Roy Keane realises he will have to adopt a more selfish approach to keep his place in the Manchester United side next season. The captain of the English champions, voted United's player of the year more frequently than any other since he moved from Nottingham Forest a decade ago, accepts that following a major hip operation he fell well below their usual standard last season. He believes Sir Alex Ferguson noticed too.
"When I came back from the hip operation my performances were nowhere near acceptable," the Irish midfielder said. "The manager recognised that as well and has brought in other players for my position. I see that as a big challenge, maybe bigger than ever before and whilst I'll help them to settle in as much as I can, I also have to be selfish about the situation. As far as I am concerned the manager can bring in 50 new players. I feel as though if I'm fit I would still be in the starting line-up."
Despite the departure of David Beckham from United's midfield, Keane faces a selection contest with the recently signed Cameroon international Eric Djemba-Djemba. With United expected to confirm the arrival of the Brazilian World Cup-winner Kleberson before the 31 August Champions' League transfer deadline, that makes more competition for the two central midfield position usually preferred by Ferguson: Juan Sebastian Veron, Phil Neville, Quinton Fortune, John O'Shea, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Darren Fletcher all played in a central roles last season.
Keane believes that his decision to quit international football will help extend his club career. "It was a tough decision, but physically I'm feeling the benefits of it now. The surgeon advised me that I needed to get as much rest as I could between games. I felt I owed United because of the way I have been treated by the club since the day I joined. Their support was something which was lacking from the Irish FA and while it wasn't a nice way to get to go, life goes on."
Keane was with his United team-mates here ahead of tonight's pre-season game with Juventus in Giants Stadium. He has shrugged off a minor thigh strain and is expected to start at a venue from which he retains happier memories from his international career: Ireland beat Italy 1-0 in the 1994 World Cup thanks to Ray Houghton's winner.
Six hundred United fans have travelled from the United Kingdom for the game and pushed to vote for their greatest Keane performance, most would say it was against Juventus in the second leg of the 1999 Champions' League semi-final after United had fallen two goals behind within 11 minutes. Keane was sublime in the ensuing 3-2 victory, although he was shown a yellow card for his efforts that caused him to miss the final against Bayern Munich.
"I have some unfinished business with United to attend too," he added. That would be the small matter of Europe's biggest cup.
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