The statements that yesterday proclaimed the end of Roy Keane's momentous career at Manchester United heralded an amicable parting of the ways. However, the reality was much more in keeping with the Irishman's tempestuous nature, with the decision to sever his allegiance to Old Trafford taken abruptly following one furious and ultimately final confrontation with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Keane quit United yesterday morning after discovering that he would not be offered a new contract at the end of this season, a reaction that mirrored his infamous walk-out on Mick McCarthy and the Republic of Ireland at the 2002 World Cup and has also seriously jeopardised his prospects of one day returning to the club in a coaching or managerial capacity.
The 34-year-old, together with his adviser and lawyer Michael Kennedy, met Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, and David Gill, the club's chief executive, at United's Carrington training complex to clarify his position in the wake of his disparaging and censored interview with MUTV. The meeting also followed Keane's threats to leave on a free transfer next summer and the club's failure to commence negotiations on an extension to a contract that had only seven months left to run.
The meeting was hastily convened, with Ferguson cancelling an agreement to speak to the Italian Olympic Committee in Rome on Thursday night to attend. However, tensions between the pair that have grown since Keane criticised accommodation arrangements at a training camp in Portugal in June erupted into a 10-minute row. Although Ferguson left the meeting with an inkling that Keane would quit, he was still taken aback and livid when confirmation arrived at around 11am.
Keane is said to have exploded when told he was to be stripped of the United captaincy, though sources close to the club last night claimed he was also aggrieved at Ferguson's refusal to play him in a reserve game against West Bromwich Albion on Thursday.
Gill's presence at the meeting, however, indicates that United made their contractual position clear to Keane and his anger was sparked by confirmation that he would not be required for a 14th season at Old Trafford but that he could have a testimonial in recognition of 12 and a half years of remarkable service.
Following a heated exchange, the midfielder walked out of the meeting, leaving Gill and Kennedy, who had earlier discussed the possibility of him leaving on a free transfer in January, to agree quickly a pay-off for the remainder of his contract. Ferguson made no mention of the development during his regular Friday press conference to preview today's trip to Charlton, insisting only that: "There has not been a decision by the club not to offer Roy a new contract," but was informed of Keane's decision shortly afterwards.
A club statement read: "Manchester United has today reached agreement with Roy Keane for Roy to leave the club with immediate effect. The agreement allows Roy to sign a long-term deal with another club to enable him to secure his playing career beyond what would have been the end of his contract at United in the summer. The club has offered Roy a testimonial in recognition of his 12 years at Old Trafford. The club thanks Roy for his major contribution to the club during his years of service."
With his settlement from United agreed, Keane is now a free agent and was at his Cheshire home last night considering the next and, in all likelihood, final career move of an outstanding playing career, one that yielded seven Premiership titles, three FA Cup winners' medals and 479 appearances for United following his £3.75m transfer from Nottingham Forest in 1993.
Keane said: "It has been a great honour and privilege for me to play for Manchester United for over 12 years. During my time at the club I have been fortunate to play alongside some of the best players in the game and in front of the best supporters in the world. At all times, I have endeavoured to do my best for the management and the team.
"While it is a sad day for me to leave such a great club and manager I believe that the time has now come for me to move on. After so many years I will miss everyone at the club. I send my best wishes for the future to the management, players, staff and supporters of the club."
The midfielder has been linked with the vacant Republic of Ireland manager's post, though is not believed to want to pursue an international coaching career yet and would be unlikely to receive majority support from the Football Association of Ireland's 10-man managerial committee anyway.
He has made no secret of his desire to end his playing days at Celtic and, despite Gordon Strachan's reservations about signing a player who could possibly take his job, the Bhoys' manager is known to be looking for a player of Keane's midfield presence and experience.
Strachan's employers wasted little time in inviting the former United captain to Glasgow, releasing a statement that read: "Roy Keane was a magnificent player and servant for Manchester United, but he also knows all about Celtic. If at any time Roy would like to speak to us about his future and Celtic's, we would be only too happy to speak to him, but as yet there have been no discussions."
Where now for Keane?
* CELTIC Strachan needs an experienced midfielder.
* REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Keane does not have the support of the whole FAI.
Too old for rivals.
* FC UNITED?
Would cement his cult status with United fans