Red News celebrated its 25th anniversary this month, which is quite an incredible feat, and Sir Alex Ferguson wrote a letter to them to mark the occasion.
As part of the special edition of the fanzine, I wrote an article looking at some well known Manchester United players in their 25th year…
Roy Keane – August 10th 1996
United somehow managed to win the league in 1996, despite being 12 points behind Newcastle in February, and Roy Keane opened his goalscoring account in the first game of the following season in the Charity Shield again Kevin Keegan’s men. United won 4-0.
Plagued with knee problems, Keane made just his third league appearance at the end of October and was sent off for two bookable offences after 20 minutes. United still managed to score three goals without him but conceded six.
From the turn of the year, Keane picked up seven yellow cards in the eighteen games he played in, including a costly booking in the first leg of the European Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund. United lost that game, and the return leg without him, 1-0.
Keane was named captain for the following season after inheriting the armband from Eric Cantona who retired. He finished the season with three goals in thirty three appearances before going to the Far East on tour, where he had a run in with Peter Schmeichel.
“I was trying to sleep in a Hong Kong hotel when I heard the banging in the corridor,” recalled Andy Cole. “I went to investigate and saw that Roy Keane, the club captain, was rolling around fighting with Peter Schmeichel, the giant goalkeeper. They weren’t playing. ‘Typical Roy,’ I thought, and went back to bed smiling. The next day, Schmeichel was wearing sunglasses. There had only been one winner. Keane could fall out with anyone. I once saw him come to blows with one of his best mates, Denis Irwin, in the dressing room. They were both from Cork and close friends. And they were being pulled apart.”
A week before David Beckham’s 25th birthday, France Football released a report showing that David Beckham was the highest paid English footballer, bringing in £1.4m a year and earning £27,000 a week.
In the summer he was linked with moves to a whole host of top European club, including Barcelona, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, but the biggest story involving him at the time was the gesture he made to England fans following a 3-2 defeat to Portugal at the Euros. After setting up two goals, he was subjected to abuse from his own fans as he walked off the pitch, so he responded by sticking his middle finger up at them. In contrast to the vilification of Beckham we had seen two years earlier at the World Cup, the press, for the most part, supported him.
A few months in to the season, Beckham scored the only goal in the derby with a freekick with just 90 seconds on the clock. United went five points clear at the top whilst City were just four points above the relegation zone.
Just before Christmas, Beckham hinted for the first time that he may be open to a move away from the club. “If I’m happy and my family are happy then I will stay where I am, if things go well with the club and the contract,” he said. “But you don’t know. You can never say about that. So I will have to wait and see over the next few months.”
In the February, Beckham was named England captain by manager Sven Goran-Eriksson but the following month was dropped by Ferguson for the game against Sturm Graz after a string of below par performances.
Having already won the title in April, United had a difficult game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals. Beckham picked up a silly yellow card for a foul on Stefan Effenberg and would miss the second leg.
“David on his best form would be a massive loss and, of course, I would prefer it if he was available,” said Ferguson. “But he has not been playing as well as we would have liked. He knows that. All great players have little spells when they are not at their best. He is going through it now.”
Beckham finished the season with nine goals and one assist and was still being linked with other clubs. “Let me make it clear, I still love Manchester United,” he said. “I have been at the club since I was 16. Manchester is where I grew up as a footballer, playing for the best manager and the best club in the world. I have lived in the city for 10 years. I regard it as my home now.”
Two weeks before his 25th birthday, Rio Ferdinand was one of the Manchester United players named to have a routine drugs test. He was told that he would be tested for drugs after training. Training ended and Rio went to town where he was pictured shopping. At 2.02pm he called the club to ask could he come back for the test. The testers told him he was too late but they didn’t leave Carrington until 2.27pm, which would have been enough time to return for the test. UEFA’s website confirmed that Rio had asked to take the test on the same day but was told it was too late. Drug-test procedures do not have a time limit so there was no reason why the testers couldn’t have waited, given the implications of what him not taking the test were. Rio was tested for drugs at their next convenience, two days later, and that test came back negative.
Before Rio’s ban and fine had been announced, PFA chief Gordon Taylor was confident, like many, that there would be no problem in clearing the defender’s name, after the evidence that Rio’s plea to take the test before the testers left was rejected.
