Many Manchester United fans adopted Sunderland as their “2nd team” when hero Roy Keane took over at the North East club. For all the sacrifice and hard work, for all the tackles and goals, for all the spirit and passion, Keano embodied what it meant to be a United player, and we all loved him for it.
In November 2005, we could all see the beginning of the end. Cracks were visable between Sir Alex and Roy, and when our captain let loose his opinions after the battering we received from Middlesbrough, we knew what was the follow. The embarrassing display that Keane missed, due to an injury he’d picked up an Anfield, left him fuming, venting his anger on MUTV.
“I wasn’t surprised by the result,” said Keane. “I had been expecting one like this. The players have been asked questions and they are just not coming up with the answers. I am sick of having to say it and they are sick of listening to me. They have let down the club, the manager and the fans.” He summed up how every fan felt. Although there was a spit in opinion on whether it was his place to say such things, there was no disagreement on the fact he was speaking the truth.
He didn’t stop there though. Keane accused John O’Shea of strolling around the field instead of busting a gut to get back and defend. He wanted to know why people in Scotland raved over Darren Fletcher (the following league game, Fletcher scored the only goal in our 1-0 victory against then champions, Chelsea). He said Alan Smith was lost in midfield, wandering around, not knowing what to do (and in the game against Chelsea, was Man of the Match, winning the midfield battle vs Lampard, Essien and Makelele). The most damning of reports were in the direction of Rio Ferdinand and Kieran Richardson. He said Rio thought he was superstar because of his massive pay packet, but in fact his sloppy defending against Boro wasn’t the only time Roy thought he had been guilty of being easily robbed of the ball. He called Richardson “lazy”, and said he “deserved to get punished” for “not doing his job”.
Days after the defeat, as the story goes, Kieran Richardson, who had just turned 21, was bragging to team mates about the new Bentley he had just ordered. Keane was having none of this, and a confrontation lead to Richardson cancelling the car.
Now, I was in the pub a few days back with a red, enjoying the recent rumours which linked Richardson with a move away from the club. His pompous attitude and undeserved apparent feeling of self worth has made the player increasingly unpopular amongst the fans. Now to give us a bit of perspective, all we need to do is look at Alan Smith’s United career. Whilst Smith has, as yet, failed to prove he is of United quality, he has proved to have the United mentality. He works tirelessly for every minute he is on the field, and this attitude is rewarded with the fans’ appreciation. I was lucky enough to be at United’s FA Cup semi final at Villa Park in the season just gone. Towards the end of the game, as we were just waiting for the time to run out, and for the obvious conclusion, United were in the FA Cup final, to be announced, we sang Smithy’s name over, and over, and over. He had faced close to 18 months on the sidelines after that horrendous injury at Anfield the previous season, and this was one of our first opportunities to see him play. He had a brilliant game, following on from his more than impressive display in our 7-1 battering of Roma three days before, and so we sang his name. He turned to the crowd and applauded us. This is in stark contrast to Kieran Richardson, who scored our fourth goal that day, and was met with boos from sections of the crowd when he ran over to us to celebrate. As his name was read out as he lifted the Premiership trophy a few weeks later, again, sections of the crowd booed him.
My red friend and I concluded there was no way Richardson could be going to Sunderland. Just as Scholes’ and Ole’s tipped departure to join Keane was bollocks, the Richardson move had to be as well. As much as we’d like to see him leave, there was no way that Keano would take him on. We hoped he’d move to City, although agreed the most likely move would be Everton.
So when a few days later I read that Keane had paid 5.5 million pounds (the price we paid for PFA left back of the season, Patrice Evra) for the prick, paying him 40k a week, I just couldn’t quote believe it. “It is actually nice to get them eventually signed. They are talented players. They are a good age,” Keane said, of the capture of Richardson and Chopra. “Kieran’s got vast experience for such a young player. He had one or two options. We agreed a deal a bit ago with United, but of course he was away with the Under 21s and then he had a holiday,” he continued. “It’s always difficult for a player to leave Man United. Even if you think you’re going to be a squad player. So he’s been brave in that decision. Obviously we’re grateful to United. I think again it’s a good price, good value for us. Kieran is a good age for us. He’s an England international, he’s never injured.”
On every match of the season, other than the games they play against us, I imagine United fans everywhere will be cheering Keane’s team on. The massive success he had in his first season at the club did not come as a surprise to those who have watched him and have been familiar with his attitude throughout his career. I just hope that Keane isn’t losing his way. I hope he isn’t making needless sacrifices for the sake of attempted success. I hope he sticks with his hard nature. If he didn’t take shit from Sir Alex, then it’s a good bet he wouldn’t take shit from anyone…but it was also a good bet he wouldn’t sign someone like Richardson, a player who seems to display a whole array of characteristics Keane despises. A player who struts around League Cup games and England U-21 games as if he’s too “big” of a player to be there. A player who brushes off humiliating defeats knowing he will pick up his pay packet at the end of the week. A player who couldn’t even give 100% to a club like United. And most of all, a player who Keane so openly criticised and showed a dislike for.
I’m more than happy to see the back of Richardson, and don’t doubt he will scrub up as a half decent player at Sunderland, where he is given frequent appearances and the attention of a proud man who doesn’t want to end up with egg on his face. It’s indeed a happy time for Manchester United, I just hope this isn’t a sign of the things to come for our great, old captain.