People who worked closely with Roy Keane in his playing and coaching days have often said that his appearances as a pundit on Sky Sports are a performance. His persona is fabricated and has become part of his appeal. The viral clips of him ranting about something often quite trivial justify his position in the studio.
Without doubt, there is method in the madness. Keane is entertaining, especially when sat opposite Micah Richards, the cheery, energetic new kid on the block of football analysis. Their chemistry is obvious, and they’ve become a rather unexpected challenger to Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher as Sky’s resident double act.
Aside from all of the bluster and the faux outrage, the former Manchester United midfielder can be quite insightful, particularly when it comes to discussing the club he captained and where he spent 12 years of his career. In October 2019, following a 1-1 draw between the Red Devils and Liverpool at Old Trafford, Roy Keane sat with Neville, Graeme Souness, Jose Mourinho and host David Jones in the studio discussing goalscorers.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was under fire for allowing Romelu Lukaku — signed by Mourinho two years prior — to join Italian giants Inter without finding a replacement the previous summer. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood were his options at the time, with very little experience between them. In the midst of a heated exchange between Neville and Souness, Roy Keane suggested that Solskjaer should just “go and get” Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane. His colleagues, including Mourinho, who would go on to work with Kane at Spurs just a month later, were stunned into silence.
“What are you all staring at?” Keane asked, before doubling down and saying it should be easy because Spurs were in disarray. Mauricio Pochettino was struggling badly and his time was nearly up. Neville laughed and said, sarcastically, that Roy Keane would be popular with fans in North London. While Souness interjected to agree with Keane’s point, there was a general sense that he had said something rather outlandish with his original statement. In fact, he was spot on in his assessment and time has been kind to him.
Over 18 months on, we are looking at the unthinkable. Kane, a product of the Spurs academy, a lifelong fan and one of the few players many expected to break the mould of the modern era and stay at one club throughout his entire career, has reportedly asked to leave after failure to reach the Champions League. Defeat to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final won’t have done much to change his mind, either.
Footballers, despite popular belief, are more commonly remembered for their individual talents. Despite individual awards like the Ballon d’Or being reduced to a referendum on who won more titles in a particular season, loyalty is still seen as a commendable trait when careers are being looked back on. If Kane stays at Spurs as their ‘nearly years’ merge into difficult challenges to stay relevant, as has been prophesied, he will be viewed as a top player who could have achieved more. That won’t necessarily be held against him, like someone who his career has become intrinsically linked to, Alan Shearer. Especially if, as is probably now expected, he breaks Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record.
But nobody has less time for sentiment than Roy Keane, even if he is playing a ‘pundit persona’. Everything he did as a player was geared towards winning and he genuinely didn’t seem to understand why a move to Manchester United was so implausible at the time. Of course, now it isn’t. They, alongside Manchester City and perhaps Chelsea, are the only teams who could afford to sign him. Kane has also reportedly made it clear that staying in England is a priority.
During Keane’s time at the club, Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t tend to buy big stars from abroad, he liked to develop world class players himself. But he did tend to have an interest in the best British talent available; he famously attempted to sign Shearer from Blackburn Rovers in 1996, having already taken Andy Cole from Newcastle United a year earlier. It was only Shearer’s loyalty to his hometown club, Newcastle, which stood in his way.
Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney are more recent big-money moves he made which fit the mould of the Kane option. Roy Keane is correct; if Manchester United can prise the England captain from his current club, he will propel them right into the Premier League title conversation, alongside City. Although they are going to finish second this season, nobody has really laid down a challenge to Pep Guardiola’s side.
Since the conversation after the Liverpool game, Solskjaer has signed Edinson Cavani, who has also just signed a new one-year contract. The Uruguayan arrived on a free transfer after leaving Paris Saint-Germain last summer without much fanfare but he has scored crucial goals and provided the example to the likes of Greenwood and Martial. That was exactly what was asked of him.
At their best, Manchester United were ruthless. Ferguson always wanted to aid young players’ improvement, but he also wasn’t afraid to add to his options when the opportunity arose. Cavani is superb, but he is also 34 years of age. Kane, despite injury problems, is approaching 28 and has peak years ahead of him. He would instantly focus minds at the club in a way few who are currently there can.
From Kane’s perspective, a move to City is the better guarantee of winning things. But Guardiola has operated without a main striker for much of this season and has recently suggested his trust may lie with Ferran Torres, a young winger who has been utilised centrally from time to time. The likes of Erling Haaland are also more likely to feature higher up on their list, too.
Manchester United need to realise that this kind of chance doesn’t come around every day; Kane is the perfect fit for them and he can transform their prospects. It is potentially now or never for them here. For once, they should listen to Roy Keane.
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