June 20, 2024

Roy Keane – Relationship With Alex Ferguson


In his autobiography Roy Keane emphasises the nature of his relationship with Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager. He details the strengths and talents of a man that Keane believes “…was the perfect manager for me.”[Page 215]. While there is no doubt that Ferguson was the most important man in soccer to Roy Keane, one is left with the impression that he over-emphasises Ferguson’s ability to manage Keane in order to make his point about the deficiencies of Mick McCarthy.

In some ways this is facile and pointless as almost any British or Irish manager pales by comparison to Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United manager has a unique record in football that will probably never be surpassed. Also the overstating of the strength of the relationship between Keane and Ferguson in the autobiography looks particularly overblown in view of the subsequent acrimony that surrounded Roy Keane’s departure from Old Trafford.

Inspirational & Meticulous Alex Ferguson

In his autobiography Keane makes it clear that he was impressed by Alex Ferguson from the moment that he first met him. Before Keane transferred from Nottingham Forest to Manchester United he and Ferguson met at Ferguson’s Manchester home. “I liked him straight away…he was unaffected, funny and reassuringly human.”[Page 81]. One of his earliest recollections of the set up at United Keane highlights why he “…could see why United were champions: a team of top class players; immaculate preparation on the training ground; the inspirational presence of Alex Ferguson” There is absolutely no doubt that this is all accurate but Manchester United would not be one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world if it were not. From his earliest interactions with the Republic of Ireland Keane felt that the set up was a “shambles” compared to Manchester United “…where Alex Ferguson ensured that every detail was attended to with meticulous care…”[Page 100]. In fairness to Keane he does recognise that readers might see his criticisms as “…too critical…” but “…the influence of working for Alex Ferguson…explains where I was coming from.”[Page 129].

Alex Ferguson’s Story

In chapter 8 of his autobiography Keane recognises just how important Ferguson was to him. “It is more Alex Ferguson’s story than mine for it was – and remains – his decisions that determined our destinies as Manchester United players.”[Page 145]. He then goes on to cite a series of incidents where he feels that Ferguson excelled as a football manager and particularly as a man-manager. His autobiography makes it clear that Ferguson was the most important person in Keane’s life outside of his family [Page 133]. “I didn’t want him to leave the club…” and he was “delighted” when Ferguson reversed his decision to quit as manager of United. [Pages 240-241].

Alex Ferguson’s Appreciation of Roy Keane

It is clear that up until the latter stages of his Manchester United career Keane’s admiration for Ferguson was reciprocated. It is often said that Keane was the embodiment of Ferguson’s ethos on the soccer pitch and Ferguson is on record as saying that it was an honour to be associated with Keane. In an interview with Sky Sports in 2004 Ferguson said: “He is my best player. It’s not just the quality of his game, it is also his influence and great determination. There are a lot of parts to making a great player – he has fulfilled them all.” In February 2005 Ferguson said: “When you are talking about Manchester United 30 or 500 years from now, Roy Keane will be regarded as one of the greatest players ever at this club.”

In Michael Crick’s biography of Ferguson the Manchester United manager is quoted as saying “When I look at Roy Keane I often see myself, I equate this to his passion, desire and striving for perfection. He cares. He’s a born winner. He is the driving force, the inspiration, the best reader of the game, the best talker of the game, the biggest winner.”[Page 597]. High praise indeed from the best manager that British soccer has ever seen. Famously Alex Ferguson once said of Keane; “If I was putting Roy Keane out there to represent Manchester United on a one against one, we’d win the Derby, the National, the Boat Race and anything else. It’s an incredible thing he’s got.”

Alex Ferguson V Mick McCarthy

Ferguson believed that Roy Keane was one of the greatest players to ever play for Manchester United and Keane reciprocated the feeling when he said that Ferguson was the only one in football to whom he would ever listen. It was Mick McCarthy’s misfortune that right throughout his reign as the Republic of Ireland manager this mutual appreciation was at it’s height and no manager, especially one that Keane had a personal dislike for, could achieve anything like that level respect from Keane. But if Keane and Ferguson had such huge respect for each other how is that Keane left Manchester United in such an acrimonious manner?

Keane’s Views on Ferguson in 2012

The following piece was reported by Irish Time journalist Mary Hannigan during a visit to Ireland by Roy Keane in May 2012.

His work with ITV contributed to a further cooling of his relationship with Alex Ferguson, one that was already chilly enough. When Manchester United were knocked out of the Champions League Keane had a pop, saying they got what they deserved. Ferguson’s response was a touch cutting: “I don’t know why you are bringing this up from a television critic. Roy had an opportunity to prove himself as a manager and it’s a hard job.”

“But I understood where he was coming from,” says Keane. “It was only natural he was going to come out and have a dig back because he’s going to defend his players. But when there were snidey comments coming I had a little dig back . . . you have to defend yourself when people are being critical of your managerial record, or whatever. Players like myself helped him get the record he’s got. People should remember that.”

Did he envisage a time he would have a good relationship again with Ferguson?

“I wouldn’t have thought so, no.”

Thanks to the Irish Times for the kind permission to reproduce the above from reporter Mary Hannigan’s piece in the newspaper on Friday 4th May 2012.

Roy Keane Leaves Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United

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

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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 Account 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
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
Roy Keane / Sunday Independent Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Contradictions
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 on 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