I got rid of Keane to rebuild United, says Ferguson

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Sir Alex Ferguson revealed yesterday that he got rid of Roy Keane in order to re-build Manchester United as a force in Europe and, while the Scot admitted that parting company with long-serving players was "horrible", he was unsentimental about the closure of his captain's 12 years at Old Trafford. While the race among those clubs hoping to sign the 34-year-old intensified, Ferguson's version of events was the first sign from the club that the decision that Keane should leave was not by "mutual consent".

With his side tonight facing Villarreal - and possible elimination from the Champions' League - in their first home game without Keane, Ferguson said that success in Europe depended on the renewal of an ageing side.

Beyond one Sky television interview, it was the first time he has made himself available to questions since Keane's abrupt departure on Friday and the United manager was unwilling to add any more tributes to the player beyond those in his official statement before the weekend.

Ferguson began by advancing the argument that in order for a team to win the Champions' League they had to have "an average age of 28 to 30", but admitted, "you can't say that about our team at the moment". He said: "In fairness to our players, we have been trying to build a new team and there's plenty of evidence of that. We had a team that won the Champions' League in 1999 but it cannot last for ever.

"It's natural that things change," Ferguson said. "Players do get older and this is the horrible part when you are manager of one club for a long time. You see your great players getting older and you have to make changes in a quicker fashion than other clubs can because the demands of our club are great, the expectation is great and hopes are high. When we make moves and decisions it is not for any other reason than to get better and keep this club at the top. It's always sad when a great player departs the scenes of his triumphs, but football doesn't stand still."

Although Keane and United released a joint statement on Friday that the player had left Old Trafford "by mutual consent" it would appear from Ferguson's militancy that it was the manager who had the final say in his departure.

Keane is expected to have a complete list of potential new clubs within the next 48 hours, according to sources close to the player, though Roma and Juventus sought to distance themselves from a bid yesterday.

The Juventus general director Luciano Moggi was quoted as responding to questions about his team's interest in Keane with the answer that the " team is already strong as it is".

The Roma sporting director Daniele Prade denied that his club were interested in a move, although it is understood that they have enquired about the player's salary conditions. Roma are hoping that their appeal against a transfer embargo, imposed as a result of their dispute with Auxerre over the defender Philippe Mexes, will be lifted this month and are readying to enter the market.

There is believed to be interest from Al-Galafa, in Qatar, for whom Marcel Desailly recently played. The Celtic chief executive Brian Quinn said that he had yet to hear from Keane's agent, Michael Kennedy, while the Birmingham City manager Steve Bruce ruled his club out. Portsmouth, Bolton, Everton, Wigan, West Bromwich and Aston Villa are all interested.

The West Bromwich manager Bryan Robson said: "I have tried to phone Roy but all I kept getting was his answer machine. If he wants to come to West Brom I will try to make it happen with the chairman."