It was a rant that betrayed Roy Keane’s intolerance of any player falling below his own professional standards, and told us why a return to management would be just as box office as the punditry of his intervening 11 years.
That is not to discount the 50-year-old as a parody act. He is not, and he is serious about managing again.
But a lingering hostility for those who fail to meet expectations is a compelling facet of the Irishman’s character, not to mention potentially incendiary amid players of a new generation.
Roy Keane stole the show at ‘The Overlap’ live viewing in Manchester this month
Keane (middle) appeared alongside Gary Neville (left) and Jamie Carragher (right) in the show
‘We had a brilliant dressing-room at Manchester United, and you assume it’s the same everywhere – it’s not,’ began Keane to an audience of nearly 3,000, including Sportsmail, at The Overlap Live in Manchester.
‘It’s only when you go to another club and see so-called professional footballers, “imposters” I call them. I went to coach at Aston Villa (in 2014). Honestly, there were players at the club like scumbags. They would have been scumbags on a building site.
‘They didn’t train properly, “Maybe not today”. They didn’t speak to staff properly. Then you wonder why they don’t win anything, because they’ve people like you in the dressing-room!
‘The strange this is, you turn up on time and train properly and they think there’s something wrong with you. No, you’re supposed to train like it’s the last training session you’ll ever have. They’re like, “Nah, not for me”.’ He pauses. ‘P***k!’
Keane revealed how disappointed he was about the Aston Villa dressing room compared to Man United’s
Beneath the scowl, Keane is funny. ‘A great storyteller’, Gary Neville calls him. It makes you wonder if the stage upon which we find him, alongside Neville and Jamie Carragher, is now a more natural habitat than a dugout.
He recently turned down an offer to manage former club Sunderland. ‘With the TV work, I have great freedom with my life,’ he says. ‘It will have to be a challenge where I go, “I think I’ve got a chance”. I’ve not really had that the last few years.’
So, where to now? He will consider a move abroad but the experience of Neville at Valencia in 2015 serves as a warning as to how skilled orators become muted in foreign lands.
‘To be fair, you’ve recovered well,’ he tells Neville. ‘But Valencia haven’t.’
Neville’s (left) dismal spell at Valencia in 2016 was also discussed by the Overlap panel
Again, there is laughter. Even in the company of this country’s two most prominent pundits, Keane remains the alpha male.
The show is delayed for 90 seconds as United supporters fill the theatre with song in honour of their former captain. But would he still hold that level of respect in a dressing-room? You fear his acerbic wit would be lost, or misinterpreted, by some.
Neville believes Keane’s knowledge and enthusiasm is worthy of another opportunity. Then again, he has spent nearly 30 years understanding the meaning behind the mischief.
‘I was annoyed when this show was cancelled at the last minute in December,’ says Keane, gesturing towards Neville, the organiser.
Keane said he was upset Neville cancelled the initial Overlap show in December due to Covid
‘He texted me two days before. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him, “Why?”. He said the country might go into lockdown in a few days.
‘He then said something completely bizarre, “The Stone Roses have cancelled a concert in Cambridge”. What the f*** has that got to do with us? The country didn’t go into lockdown. He does it without asking, a power thing.’
Neville, like the audience, is laughing. With Keane’s guard lowered, it is a fascinating insight into the antipathy and humour that co-exist within him.
He is not, for example, a great fan of players using games consoles, greedy football agents and, given their history, Alan Shearer. Friendly exchanges between rival players are also booted into his Room 101.
Keane revealed how unacceptable it is that Man United and Man City players are so friendly
‘If I came up against an Irish lad, I had no interest in speaking to them. Sometimes, I wasn’t even speaking to my own team-mates! That’s the way it was. It’s not old school, it’s good school. I see City and United lads chatting after the game. I just don’t think it’s right.’
It prompts Neville to ask about one of those United team-mates, Peter Schmeichel. ‘What, the fight?’ says Keane. He obliges with the story of their altercation in a Hong Kong hotel following a pre-season night out in 1998.
‘There was a bit of tension between us… good tension,’ he starts. ‘I went back to Nicky Butt’s room for a club sandwich. Really exciting stuff. No women or heroin, a club sandwich!
‘Peter was waiting. He said, “I’ve had enough of you”. I said, “You’ve had enough of me? Let’s get it on”. It was a few minutes in the corridor before Nicky broke it up.
Keane (left) discussed his fractured relationship with United legend Peter Schmeichel (right)
‘(Sir Alex) Ferguson pulled us back in Manchester and said we were a disgrace and would be fined.’ He waits, with a grin, before adding: ‘But it was good to get rid of that tension between us.’
Have Keane’s methods of mediation mellowed? He would, you suspect, have enjoyed the chance to roll around with one or two of those Villa players.
If he ever does return to management, like everything with Keane, it will make for captivating viewing.
The Overlap is a YouTube channel from Gary Neville in partnership with Sky Bet.