Roy Keane made only the briefest of cameo appearances in a speech delivered by his former manager, Alex Ferguson, to 1700 business people in Dublin last night.
In a wide-ranging address to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Ferguson took the audience from his arrival at Old Trafford in November 1986 through the highs and lows of the next 26 years up to his retirement.
Given that it was the same day as the publication of Keane’s autobiography, those who turned up expecting the most successful manager in this history of English football to shed more light on their tempestuous relationship were left disappointed.
The Champions League final in Barcelona in 1999 — a match Keane missed through suspension — was the “undoubted highlight” of Ferguson’s 39-year career in football.
United had trailed Bayern Munich 1-0 and the team was shorn of two of the best midfielders in the world — Keane and Paul Scholes. Ferguson told the players in the half-time talk that if they didn’t win this game, “they wouldn’t be allowed touch the cup. They would have to walk past it”.
He dismissed any notion that the team was lucky as United eventually beat Bayern 2-1 thanks to two last-minute goals, instead insisting “that team was full of character and never gave up until the last minute.”
Ferguson was “full of trepidation” when he arrived down from Aberdeen. United was a big club with a big history, but it wasn’t doing very well.
“Most managers only concentrate on the first team because it keeps them in a job. I was never afraid of the sack,” he said. “I didn’t start out to build a team. I wanted to build a football club.”
He was horrified to find out United only had two scouts in Manchester and four in Greater Manchester.
At the time Manchester City was better at scouting and retaining you players.
“They even had Ryan Giggs. That didn’t last long.” He soon increased the number of scouts to 25.
His philosophy was to find talented young players and show his confidence in them. They rewarded him with unlimited loyalty, he said.
The greatest management lesson he ever learned came while he was Aberdeen. “My assistant manager said to me one day ‘what am I doing here?”
He pointed out that Ferguson was micro-managing everything from the training ground to the dressing room. “That is when I went from the centre of the training pitch to the sideline and observed. It was the greatest lesson of my life."
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