Before a ball had been kicked last night Old Trafford was treated to the familiar sight and sound of Roy Keane berating a poor unfortunate for failing to complete a simple pass. He then forgave the offending soul with a kiss on the cheek. Time and testimonials have not mellowed the formidable Irishman that much, however; the target in question was his son, and he had merely run off the pitch with the pennant his father was due to exchange with Ryan Giggs ahead of an emotional return to Manchester United.
There was a time when the thought of being singled out for acclaim at Old Trafford would have sent Keane the elder heading for the exits, too all 12 years of his glittering association with the club, in fact. "I've never been interested in having a testimonial because I've felt the support of the fans in every game ... I just don't feel deserving," he had said. But he did deserve to leave United in grander circumstances than a row in the manager's office at Carrington in November and, despite his revulsion for those who place individual reward above the team ethic, the revered midfielder deserved to stand alone before 69,591 admirers and take a moment to realise what he has meant to those people.
Having entered the arena with his five children through a guard of honour that contained several of the former team-mates he so infamously lambasted on MUTV and even Sir Alex Ferguson, and amid an atmosphere that has rarely been bettered at Old Trafford this season, Keane took his leave after a 1-0 victory for United by delivering a brief public address and receiving a 10-minute standing ovation. It was a more fitting farewell to the club where he collected nine Premiership titles, four FA Cups and one European Cup, and it may yet prove to be his farewell to British football.
"I've an appointment with a specialist in a few weeks and I will see what he says before I make a decision on my future," he later revealed. "I'm relaxed about the situation, I've been very lucky and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed tonight, but if I keep on getting niggling injuries that's no good to anyone."
Manchester was awash with No 16 shirts yesterday, both red and hooped, in tribute to the man signed from Nottingham Forest in July 1993 for a then British record fee of £3.75m and while the testimonial itself lacked real excitement, if not commitment, there was something symbolic about the controversy it had stirred. Having arrived at the club amid a legal threat from Kenny Dalglish, whom Keane had promised to join at Blackburn Rovers before Ferguson intervened on the telephone, and departed following one dispute too many with the United manager, tradition was maintained when Ruud van Nistelrooy spoke publicly for the first time about his own fall-out with the club prior to kick-off.
The Dutch international walked out of Old Trafford on Sunday having been omitted from both the final Premiership game with Charlton Athletic and the visit of the Scottish champions as a consequence of a vicious argument with Cristiano Ronaldo, and now has a £10m price tag on his head. Speaking from a World Cup training camp in Katwijk last night, Van Nistelrooy revealed: "For me it's painful. I've spoken to Roy and I wanted to pay my respects to Roy, but I wasn't allowed to and that is the most painful thing."
By contrast Ferguson chose last night to appreciate Keane's sterling contribution than seek further confrontation. Not so long ago the United manager would bristle at any mention of his former captain, never mind discuss their acrimonious parting, but before leading the applause out in the centre circle he stated: "It was not an easy parting of the ways for either of us, but it takes nothing away from a fantastic association I enjoyed as his manager for 12 years."
Before a record attendance for a testimonial at Old Trafford and in front of his extended and emotional family, Keane, contrary to his earlier suspicions, revelled in the acclaim. Wearing the green and white of Celtic for the first half he criticised a poor clearance by Stanislav Varga after only seven minutes and came close to scoring himself from 25 yards. Though a plethora of substitutions disrupted the flow of the second half the home faithful got what they wanted Keane back in a United shirt, and the appropriate victory was secured nine minutes after the restart when Giggs prised open the Celtic defence for Ronaldo to beat the goalkeeper Artur Boruc with ease. The occasion is estimated to have raised £2.5m for various charities but, typically, Keane elected to keep their names out of the spotlight, too.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard; Pique, Vidic, Brown, Evra; Ronaldo, Ferdinand, Giggs, Richardson; Rossi, Saha. Substitutes: Neville, Keane, Scholes, Van der Sar (gk), Solskjaer, O'Shea, Silvestre, Campbell, Lee.
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Telfer, Varga, McManus, Wilson; Petrov, Keane, Lennon, Maloney; Zurawski, Hartson. Substitutes: Camara, Virgo, Thompson, Dublin, Pearson, Marshall (gk), Wallace, Lawson, Quinn, Mulgrew.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).Reuse content