Roy Keane, who won more trophies with United than any other captain, has talked about the importance of captains. Looking back to the likes of Pearce, Bruce and Robson, Keane was impressed with how little ego they had about their role and instead their focus on setting a good example to their team mates.
“I think it is an important role,” said Keane. “We have seen headlines over the last few moths particularly about the England set-up. What I always enjoyed with the captains I played under, that would be Stuart Pearce when I was at Forest or Andy Townsend at Ireland or Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona and Brian Robson, they were great captains in a sense that they did not make an issue out of it. They were not on an ego trip. They would take it on board of course when you are at the bigger clubs. You have got to win trophies and you have to be an example when you train, the way you play, your commitment to the team and there are off the field activities particularly when you are at a big club. At United it would have been the media commitments sorting out tickets, it might sound like trivia but sorting out tickets for family, Christmas parties. There are big commitments for the captain at Manchester United I have to say, but as long as you don’t take your eye off the ball in terms of what you are about and that is a player, being a good leader on the training pitch and obviously when you are travelling helping foreign players and their families. I was comfortable with doing that. But of course it was no good doing all of that and not turning up on a Saturday and saying ‘I have had a busy week looking after the crèche.’ You still have to play well and the players have got to see that as well, not getting side tracked by anything and thinking it is more than it is. You are still there to be a player and to be a top player and I found that as I said about Stuart Pearce. When I came over from Ireland he was the captain of England. He was the best player every day in training. There was no nonsense. He was not obsessed with the media, the money, cars. It was all about what he stood for in the dressing room. He took no nonsense, people think a captain has got to be mates with people, you don’t. You just have to have the respect of your team mates and you earn that on the training ground. However supporters only see you once a week on a match day. However, when you work with people every day of the week, that is when you get the respect.”
Keane reflected on his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson when he was captain but doesn’t think that captains are necessarily chummy with the manager.
“People have this image of me when I was at United that I was in someway closer to the manager than other players but it was not the case,” he continued. “There has to be an element of trust from the captain to the manager, be it organising training so the manager can let the captain get on with it. There would not be any cosy chats or meeting for cups of tea or anything like that. I think there is possibly a lot of trust involved that the manager knows that the captain is taking care of things. Not just the captain but the senior players are looking after things in the dressing room. We had a very good dressing room at United and if senior players felt some of the younger boys were not training with the right attitude it would be taken care of in the dressing room. What you find with a lot of the managers it is almost a case of baby sitting players. But in a good strong dressing room with players such as Cantona, Paul Ince, Brian Robson and Steve Bruce we would not let ourselves get away with it. Don’t get me wrong we enjoyed ourselves but we did not tolerate anything but giving our best.”
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