United cavaliers need caution warns Keane

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The Independent Online

The afterglow of one of the most remarkable comebacks of modern footballing times had not dampened Roy Keane's quest for perfection.

The Manchester United captain, suspended on Saturday, was at home, checking the scores on Teletext, as his team overturned a three-goal half-time deficit to run out 5-3 winners at Tottenham. But spectacular and cavalier as the champions have been, Keane does not want a repetition, especially in Europe.

"It's great to be talking about the game at the weekend but you wouldn't be wanting to put yourself through that situation again," he said at the Manchester Velodrome, where he was promoting the launch of tickets for the Commonwealth Games.

"We did that too many times in Europe last season. You can get away with it in the Premiership now and again but not against the great teams of Europe who can shut up shop in the way that Bayern Munich did last season.

"I don't say we should be boring but we have to be more cautious. We don't want to be 3-0 down at half-time against Olympiakos."

Once the final round of World Cup qualifiers is complete, a return to Athens is next on United's agenda to play the Champions' League fixture against the Greek title-holders postponed in the wake of the terrorist attacks in America.

It was in Athens in March that Keane launched an outspoken attack on his team-mates, demanding a total change of attitude following a draw with Panathinaikos which, but for the brilliance of Fabien Barthez, would have been a rout. This was interpreted to imply a change of personnel as well.

In attitude at least, Keane does not believe there has been sufficient change at Old Trafford. "It hasn't happened yet. I said at the start of the season that you can't expect three new players [Blanc, Veron and Van Nistelrooy] to turn it around all of a sudden. You have to work as hard, if not harder, because we are trying to win the league four years in a row, which I don't think has ever been done. I don't think we've really played that well this season and you can't be giving yourself mountains to climb all the time."

Saturday's match at White Hart Lane, not to mention the astonishing 4-3 defeat at St James' Park, where for 20 minutes United played a brand of football Alan Shearer found "dizzying", is reminiscent of their European exploits in the Treble-winning season of 1998-99.

Quite apart from the remarkable stoppage-time revival against Bayern Munich in the European Cup final, there was a 3-3 draw with Barcelona and extraordinary matches with Internazionale and Juventus. It is not, however, an experience Keane believes can be repeated.

"We did have a hell of a lot of luck, no matter what anybody says. That was a crazy season and it will never happen again. The games were coming thick and fast towards the end and everybody had hit top form. In the last two seasons that wasn't happening."

Against Deportivo La Coruña last week, Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to inject more defensive discipline into United by playing Keane in front of the back four, a policy which, but for two late goals, might have worked. "People said it was a restricted role, but I still had a chance to go forward. I had a chance to score, but hit it straight at the keeper. Perhaps I should play a more defensive game. If you look at the Newcastle match, we had so many going forward."

In his programme notes for the first game of his last season, Ferguson, who came to Manchester in 1986 with a burning desire to overthrow Merseyside's domination of English football, remarked that the United team he built would have to win the European Cup more than once to bear true comparison with the great Liverpool sides.

"It's what the players want to hear," his captain said. "Sometimes you have to use Liverpool as an example. We have to go on about Ajax, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Milan, teams who have won it more than once. Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen have won seven or eight championships and three European Cups. That's the standard."

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