Seventeen years ago today, Roy Keane played his last ever match for Manchester United, a 0-0 draw against Liverpool. Whilst the story of Roy Keane's exit from Manchester United is well-documented, there lays behind it a lesser-known chain of unfortunate events that starts with this fixture.
Tensions between the Manchester United captain and the management team had risen throughout preseason when Keane and assistant Carlos Quieroz had a dust-up. But when Keane was subbed off in the 88th minute of this fixture against Manchester United's great rivals, no one could have imagined that Keane, such an iconic presence at the club, would be persona non grata at Old Trafford just two months later.
Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United - September 18th 2005
Following an unbeaten start to the season for both teams, United travelled to Merseyside to face European champions Liverpool, who were more confident than ever following their miraculous comeback in Istanbul just four months previous.
Both sides were fighting for bragging rights early on in the Premier League campaign, this fixture an opportunity to gain the upper hand on bitter rivals. Liverpool were looking to avoid a fourth consecutive home defeat at the hands of United, whilst the Red Devils were looking to rain on Liverpool's European Cup parade. Roy Keane lead his side out on the day; the 34-year-old United skipper playing in his twelfth season for the club.
In a game that leaked chances, neither side laced up their finishing boots as the stalemate was never broken. Early chances fell to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and United's Ruud Van Nistelrooy, neither managing to make them count. United soaked up pressure for much of the game, but were afforded a golden opportunity at the end of the first half when Nistelrooy was afforded space to attempt a chip that looped just over the bar. Liverpool continued to dominate the chances, Gerrard again coming close with a header before forcing Edwin Van der Sar into a fine save in the 66th minute. United frustrated Liverpool for much of the game and earned a last minute free-kick, only for substitute Ryan Giggs to send it over the bar.
Two minutes from time, Keane hobbled off the pitch. From the outside it would appear that a foul by the unsuspecting winger Luis Garcia caused this injury. Keane addresses this in his second autobiography, The Second Half, saying instead that Steven Gerrard caused the injury.
Steven Gerrard stood on my foot. Gerrard was wearing those new bladed boots, and I'm convinced they did the damage. I was tackled again later, by Luis Garcia, and I limped away from that one, so people often think it was Garcia who caused the injury. But it was Gerrard and his blades.
Despite leaving the pitch through injury, Keane was awarded a match rating of 8 by the Manchester Evening News, having 'popped up with crucial interceptions' whilst he 'carried the battle to Liverpool'. The captain's rating was the highest of any player in the team.
Scans later revealed that Keane had broken his third metatarsal in his left foot, an injury that would require a two-month healing process, or as Keane puts it, 'dead slow recovery'.
The captain was ruled out of important Champions League fixtures. As well as this, Keane would miss the match against Jose Mourinho's resurgent Chelsea and a World Cup vital qualifier for the Republic of Ireland against Switzerland.
'Ifs and ands, pots and pans' - Roy Keane MUTV interview
As part of Manchester United's contract with MUTV, players would take it in turns to analyse the most recent match on the club's television channel. On the rota for the season, Roy Keane had been assigned to analyse the match against Tottenham Hotspur, a match they would go on to draw 1-1. However, with the injury he sustained at Liverpool, manager Alex Ferguson had suggested Keane 'go and get a bit of sun for yourself', thus Keane would miss the Spurs game.
Keane went on holiday to Dubai with his family and was able to arrange a swap on the MUTV rota with teammate Gary Neville. The MUTV producers asked Keane if instead he would cover the game against Middlesbrough, a game that United would go on to lose 4-1.
What happens next is the stuff of legend. The MUTV interview was too explosive to be broadcast. Keane and Ferguson had a confrontation that ended their relationship.
Here's how Wayne Rooney described the incident to Tony Bellew.
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...
Tony Bellew asks Wayne Rooney about angry managers
Posted by BBC Sport on Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Keane's Manchester United contract would be terminated. Ferguson and Keane's relationship was damaged beyond repair and they have not been friends since.
An unlikely domino effect led to Roy Keane's exit from Old Trafford. What if Keane wasn't injured? He would not have gone to Dubai and wouldn't have had to ask Gary Neville to cover the Spurs game. In his autobiography, Keane himself admitted to wondering about it.
Later on I'd think, 'If I'd just done the Spurs game the week before’, ‘If I hadn’t broken my foot’, ‘If I hadn’t gone to Dubai’, ‘If United had beaten Middlesbrough.’ Ifs and ands, pots and pans.
Maybe a falling-out between Keane and Ferguson was inevitable, but that seemingly forgettable scoreless draw against Liverpool was the first in a series of events that ended Roy Keane's remarkable Manchester United career.
Either way, this forgettable scoreless draw against Liverpool was not the swansong that Keane's gilded Manchester United career deserved.