Enforcer sees irony of United being left with Cup to play for

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"The FA Cup had lost its relevance, certainly for me. Sure, it was a day out for our families, and everybody who worked hard behind the scenes at the club. The Wembley myth, the folklore attached to the walk out of the tunnel, the red carpet, meeting the big shots, going up to the Royal Box to receive your medal, a pat on the back from the great and the good (and hopefully the cup), all of it was bollocks. The Premiership and the Champions' League were the only trophies we were concerned about."

"The FA Cup had lost its relevance, certainly for me. Sure, it was a day out for our families, and everybody who worked hard behind the scenes at the club. The Wembley myth, the folklore attached to the walk out of the tunnel, the red carpet, meeting the big shots, going up to the Royal Box to receive your medal, a pat on the back from the great and the good (and hopefully the cup), all of it was bollocks. The Premiership and the Champions' League were the only trophies we were concerned about."

Roy Keane: The Autobiography (2002)

Ah, the sweet ironies. Roy Keane, the man who dismissed the FA Cup as an unloved afterthought, could this weekend become the venerable competition's most decorated footballer since the 19th century. Saturday's match against Arsenal will be Keane's seventh final, a figure only surpassed by Lord Arthur Kinnaird who played in nine for the Wanderers and Old Etonians before Manchester United - then known as Newton Heath - had even entered the competition. If United win, Keane will become, with Ryan Giggs, should both play, the only men to collect five winners' medals since the Victorian age. None, including Kinnaird, who later became FA president for 33 years, have won more. Given fortune and fitness, the Irish outsider could eventually eclipse the ultimate establishment man.

In his autobiography, Keane, whose contest with Patrick Vieira could be pivotal at Cardiff, addressed the cup's status in the light of the furore caused by United not defending their trophy in 2000 - they went to Brazil to play the first and, to date, last World Club Championship.

Embarrassingly for the Irishman this is the second successive season since publication that United have been left with only the FA Cup to contest. In the circumstances some men would retract, or at least soften such criticism (or blame the ghostwriter's artistic licence, as Keane did in relation to his admission that he deliberately kicked Alf-Inge Haaland). Keane, true to form, largely refused to recant.

"We want to win, of course, but I think we always judge ourselves on the League and Champions' League," he said. "But the FA Cup is important, especially to Man United, and we want to win it."

It was clear, though, that one of the main reasons he wants to win is the identity of the opposition. "I've always seen Arsenal as our biggest rivals, ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea. I think it will be a great final. It will be a hard game physically, it'll be tough, hopefully the referee will handle anything that might get out of control. He's got to be tough, and the players not get carried away. I think things will be OK but it will be pretty explosive.

"Some people say it is down to the battle between me and Patrick Vieira. We'll see. Maybe that is an important battle but there will be battles all over the pitch. It is a team game: 11 v 11, not 1 v 1. Do I enjoy playing against Patrick? I enjoy playing against any great player and he's a great player."

While Keane would not be drawn into criticising Vieira, who this week re-opened the verbal head-to-head of the Highbury tunnel by disparaging Keane's World Cup walk-out, the United captain did admonish his younger team-mates.

Discussing United's shortcomings this season he said: "Some of the young players have so much to learn. The likes of Wayne [Rooney] and Cristiano [Ronaldo] are very much individual players and they have a lot to learn regarding team play, but we have the potential to come back."

And what of his personal slice of FA Cup history? "I'm just focusing on winning on Saturday. I've not thought about how many I've won. I remember the two I've lost (Nottingham Forest v Tottenham, 1991; Manchester United v Everton, 1995) more than the others, so hopefully I won't remember Saturday too much." Winning is, indeed, everything to Keane. He, almost alone among those at Wembley in 1996, remembered the 1-0 victory over Liverpool as "a great final". Even Alex Ferguson admits it was disappointing but as Keane added, "for players these matches are only enjoyable if you've won".

"Next season we need to score more goals and hopefully we will try and improve our squad. I think the best squad always wins the league and maybe we were just short on that side. We've been disappointed with our form, we've been inconsistent, but now we are just focused on the final. It's our only chance of silverware."

"Winning the FA Cup would be enough for some clubs, for us victory in the cup would represent abject failure if we were to let the Premiership and Champions' League slip away."

Keane: The Autobiography (2002).

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