Roy Keane: Two Sides Of A Genius – Part 2/2

Carrying on from my previous article which looked at the unsavoury side of Roy Keane, it’s worth remembering constrating his attitude towards his on-pitch violence with his view of one of the most inspiring and jaw-dropping performances by any football player, anywhere, at any time.

The performance in question was his. The opposition was the mighty Juventus. The venue was the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin. The circumstances were that it was the second leg of the 1999 Champions League semi-final United had just about scraped 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford with a very late equaliser from Ryan Giggs.

Juventus were big favourites to make the final within ten minutes of the start of the second leg United were 2-0 down. The Italian’s midfield was oozing with the class of Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane. Even the most biased Manchester United fan would admit they looked dead and buried but then Roy Keane does not tend to view things as the rest of us do.

Roy Keane gritted his teeth, clenched his fists, refused to ease up and admit defeat and began to stamp his authority on the star-studded Juventus midfield. In a inspiring performance of leadership, sheer willingness to win and determination Keane first tormented the Juventus midfielders making them accept this was not over and then sunk their oozing dominance with a beautiful headed goal.

He eventually totally dominated them to provide an authority and hold on the game for his team mates to strive on to victory and finish Juventus off. Goals from Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole completed the amazing turn around inspired by the Irish captain. It was a truly stunning performance by Roy Keane and a real privilege to have witnessed it live.

His performance was all the more remarkable because, while United were still trailing in aggregate by 3-2 and the Juventus team was still posing a major goal threat. It could have gone either way not to mention being a huge risk of the counter attacks from the silky Italian’s. Keane was booked for an mistimed tackle on Zidane as he stretched to reach a poor pass from Jesper Blomqvist who no doubt felt the fury of Keane afterwards. The booking meant that Roy Keane would be suspended for the 1999 Champions League final in the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Keane said that:

“I was so much into this battle that the consequences of the card barely registered.”

That is somewhat doubtful as Keane’s berated Blomqvist and that he was fully aware of the significance of the booking. What is not in doubt is that unlike Paul Gascoigne, who found himself in similar circumstances in a 1990 World Cup semi-final he did not allow emotions to take over or affect him in anyway. He didn’t hurt. He knew the consequences and accepted them and it didn’t stop his pursuit to push his United team to victory. It was Manchester United’s first European final since 1968. This was an objective that Keane and Alex Ferguson had mutually shared since their first ever meeting.

It is worth contrasting how Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Keane viewed the Irishman’s monumental performance on that amazing night in Turin.

Ferguson described Keane’s performance as such: 

“I did not think I could have a higher opinion of any footballer than I already had of the Irishman but he rose even further in my estimation at the Stadio Delle Alpi. The minute he was booked and out of the final, he seemed to redouble his efforts to get the team there.”

“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”

Roy Keane himself has a different view on the performance and is much more understated and modest in his comments about his performance:

“I was proud of our team that night. I was for once proud of myself, content that I had justified my existence and honoured my debts to the manager who’d placed so much trust in me.

“The Champions League final was where I believed Manchester United should be. I genuinely felt that that was so much more important than whether or not I would be there. When that euphoric feeling evaporated (it lasted quite a while) I was gutted.”

For Keane this was no false modesty. In 2002, he expressed a view that he felt guilty about the booking in the semi-final as it meant that he had let the team down by not being available for the final which highlights the selfishness of his character. Everything had to be perfect for success. Nothing could go wrong. He demanded the best.

In the same way that Roy Keane cannot see how his acts of violence such as those as his horror tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland and his stamp on Gareth Southgate, are totally unacceptable to any right-thinking football fan he cannot fully understand that his performance against Juventus was of completely inspiring to every up and coming football youngster.

To most people both are as obvious as the unquestionable success of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson yet Rot Keane being the unorthodox individual he is refuses to follow the crowd and doesn’t see things the way the rest of us do. This is the positive side of his character and no doubt the most memorable performance from Keane. Despite being labelled a thug among things by rival football fans Roy Keane will in my mind go down as one of the greatest Manchester United midfielders of all time.

He is a man who makes me proud to be Irish and proud to be a Corkonian. A tortured genius is an ideal statement of Roy Keane. For every disgraceful challenge there was an inspiring performance of determination and sheer wiliness to win and a man who always demanded the best. If there was any crime in life it would be any person not fulfilling their potential and not giving their absolute best and utilizing their talent. Certainly this wasn’t the case with Roy Keane, a man who was a better player than those who had more natural ability and skill.

While people are still murmuring about how we replace Paul Scholes, may I ask the question:

How on earth did we manage to get by and continue success without Roy Keane?

Darren Hickey @DHick92

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