Roy Keane's emotional return to Manchester United may have exposed the divide that now exists between Ruud van Nistelrooy and Sir Alex Ferguson, with the Dutch striker expressing his pain at being banished from his former captain's testimonial on Tuesday night, but for the man from Cork the occasion was all about closure.
Having exited without fanfare in November, the 34-year-old revelled in the acclaim from 69,591 supporters of United and Celtic at Old Trafford. "I surprised myself how much I enjoyed it," he said, but it was the thawing of his icy relationship with his former manager Ferguson that astounded the wider audience. There was no warm embrace or show of forced laughter between the pair at Old Trafford and, given their characters, and Keane's loathing for cynical PR stunts, there was never going to be.
However, both sides were at pains to show that the acrimony of last winter's abrupt departure had been forgotten, with Ferguson leading the applause before and after kick-off and his old lieutenant burying whatever hard feelings remain.
"There is never a nice way to leave any club but I still think it was the right thing to do," said Keane. "Myself and the manager were in agreement, the manager had to look at the bigger picture, which is what I am doing now about my future with Celtic. I don't lose any sleep over what happened in November. I have spoken to the manager since I left and I have met him twice. It has been very amicable. We had come to the end."
Keane admitted he had resisted the temptation to watch United at Old Trafford in recent months. "I don't want to be one of those players who come back and are in your face all the time," he said, and though he contradicted Ferguson's opinion that victory in the Carling Cup represented a healthy return on the last campaign, the former captain softened his once fierce critique of the current squad to applaud their recent development.
Keane said: "It was always going to be tough for United with Chelsea doing so well, and though they won the Carling Cup I'm sure the manager and staff will be saying that is not enough. It will be tough next year, too, but there will be a few players leaving, others coming in and they have got some good young players coming through. I will always have an interest in United, my heart will always be here, and I am sure United is in safe hands."
Those hands are likely to wash themselves this summer of Van Nistelrooy, who is available to any club willing to pay £10m for the 29-year-old who has replaced Keane as the object of Ferguson's ire. "I spoke to Ruud and it was unfortunate he couldn't be at the game," said Keane. "That's life. We all have our paths to go down. It's not for me to comment on Ruud's situation, but I know there are two sides to every story."