Alex Ferguson may have poured scorn on Roy Keane’s managerial abilities in his recent book but he believes serving as Martin O’Neill’s lieutenant with Ireland can be the Cork man’s ticket back to the big time with a Premier League club.
Ferguson, who wrote in his autobiography that Keane didn’t have the “patience to build a team” at Sunderland and Ipswich, imparted a much more positive message for his Irish audience at Dublin’s Convention Centre last night.
“I think it’s terrific for Roy,” he enthused. “He hasn’t had a good experience as a manager but he’s young. I always say about management, I was an engineer and when I went full-time at 22 I took all my coaching badges and I made sure I was never going to go back to engineering.
“Roy went straight from playing at Celtic into management. It’s hard, that. Now he’s got good experience in Martin O’Neill, which he’ll lean on, and if he does come back in to club football, he’s got that practice now, which is better preparation for him.”
‘Alex Ferguson Live’ saw 2,500 people pay an average of €40 per head to listen to the former Manchester United manager discuss all manner of matters with the host — and his close friend — Eamonn Holmes directing the talk.
The worry was that the occasion would be too chummy, too respectful of a man Holmes — who is a lifelong United fan — insisted on calling ‘Boss’ but the issue of Ferguson’s fallout with Keane was addressed early on.
“It was only the last year,” said Ferguson of the meltdown in relations with a man who had been his side’s icon in midfield for so long. “For 10 years he was a fantastic captain for me and player. He was unbelievable, really. When you talk about the best Manchester United players, Roy is in there.
“It was the last year,” he repeated. “He had got some bad injuries. He had a hip operation and a cruciate knee injury and at 34 years of age, wear and tear happens to them all… With Roy, it changed when we went to Portugal.
“Carlow Queiroz had set up this fantastic training camp at Val do Lobo (in Portugal). I was on holiday ‘cos Carlos brought the training back a bit and Roy was just not happy. We had a few houses and he didn’t like them. He wanted to stay a few miles out with his family and I don’t think he appreciated Carlos.
“There was something there. I challenged him on it and I said: ‘Roy, this is ridiculous, you’ve got to be one of the boys’. But that was the start of it, that summer. From that point, he went on and criticised the team (in the infamous MUTV interview) and of course there is no way back then.”
Ferguson, once again, insisted that he and United acted honourably with Keane, paying up the rest of his contract and honouring his testimonial which was held at Old Trafford with Celtic as guests when he retired.
“When he went to Sunderland, no-one helped him more than Alex Ferguson,” he added. “I gave him three players on loan: (Danny) Simpson, (Jonny) Evans and (Phil) Bardsley so I really did my best to help him get a start. A tough decision had to be made and I can’t say it was wrong.”
In truth, there was little in what he said about Keane last night that differed from the words that exploded from the pages of his book but he did go as far as to say that axing Keane was the “most difficult decision” in his 26 years at the club.
The man from Govan spoke for 80 minutes in all, 20 more than advertised in just one more example of ‘Fergie Time’, and a crowd that queued literally around the block for over an hour beforehand lapped it up.
There were jokes and fond reminiscences about everyone from Dion Dublin to Jock Stein and a number of familiar old yarns like the one about how he managed to sign Eric Cantona from Leeds United two decades ago.
That most of the audience knew them didn’t matter. This was akin to a wrinkly old rock band hammering out all the old favourites but the appointments by the FAI this past week did at least give it a sense of urgency and greater relevance.
Martin O’Neill will be officially unveiled further down towards the Dublin docks this morning and Ferguson had comforting words for supporters hopeful of a bounce in fortunes for the national side.
The man from Derry was one of those who made it into Ferguson’s book without feeling his wrath with the Scot describing a boozy night in his office back in the 2009/10 season with O’Neill after his Aston Villa side won in Old Trafford.
“I think it’s terrific,” Ferguson said of O’Neill’s new role as Ireland manager. “I must say, Trapattoni, I admire Trapattoni because he is in his 70s and he takes on a job where he can’t speak great English but he has the enthusiasm to do it. The enthusiasm and desire to still do his job in his 70s, it takes a lot of admiration, that.
“But, the appointment of Martin is a different thing. He has had fantastic success as a manger. He got to a European final with Celtic, three league titles in a row and that is hard to do in Scotland where you have Celtic and Rangers competing with one another. So he brings fantastic experience and also his personality. He has got a good personality.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved