Keane pays an early dividend on his new deal

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Roy Keane may have taken six months to sign his name to Manchester United's future but he only needed 37 minutes at Old Trafford last night to show why the club spent so long coveting it.

Roy Keane may have taken six months to sign his name to Manchester United's future but he only needed 37 minutes at Old Trafford last night to show why the club spent so long coveting it.

The United captain, who agreed a new £10m-plus deal with the treble-winners hours before kick-off, scored his fifth goal in nine games, and fourth in the Champions' League, to put his team's defence of the trophy back on course after their Florentine nightmare.

Further goals by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, after 47 minutes, and Paul Scholes, after 68, sealed victory for a United side who, at times, produced some beautiful flowing football.

The best of it was provided by David Beckham. In front of the referee who sent him off at the World Cup, Kim Milton Neilsen, he underlined his candidacy for the European Player of the Year crown which is to be determined later this month.

Good though Beckham's year has been, it is the less eye-catching Keane who really deserves the award. Without his contribution the likes of Beckham would not be able to strut their stuff and last night, after a slow start, he ran the midfield, totally eclipsing the dangerous Gaizca Mendieta. It was clearly nothing less than United had expected for they had set the agenda by announcing his new deal, not before the match, but a few minutes after kick-off.

Forty, fifty, sixty grand a week? Whatever Keane gets is excessive compared to nurses, Prime Ministers and most football supporters but there was not a word of criticism at Old Trafford. They were singing "Keano" on the way to the stadium and the chorus reached a crescendo when the deal was announced.

The money may be ridiculous but, in the context of the Champions' League, where every win can be worth millions, it is perfectly sane.

Not that Keane did much to justify it in the initial stages. A miskick in front of goal and a loose pass when a break was on were his first contributions. He looked as if the negotiations had drained him of energy.

Perhaps because of this Valencia were able to play their part in an open start, albeit one which failed to raise Old Trafford, after the brief cheer for Keane's signature, from its customary torpor.

The travelling support were chirpy enough having been stirred by a first-minute break from Mendieta which caused panic in the rejigged United defence - Gary Neville was moved to the centre with Henning Berg dropped - before Raimond van der Gouw, with a double save from Francisco Farinos, calmed the mood.

United responded with a series of corners but they failed to pressure Andres Palop until the 16th minute when an elaborate free-kick, taken by Beckham, led to a chance for Solskjaer. The Norwegian, included in place of Dwight Yorke after his four goals against Everton, shot straight at the Valencia goalkeeper.

Ryan Giggs was growing in prominence, running with success at the Valencia defence and, after he went close after 22 minutes with a deflected shot which looped wide. Though Claudio Lopez tested Van der Gouw with an opportunist shot from 35 yards, and Mendieta always looked dangerous, United were beginning to dominate with Keane beginning to look the part.

Beckham, from 25 yards, struck the angle of the goal with a free-kick after 31 minutes then, from another free-kick, United scored. Taken by Giggs, it was cleared as far as Gary Neville, his chip was nodded down by Solskjaer and Keane volleyed in. Old Trafford rose in acclamation.

Two minutes after the break they were roaring again, this time for Beckham after the England man skipped down the right and crossed low to the near post, where Solskjaer, taking advantage of hesitancy by Mauricio Pellegrino, got between him and Joachim Bjorklund to score.

United, perhaps subconsciously, relaxed and nearly paid the penalty as Valencia wasted a series of chances. Jocelyn Angloma at least had the excuse that Van der Gouw made a good save from his 20-yard shot, but both Claudio Lopez and Oscar should have done better than shoot over from inside the area. With Giggs drifting in and out of the game, Angloma had a lot of space on the right flank, and the French international created problems for a United side which had dropped its tempo.

It needed something special to revive them and, after 68 minutes, the England connection provided it. A free-kick from the right, taken by Beckham, was headed in by Scholes. Change the shirts and venue and it was just like their combination at Hampden Park. The rest of the match was an exhibition with Beckham, especially, revelling in the atmosphere.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Gouw; P Neville, Stam, G Neville, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes (Butt, 70), Giggs; Solskjaer, Cole (Yorke, 70). Substitutes not used: Culkin, Sheringham, Cruyff, Berg, Higginbotham.

Valencia (3-4-1-2): Palop; Bjorklund, Djukic, Pellegrino; Angloma, Milla, Farinos, Carboni; Mendieta; Claudio Lopez (Vlaovic, 85), Oscar (Sanchez, 67). Substitutes not used: Bartual, Camarasa, Soria Lopez, Fagiani, Cabezas.

Referee: K Nielsen (Denmark).

Keane's record contract was greeted warmly in the City. Manchester United's shares shot up 4.5p to 191.5p, a rise of more than two per cent.

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