July 12, 2024

Saipan Incident – Iran Second Leg Play-off


The circumstances surrounding Roy Keane’s non-participation in the second leg of the World Cup qualification play-offs against Iran is possibly the only real difference of substance between Keane and Mick McCarthy that emerged from the Saipan incident.

While it was not a key determinant in whether Roy Keane would play in the 2002 World Cup for the Republic of Ireland, it does bear further investigation as it is symptomatic of the problems that existed in the relationship between the Irish soccer manager and the Irish team captain. Since the Saipan affair Roy Keane has repeatedly said that McCarthy’s accusation that Keane had faked injury to avoid playing the second leg was the single biggest insult that could ever be thrown at him.

Background to Roy Keane Injury

Roy Keane had just recovered from a knee injury and had not played any competitive football for three and a half weeks. In his autobiography [Page 254] Keane said that the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, was concerned about Keane’s participation in the play-offs against Iran but agreed to let Keane play because the player was “…desperate to play.” The first leg was on a Saturday, 11 November 2001. The Republic of Ireland beat Iran 2-0 with goals from Ian Harte and Robbie Keane. The second leg was scheduled for the following Thursday 15 November 2001. “Next morning, I was stiff. The gaffer [Sir Alex Ferguson] rang. I told him the story. He talked to McCarthy. No problem, they agreed, I could go back to Old Trafford for treatment.” [Page 254].

Mick McCarthy’s take on this is somewhat different. In his World Cup diary McCarthy said, “Roy arrives on Thursday, the same day as the Iranians. He has stayed in Manchester for treatment on the knee…but says it is no more than a niggle….so long as he doesn’t get a bang, he should be fine for both matches against Iran.” [Page 98]. After Saturday’s match, “Mick Byrne and I speak to Roy after the game and he says his knee is fine and he will be travelling with us to Iran on Monday.”[Page 100]. The next day Keane announced to McCarthy that his knee had reacted badly and that he was going home. “He is out the door…without out as much as a goodbye to the other players…I spoke to Alex Ferguson about his concerns for Roy last week and the possibility of him only playing in the first leg if the result was cut and dry. Roy knew about the discussion with his boss, yet despite this he was happy to commit himself to going to Iran on Saturday night.”[Page 101].

The only independent person that can confirm whether Roy did, or didn’t, tell Mick that he was going to Iran for the second leg is the Irish soccer team physio, Mick Byrne. In July 2009 on the Marian Finucane radio show on RTE 1 Byrne would not be drawn in any way on the Saipan incident. He was not prepared to say anything that might upset his friendships with McCarthy and Keane.

Roy Keane Decides to Miss Second Leg Play-off against Iran

In his autobiography Keane said that his knee played up during the game although it does not appear that he required any treatment from Mick Byrne during or after the game. Neither McCarthy nor Keane mention any such treatment. Keane appears to suggest that McCarthy spoke to Alex Ferguson on the Sunday morning but McCarthy says that he spoke to Ferguson before the first Iran match and makes no reference to a discussion on the Sunday morning. In the Paul Kimmage interview in Saipan Keane said that, “…on Sunday morning the manager (Ferguson) rang and said ‘we class 2-0 as a positive result.’ And that was it, I decided to go home.”

In the Tom Humphries interview, in Saipan also, Keane provides us with a bit more detail, “…it was Sunday and the manager rang me. Mick Byrne and Mick McCarthy were there. It was agreed I’d go home.” In his post-Saipan interview with Tommie Gorman Keane provides yet another slightly different version, “He [McCarthy] spoke to Alex Ferguson on that Sunday morning….Sunday morning Alex Ferguson rang me and Mick (McCarthy) was there and I said look the manager [Ferguson] wants me to go back because he classes 2-0 as a good result and Mick said: ‘Roy, thanks for coming over, we knew you weren’t quite right.’ “

Roy Keane – Faking Injury Accusation?