“If I was representing the FA and they asked me should it go ahead, I would say that unless they can mount an emphatic challenge to this evidence it should not,” he said. “We don’t want to sweep anything under the carpet but the case is now far from cut and dried. It is clear the testers should have stayed. Not enough was done to ensure Rio took the test on that day. It is not good enough to just leave when he was prepared to make it back.”
However, Rio was fined £50,000 and banned for eight months. After the unprecedented punishment was handed out, Rio offered to have a hair follicle test, which would have shown any drug use over the previous six months, going back to before his original test date, but the FA declined his request.
The MEN reported at the time: The FA does not appear to dispute Ferdinand’s claims that he has never taken drugs – they have not listed him for target-testing, which would be the usual procedure for any player suspected of being a drug user. And their refusal to get involved in hair follicle testing is further evidence that they do not question Ferdinand’s claims that he is drug-free. They maintain the punishment is for his failure to take the test alone.
His last game of the season was in January, with United four points clear of Arsenal, but any hopes we had of retaining the title faded away after then.
“Our performances in the first half of the season were terrific – then we lose Rio and all of a sudden we are back-pedalling,” said Ferguson. “We have to adjust to the fact that Rio is not there. We have to handle it. We have lost Rio and there is nothing we can do about it. So let’s get on with it.”
In March, Rio lost his appeal, meaning he would certainly miss out on the rest of United’s season as well as the European Championships in the summer.
“I can’t believe what the FA have done to me,” Ferdinand said. “I’ve always accepted that I missed the test. But I think most people now realise it was a genuine mistake, even those at the FA. So why do they find it necessary to push for such a harsh punishment? They know I didn’t take drugs. The Appeal Board even made a point of saying so.”
United finished the season 3rd, fifteen points behind Arsenal, although did win the FA Cup, which Rio has still yet to win.
Wayne Rooney started the season where he turned 25 with details of his private life all over the papers, with it being revealed he had been sleeping with a prostitute behind his pregnant wife’s back. His form suffered and he was left out of the game against Everton at Goodison Park for fear he wouldn’t be able to handle the stick that would come his way.
Rooney picked up an ankle injury in United’s game against Bolton and was subbed off to the bench with half an hour to go where he sat and iced his injury. Fergie claimed he would be out for three weeks but Rooney later responded in the press by saying he wasn’t injured and didn’t know why the manager said he was.
Five days before his 25th birthday, Ferguson revealed at a press conference that Rooney had made it clear he would not be signing a new deal and he wanted to leave the club.
“The one thing I said to him was ‘respect this club’, I don’t want any nonsense from you,” he said. “I don’t know if he has done that. I have doubts on that, we are reading all these things about falling out with me and all that nonsense. It’s disappointing because we have done everything we possibly can to help Wayne Rooney ever since he came to the club. We have always been here as a harbour for him any time he has been in trouble.”
Two days before he turned 25, he put pen to paper on a new five year deal with the club. “I’m delighted to sign another deal at United,” he said. “In the last couple of days, I’ve talked to the manager and the owners and they’ve convinced me this is where I belong.”
By the turn of the year, Rooney had scored just two goals in all competitions for United. The players and manager defended him though, until Giggs broke ranks in February.
“For the fans, and probably me to an extent and a lot of the players, what really got our backs up was as soon as City were mentioned,” he said. “For me, as a United fan, as soon as you hear City being talked about, you think, well, that can’t happen. I was surprised.”
A week later was derby day and the stage was set for Rooney. At 1-1 with ten minutes to, Rooney leapt up in the air with his back to goal and with an extraordinary overhead kick scored the winner for United.
Finally he started earning his money, scoring for United in the league, FA Cup and Champions League much more regularly. He even got a hattrick against West Ham but this wasn’t without controversy. He swore down a camera when celebrating his 14 minute hattrick and was banned for two games, meaning he missed the FA Cup semi-final against City which we lost.
As the season approached its end, with United favourites to win the league and in the European Cup final, Rooney admitted he was wrong to question the club. “Obviously I understand I made a mistake,” he said. “When I look at it now, how wrong was I? I admitted that and I apologised for that and I have wanted to try and prove myself again to the Manchester United. I feel I am doing that now. I am 100 per cent committed to this club.”
Rooney finished the season with sixteen goals, including one in the European Cup final defeat to Barcelona, and the Premier League winners medal to satisfy his ambition.