after Sir Alex Ferguson announced that he would not retire at the end of the season after all. David Beckham was also involved in contract negotiations at the time and he too only signed once Ferguson committed to stay with United.
No Trophies for Man Utd in 2001/02
Perhaps unsurprisingly with such a distracting backdrop Manchester United's performances in the Premier League were below par. United ended the season in third place and a full ten points behind winners Arsenal. Uncharacteristically United had lost nine matches, six of them at Old Trafford! Middlesborough ended United's interest in the FA cup defeating the Manchester giants 2-0 in the fourth round. Arsenal beat their great rivals Manchester United 4-0 in November in the third round of the League Cup.
The one remaining hope of a trophy lay in the Champions League. United had reached the semi-finals and had avoided Barcelona and Real Madrid. Bayern Leverkusen lay between the team achieving the target set by Alex Ferguson at the start of the season. The ties with Leverkusen proved to be hugely frustrating. United squandered a 2-0 lead in the home leg and conceded two away goals to the Germans as the match ended in a draw. In the return away leg United led in the tie once more when Roy Keane scored in the 28th minute. Yet again the Germans scored an equaliser to reach the Champions League Final in Glasgow, the native city of Alex Ferguson. United had missed out by the slenderest of margins - the away goals rule. For the first time in four years Manchester had failed to win a major trophy.
Roy Keane Attacks Juan Sebastian Veron
The highly respected journalist, Jim Lawton, reported that towards the end of the Premiership season, "The red mist came to Keane ... on the Monday morning after his Manchester United team-mate Juan Sebastian Veron had made the sloppy error that brought defeat against Middlesborough at Old Trafford and the team's loss of control of its own destiny in the Premiership race. Keane, it was alleged, had to be dragged off the Argentinean." (Independent.co.uk 23 May 2009).
For Roy Keane - a natural born winner - the season had been extremely frustration. His tolerance for further failure would have been at a very low ebb and his mood must have been very dark indeed.
NOTE: Unless stated otherwise all quotations are from:
Triggs - The Autobiography of Roy Keane's Dog
Ireland at 2002 World Cup Finals - Irish 2002 World Cup Squad - Irish Group Matches
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