During the infamous clear-the-air team meeting in Saipan the Iran issue came up again. According to Keane Mick McCarthy said, “You were supposed to go to Iran and you didn’t, you faked an injury to get out of playing for your country.” Keane replied,

“You spoke to my manager, you know I wasn’t right for the Iran match…You agreed that 2-0 was a good result.”[Pages 265-266]. McCarthy’s relates the exchange thus, “I asked him why he missed the biggest game of all our international careers…why he pulled out of the trip to Iran on the Sunday morning, just hours after telling me that he was going…He shouts at me ‘your deal with the gaffer’…I ask him did he tell me on the Saturday night that he was going to Iran. He ignores the question and goes on about the deal with the gaffer’ again.”[Page 176].

McCarthy doesn’t say that he used the term ‘faking injury’ but the inference is definitely there. It is interesting that McCarthy says that he asked if Keane had said that he would be travelling to Iran but that Keane ignored the question.

Would McCarthy have asked this question in front of the entire 2002 World Cup squad, including Mick Byrne, if he wasn’t sure that the answer was ‘yes’? Who knows for sure but what is known is that, having missed the second play-off leg on the in Tehran on Thursday 15 November Roy Keane played a full match two days later for Manchester United in a 2-0 victory over Leicester City.

Three days after that he played for United against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and on the following Saturday he played in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal. That’s three full matches in just eight days on a suspect knee.

NOTE: Unless stated otherwise all quotations are from:
Keane: The Autobiography; Roy Keane with Eamon Dunphy (2002); Michael Joseph Ltd

Roy Keane & Boston Row 1992

Back to Saipan Affair Table of Contents – Irish Football

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Saipan Table of Contents Roy Keane & Eamon Dunphy
Saipan Introduction Roy Keane & Cork
Methodology Keane’s Aversion to Being Away From Home
Saipan Conclusions Roy Keane’s Relationship with Ireland
Roy Keane – Mick McCarthy Relationship Roy Keane – Zenith Data Systems Cup
Roy Keane Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Jack Charlton Relationship
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 1 Roy Keane’s Flawed Character
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 2 Roy Keane’s Good Character
Niall Quinn Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Footballer
Jason McAteer Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Team Captain
Matt Holland Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Family Man
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Backdrop Roy Keane & Faking Injury
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Issues Roy Keane – Bad Boy
Keane / McCarthy Boston Row 1992 Roy Keane – Career Lows
Keane Misses Iran Playoff Game Roy Keane – Red Cards etc
Keane Misses Niall Quinn Testimonial Roy Keane – Cruciate Injury
Countdown to Saipan Incident Roy Keane & Alf-Inge Haaland
Roy Keane Saipan Tirade at Mick McCarthy Roy Keane & Gareth Southgate Red Card
Roy Keane / Tom Humphries Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Alan Shearer Red Card
Keane / Humphries Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane / Alex Ferguson Relationship 1
Roy Keane / Irish Times Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Sir Alex Ferguson 2
Roy Keane / Paul Kimmage Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Charity
Keane / Kimmage Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane & Autobiography Contradictions 1
Roy Keane / Sunday Independent Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Contradictions 2
Roy Keane / Tommie Gorman Interview 1 Roy Keane – Integrity
Roy Keane / Tommy Gorman Interview 2 Roy Keane – International Matches
Roy Keane / RTE Interview 3 Roy Keane – Football Record
FAI Involvement in Saipan Affair Roy Keane & Sandwiches
Saipan Reaction of Irish Players Roy Keane – Walker
Mick McCarthy – ‘crap player, crap manager’ Saipan – Pacific Island
Roy Keane / Mick McCarthy Playing Record I Keano – The Musical
Colin Healy – Forgotten Man of Saipan Roy Keane – Football Manager
Saipan Ten Years Later Roy Keane’s Dog Triggs
Roy Keane’s Autobiography Saipan Bibiliography


Roy Keane – View Seven Years After Saipan
Football Quotes about Saipan


Triggs – The Autobiography of Roy Keane’s Dog
Ireland at 2002 World Cup Finals – Irish 2002 World Cup Squad – Irish Group Matches
Ireland V Cameroon – Ireland V Germany – Ireland V Saudi Arabia – Ireland V Spain