One of Bryan Robson’s last acts as a player at Old Trafford was to back Alex Ferguson’s judgment in signing Roy Keane.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday, the former ‘Captain Marvel’ of United and England recalled how, in 1993, he contributed his tuppence worth to Ferguson breaking the then British transfer record by spending £3.75m in bring the Nottingham Forest midfielder to Old Trafford.
“In my last year at United, because I wanted to become a manager — and because I always got in really early — the boss allowed me to go up and sit in the trainers’ room and have a cup of tea and chat with them,” said Robson.
“This morning in pre-season, they were chatting about Keaney. He (Ferguson) was telling them what the price was going to be and he was asking them their opinion, whether they should go for it or not. And I just joined in with the conversation and went, ‘Look gaffer, I’ve played against him quite a few times and I’d definitely pay that price for him’.
“I think the boss had already made his mind up at the time that he was going to sign him but it was just a matter of getting back up from his staff.”
Robson says he was not in the least bit surprised that Keane went on on to become such a legendary figure in his own right at United.
“I didn’t have any doubts about him because Keaney was 22 when he signed and he’d already shown that he had a bit of everything. He could tackle, he was quick, a powerful lad, good in the air, good range of passing, could score a goal.” First impressions of the Cork boy at Old Trafford?
“On the training pitch and in matches he was really aggressive but he was quite quiet off the pitch. But you expect that of young lads when they come into an experienced dressing room. You don’t expect them to be shouting their mouths off — unless you’re Paul Ince (laughs).
“But on the pitch, even when he was a kid playing for Nottingham Forest, Roy was loud. That’s just a natural professionalism about yourself. You’ve either got that or you don’t. Keaney was a bit like myself. I can remember when I was eight, I’d argue with the teachers who were refereeing the game because you’re into the game and you’ve just got an opinion. Roy was very like that. He had his opinion and he wasn’t afraid (to speak up).” Of course, towards the end of his United career, it was Keane’s very lack of inhibition in telling team-mates exactly what he thought of them which — in the form of his infamous MUTV interview — appeared to hasten his exit from Old Trafford.
“Sometimes players need encouragement as well as criticism,” Robson observed. “Where Roy overstepped the mark was where he did it in public instead of doing it behind closed doors. If you have a go at one of your teammates, then it’s ‘Right, I’ve said my piece’ and that’s the end of it as far as I’m concerned. If you’re upset and not happy with me, well, get on with it. You’re doing that sort of thing to get the best out of them, you’re not having a go at someone for the sake of having a go at them. You’re in a team game. If they’re letting you down, you want to shake them up so they are concentrating more on the job at hand.” There’s also the fact, Robson conceded, that some players respond better to the kinder word.
“You’ve got to know your characters, and that’s in management or as a teammate. Andrei Kanchelskis, I wouldn’t shout at him like I’d shout at Keaney or Incey or Brucey because I know he’s a totally different character. I probably wouldn’t get the best out of Andrei by screaming or bawling at him whereas the other three, I knew I’d get a response. They’d probably want to fight me!”
Is ‘Robbo’ surprised that, having managed at club level, Keane is now holding down a Number 2 role with Ireland?
“Sometimes it can suit you being a number two rather than a number one,” he replied. “Martin O’Neill has proven over the years that his man-management style is pretty good so Roy is maybe a bit more chilled being number two and enjoying the training and the bit of banter with the players rather than having to go in and have a go at the players.
“I had that situation when I was with England. That was one of the most enjoyable jobs I had, being assistant to Terry Venables for a couple of years. Roy obviously enjoys the role under Martin O’Neill. But because Roy is a strong minded-person and has strong opinions on the game, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him go back into management.”
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