Today marks 23 years to the day since Roy Keane joined Manchester United from Nottingham Forest. In choosing to move to Old Trafford, Keane reneged last minute on, a move to join Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn, a decision which earned Keane the considerable fury of Dalglish.
Instead, Keane moved to United, in what became arguably the most influential transfer in Irish football history.
But what if Keane had snubbed the overtures of Ferguson, and moved to Blackburn? We imagine what *might* have happened in such an alternative reality.
Having rejected a last-minute offer from Manchester United, Keane joined Blackburn Rovers from Nottingham Forest for a then record fee of £3.75 million. Keane then took off to Ayia Napa on holidays. Without having to worry about being tracked down on holiday by an angry Kenny Dalglish, Keane let his hair down and over-indulged himself.
Keane returned from pre-season slightly out of shape as a result, so was forced to wait for months for his break in the first-team. He eventually got it following a serious knee injury to fellow midfielder Tim Sherwood, sustained in training. Keane impressed in midfield in his debut season, but failed to guide Rovers ahead of United, ultimately finishing second in the League.
Sherwood's knee injury proved sufficiently serious to force him to retire, whereupon he focussed on a coaching career. Beginning with Rovers' 'B' team, Sherwood developed a superb knowledge of the tactical nuances of the game, and has since become a coach of some renown. Having won titles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Sherwood is aiming to repeat the trick with Manchester City.
The following season, Keane was handed the captaincy by Dalglish, where he led Blackburn to a first Premier League title. Rovers coasted to the title, finishing eleven points clear of Manchester United.
United undoubtedly had a lot of young talent in their squad, but lacked a leader in the mould of Keane to drive them to the league. Instead, the squad's role model was Eric Cantona, who's actions proved to be a poor influence on the younger players: there was a spate of kung-fu kicks upon members of the crowd by United players. In the most memorable instance of such a kick, David May missed.
At Blackburn, meanwhile, the good times kept on rolling. Keane led Rovers to three of the next four league titles, before the crowning glory: the European Cup victory of 1999.
Keane played every minute of the European Cup run, including the final against Bayern Munich, with Rovers emerging comfortable 3-0 winners. While Keane showed flashes of possessing an extremely short temper at Forest, such ill-discipline never manifested itself at Blackburn. Many pundits put this down to the close friendships Keane fostered with his teammates under the jocular stewardship of Dalglish, most notably with Alan Shearer and Jason McAteer.
While some Irish international teammates saw McAteer as a slightly slow-witted joker, Keane saw past this caricature of McAteer as a result of spending a lot of time with him. Keane saw McAteer as a nuanced and intellectual man who merely assumed the role of a jester to best fit in to the macho world of the football dressing room.
Keane became some close to McAteer he named his beloved labrador after him.
Blackburn's remarkable success under Keane's captaincy led to a number of spin-off benefits. Kenny Dalglish was knighted after the European Cup win, with pundits at the time citing the signing of Keane as the significant moment of Dalglish's Blackburn career. They contrasted Dalglish's success with the career trajectory of Alex Ferguson, whose erratic United side ultimately caused him to sack. As Dalglish was knighted, Ferguson was trying to rebuild his managerial career with Real Sociedad.
The European Cup win also caused Blackburn to become an enormous commercial success at the turn of the millennium. As part of the commercial expansion, the club launched their own in-house TV channel. Keane got on board with the programming department, and ultimately presented two shows: Keane Eye For The Straight Guy - a show offering fashion advice to the modern male and Roy-ally Caught Out - where Keane led teammates into a number of unsuspecting teammates into expertly-planned pranks, with Keane exploding in delight when his teammates discovered their fate.
With Keane extremely happy with Blackburn, his commitment to international football was unwavering. He played both legs of the World Cup qualifier against Iran in 2001 before heading off to Japan and South Korea, captaining Ireland to a controversial quarter-final exit against the latter co-hosts. While there was some grumbling regarding the training facilities at Ireland's training base in Saipan, Keane looked past the logistical blunders owing to a strong relationship with management.
Things eventually soured for Keane at Blackburn. Dalglish eventually quit in 2004 and was replaced by the much-travelled Roy Hodgson, despite rumours linking Sven-Goran Eriksson with the job. Keane fell out with Hodgson within six months of his taking over, believing the new manager to be lacking the big-club mentality of Dalglish or Brian Clough. Keane eventually quit the club in acrimonious circumstances in 2005 following a feud with Hodgson.
Hodgson believed Keane should play centre-back in a league game at Anfield, and subsequently justified his decision by citing his previous managerial experience across Europe. Keane walked out the door having said 'you can shove yer Neuchatel Xamax up yer arse'.
Keane left Blackburn, who replaced him with Colin Healy.
At the age of 33, Keane joined Celtic, with whom he played with for four years, leading them to four titles in a row, a competition about as taxing as the affairs of Glasgow Rangers.
Following retirement in 2010, Keane was appointed manager of Manchester United, with the club seeking to employ a manager capable of imposing his own, near-militaristic rule over the players of the club. United were the empire in need of an emperor. Keane has since proved to be that man: last year he celebrated his third consecutive leage title alongside his assistant, Martin O'Neill.
See Also: Imagining The Alternate Reality In Which Steven Gerrard Did Not Slip Against Chelsea