Roy Keane launched a public attack on the "slack" attitude of some of his team-mates yesterday, castigating them for complacency and warning that Manchester United may miss out on silverware unless they buck up their ideas.
The United captain, whose tongue-lashings to colleagues, on and off the pitch, have often been echoes of the sentiments of his manager, Alex Ferguson, refrained from naming individuals. He made it clear, however, that his words were aimed at recent recruits and younger members of his team.
"You can't slacken off in training then turn up at Old Trafford and produce a performance as though you were flicking a light switch," he said. "You have to prepare all week. One or two of the younger players have slackened off in training. People on the outside obviously don't see it and maybe the coaches don't notice it either, but I am on the training pitch with them and I don't like what I see.
"I have mentioned it to the players concerned but sometimes it goes in one ear and out of the other, so you have to do it in a more public way. They think they have done it all when they have done nothing. What happened last season is history.
"There are people connected to this club who have achieved success for 10 years. There are hundreds of players all over who have had one good season and think they have arrived. All you are doing is trying to help these players to help themselves."
Keane appeared to despair at the very need to voice his concerns, let alone in public on United's in-house television station. "No-one ever pulled me to one side and told me to buck up my ideas," he said. "I've had great examples down the years with the likes of Stuart Pearce and Des Walker at Forest and Denis Irwin, Bryan Robson and Ryan Giggs at United.
"Unfortunately, after 10 or 15 matches, young players these days get themselves a decent contract and an agent and can slacken off. It only takes five per cent. There is a fine line between winning trophies and not, and that can be the difference. Manchester United players should be focused on the club 24 hours a day. Nothing should get in the way of that."
Despite Keane's worries, Ferguson seems set to continue with his policy of building a youthful first-team squad, into which he has recently imported 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and 21-year-old David Bellion, and recently promoted 20-year-old Darren Fletcher. The United manager has been to the Netherlands on a secret peace-making mission to woo the 20-year-old Dutch international, Arjen Robben, who scored for his country against the United States on Wednesday.
Ferguson flew over to see the PSV Eindhoven forward play and to assure Robben's advisers that a £10m deal is still in his plans. Robben had been left upset by the apparent collapse of a move to United last month and was puzzled by the club's failure to agree a fee after his personal trip to visit Ferguson.
Robben's camp were also taken back by the signing of Louis Saha from Fulham. But Ferguson's presence as Robben shone against the United States means a deal is still on the cards. Ferguson sees Robben as an option either in the centre of attack or out wide, and as a player who could eventually take over from Ryan Giggs in that dual role. Ferguson is keen that United beat Chelsea to the player's signature. His trip on Wednesday indicates his level of interest and that he thinks the personal approach is the best way to move forward.
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