This week saw United mark 24 years since the enigmatic Roy Keane joined the club back in 1993. We have seen some incredible performances from Keano, a lot of tackles and screaming into the players’ faces and a rivalry with Patrick Viera that threatened to eclipse the rivalry between their respective clubs. In this week’s trip down memory lane, we take a look at arguably Keane’s best performance in Manchester Red – the Champions League semi-final against Juventus back in 1999.
United Captain Roy Keane led his side to a sensational comeback in Turin. Facing a side that could play Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, and Fillipo Inzaghi in the Starting XI, United needed a super-human effort from someone to ensure passage to the Final in Barcelona.
Back then, Juventus arguably had the best midfield in Europe. A scrappy start to the match in Turin saw the Old Lady race into a two-goal lead inside 11 minutes through an Inzaghi brace. Juventus smelt blood and went in for the kill, but Keane had other ideas. Taking the match by the collar, the Irishman began imposing himself in the match. Davids who was so good in the first leg was pocketed by Keane.
The team seemingly rejuvenated by Keane’s display won a corner in the 24th minute. Former United boss Ron Atkinson, who was commentator for ITV said that the next goal would be the most important of United’s season. Keane duly obliged and headed home Beckham’s corner and the deficit was cut to half.
Keano barely celebrated and got back to work. In the 34th minute, a miss-placed pass from Jesper Blomqvist forced Keane to cut down Zidane. The yellow card he picked up would keep him out of the Final.
Despite the booking, Keane put in a textbook midfield performance. Rewatching the match, you will not find 40 yard passes or the fancy stepover to beat the marker. But you will surely see ‘rhythmic, hypnotic passing’ as the Guardian put it. Keane did not just neutralise the dream midfield. He outplayed it, almost single handedly.
Despite knowing that he would not play in the biggest match of his career, Roy Keane did not cede an inch of territory to Juve. He put in a Captain’s display. Juventus spent themselves trying to press Keane. The Old Lady did not threaten in the second half barring the odd Inzaghi offside. Andy Cole settled the tie late on with a goal. The win was United’s first ever in an Italy. It is still the biggest win in Italy for United in terms of importance.
Keane’s performance merited possibly the highest praise offered by Sir Alex for a player. Ferguson said: “It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt such an honour to be associated with such a player.”
Keane responded in the most Keane way: “It was like praising the postman for delivering his letters.”
Roy Keane’s performance does not stand out like Ryan Giggs’ magical goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final Replay nor the adrenaline rush sparked by United’s injury time comeback against Bayern Munich in Barcelona. But it was just as important if not more.
Here’s to Roy Keane and his night in Turin.