5 infamous Roy Keane decisions as Man Utd legend turns down Sunderland manager job

Reports of a managerial return for Roy Keane were premature, with the former Sunderland manager turning down the chance to return to Wearside.

The Irishman was strongly linked with a second stint at the Stadium of Light, having taken the Black Cats up to the Premier League in 2007 and kept them there, but turned down the opportunity to replace Lee Johnson at the helm.

More than a decade has now passed since he last managed a league side, though there have been a number of stints as an assistant coach in the intervening period.

Keane has never been a stranger to making big decisions, and we saw plenty of evidence for this during his time as a player for both Manchester United and Ireland.

Here, Mirror Football looks back at five of his biggest and most headline-grabbing decisions from over the years.

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Keane was infamously sent home from the 2002 World Cup



1. Walking out on the World Cup

Simply reaching the 2002 World Cup was a huge achievement for Ireland, with Mick McCarthy’s side going unbeaten in a group containing Portugal and The Netherlands before squeezing past Iran in an inter-continental play-off.

However, for many fans, the abiding memory of Japan and South Korea involves Keane’s actions on the eve of the tournament.

Keane was at odds with manager McCarthy as the Irish team headed to the island of Saipan for their pre-tournament preparations, with things coming to a head in an explosive Irish Times interview.

“You wonder why players get injured? Well, playing on a surface like that,” Keane said, having attempted to walk out for personal reasons before Ireland’s opening game.

“I can’t imagine any other country, countries in the world who are far worse off than us, playing on something like that. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, just for a pitch that’s even watered. It’s so dangerous. It’s rock hard.

“One or two of the lads have picked up injuries. I’m amazed there hasn’t been more but give it time. But you know, we’re the Irish team, it’s a laugh and a joke. We shouldn’t expect too much.”

Keane then pledged to retire from international football after the tournament, only for McCarthy to send him home anyway, calling the midfielder a “disruptive influence”.

2. Joining Man Utd and not Blackburn

There were plenty of sliding doors moments in the early years of the Premier League, and Keane choosing Man Utd was certainly one of them.

Keane’s form for Nottingham Forest had attracted attention long before Forest were relegated from the Premier League in 1993, and a summer move was inevitable. The destination, however, was not.

Blackburn had looked like the most likely destination, only for a clerical mishap to open the door for Manchester United. And we all know the door only needed to be ajar for Alex Ferguson to seize an opportunity.

Keane won the double in his first Man Utd season


Getty Images)

As reported by The Guardian, Keane met with Blackburn boss Kenny Dalglish and agreed to sign for the club, but a contract couldn’t be prepared as it was a Friday and the office had been locked for the weekend.

No problem, they could just figure things out on Monday morning and make it official. Or so they thought.

Instead, Ferguson called Keane directly over the weekend, before meeting him face to face and charming him into an Old Trafford move.

Keane could have still chosen Blackburn, but the fact is he didn’t, and an alternate reality of Dalglish’s team dominating over United would never be realised.

3. Criticising his teammates on MUTV

Keane’s high points were often a consequence of the type of person he was and the types of decisions he made, but the same ruthlessness would prove his undoing at United.

Keane pulled no punches after the Middlesbrough game



Even within the context of Keane calling out his colleagues, though, his infamous MUTV rant was something else.

“When they sign the contracts, they think they have made it,” Keane said in relation to some of the younger members of United’s squad after a dismal performance against Middlesbrough.

“They owe it to the manager, the staff and the fans. They think they have made it. They haven’t.

“The younger players have been let down by some of the more experienced ones – they are not leading. There is a shortage of characters,” he added.

“It seems to be in this club you have to play badly to be rewarded. Maybe that is what I should do when I come back – play badly.”

There was no requirement for Keane to go in as hard as he did on his colleagues, and he paid the price in the biggest possible way, never playing another minute for Manchester United’s first team.

4. Taking on Fergie

The MUTV interview might have been a factor in his exit, but his decision to take on Ferguson directly also played its part.

Wayne Rooney has shared details of the bust-up, which came with Keane’s position already insecure after an argument with the manager before the 2005-06 season.

Keane and Ferguson didn’t always see eye to eye



“Roy Keane said let’s all watch [the MUTV interview] together, so we all went into Alex Ferguson’s office – the coaches, Alex and the whole squad,” Rooney said.

“I was 18 or 19 at the time. We’ve all watched, and Roy asked if any of the players had a problem, so everyone said no.

“To be fair, it wasn’t that bad; I think it was obviously a problem with Roy and the manager in the past.

“So, anyway, it’s got into an argument, and a few different things got said, and I see Alex Ferguson jump over his desk, and I’m thinking ‘wow, this is crazy’. He jumped over the desk, he’s getting held back… it got calmed down.

“Anyway the next day Roy Keane’s come into training, and then about 30 minutes later we’ve seen him driving off, and that’s the last we’ve seen of him.”

5. Taking revenge on Alf-Inge Haaland

Keane’s history with Haaland remains a topic of contention


Action Images)

Keane was rarely one to back down after taking a side, but the Haaland incident is one which has continued to play on his mind.

The United midfielder had suffered a serious knee injury taking a swipe at Haaland – then at Leeds – in a Premier League meeting.

Long after the fact, Keane was asked by former teammate Gary Neville whether there was still a moment he thought about, and replied by saying : “In football I guess maybe when I done my cruciate, the Haaland stuff. When I got injured.”

Years after the Leeds incident, the Irishman injured his Norwegian opponent in a Manchester Derby and stood over him as he lay prone on the ground.

Keane was fined £150,000 after admitting the act was intentional, though he attributes this to a ghostwriter’s interpretation of his words.

While Keane has insisted he wasn’t out for direct revenge, having played against Haaland in the interim, he would later make a telling admission about his playing days.

“I never, ever went out to injure a player in my life,” Keane said in 2021.

“Did I go out to hurt players? Course.

“When you go for a ball in the middle of the park, there’s a good chance that somebody is going to get hurt.”

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