Keane was at Wembley yesterday as ITV announced its panel of pundits for the World Cup, but United’s woes were at the forefront of discussions, and the former United skipper had harsh words for vice-chairman Ed Woodward and defender Phil Jones, as well as having little sympathy for the departing Rio Ferdinand.
Keane’s comments on Jones were in the ‘harsh-but-fair’ category, as he insisted the utility player needs to toughen up. Jones has been selected by Roy Hodgson for England’s World Cup squad but his place on the plane is still uncertain because of injury, not for the first time this season.
Asked if the World Cup could be a platform for Jones and United partner Chris Smalling to prove they can succeed Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who is also leaving Old Trafford, Keane retorted: “They’ve had a platform for the last couple of years.
“We were told two or three years ago Jones was going to be the new Duncan Edwards, and Smalling was another,” he added.
“I’ve watched United live nine or 10 times this year and they have been none of those things. If anything I think they have gone backwards. I’ve actually been a big fan of theirs. You have to give players a chance to mature, but you can also say, ‘we’ve given you a chance and you’re not taking it’.
“Jones needs to toughen up. Every time I see him he is getting carried off. He’s got to toughen up — he’s playing for Manchester United.”
United have reportedly bid an eye-watering €30m for Southampton’s teenage left-back Luke Shaw and Keane is not surprised. “You pay what it costs to get players in,” he said, adding they need more, especially in the centre of defence.
“They have to recruit in the summer and they might get two [centre-backs]. It’s the spine of the team. United have come up short defensively and in the middle of the park they have not done enough.
“You watch any of the teams that are winning trophies, and at the risk of stating the obvious, you’ve got to have a strong spine; goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and striker. United have been short in two of those areas. It makes it very difficult to win trophies.”
He lays the blame more at the feet of Woodward than David Moyes, who paid the price by being sacked after 10 months in the hot seat.
“He [Moyes] had one transfer window, and it’s not always down to the manager when players don’t come in. I think Ed Woodward needs to look at himself. He’s got to get deals done. I think Moyes should have been given more time.”
Keane believes Louis van Gaal is the right man for the job.
“I was happy with David Moyes, but I think Van Gaal is a good choice. Only time will tell. He’s managed big clubs. United have gone through change — Vidic leaving, Rio moving on, Giggsy.”
United have also finished behind Liverpool for the first time Keane can remember. I know there are fine lines between winning and losing.
“This year Liverpool have improved 5% and United have gone back 5%. I’ve been there — it’s a fine line between having a good season.
“There have been so many changes at the back, players have come in that haven’t come on. You’ve got Evra leaving, Vidic leaving — they need five or six players; left-back, right-back, midfielder, winger.
“You’re on about players who have not performed — Valencia, Young, Nani, Carrick. You shouldn’t be afraid of rebuilding, you should be excited about it.”
Keane was not surprised that Michael Carrick was left out of Hodgson’s England squad.
“I didn’t fall off my chair when he was left out,” said Keane. “He’s had a dip in form this year like a lot of the United players.”
Nor was Keane surprised by United’s decision to let Ferdinand go.
“Over the last few months there has obviously been a lot of indecision in the club and it is no shock to hear he is leaving. If United are interested in keeping players or doing deals, they would have done it months ago.
“Rio is a top player. I hear he wants to carry on playing and he is right if he feels he can contribute, good luck to him.
“Listen, it happens when you get to 35, that’s the other side of football. I don’t think Rio will be short of offers, don’t be crying yourself to sleep tonight.
“He’s a top player who could go to another club or he may fancy something different, maybe the US.
“United are losing important players. But that’s the nature of the beast. Players come and go.”
But can United bounce back next season?
“Of course they can,” insisted Keane.