Manchester United icon Roy Keane has picked some of the greatest names in the club’s history in his Premier League era starting XI – and left out legends including Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Eric Cantona.
Consistency was key for Keane as he listed his teamsheet from his illustrious spell at Old Trafford, emphasising how the likes of Gary Neville, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo immediately caught the eye for their attitude and class in training.
The former midfielder agonised over some of his decisions, admitting that he could have selected Steve Bruce over Jaap Stam and describing how Paul Ince was unfairly portrayed as a hardman off the pitch.
Roy Keane (bottom row, far right) agonised over selecting his Manchester United starting XI
Keane was forced to leave out some big names – and included some surprise ones in there too
And the Irishman surprisingly went with Peter Schmeichel – who he locked horns with both on and off the pitch – in between the sticks, leaving out Edwin Van der Sar.
‘I don’t like upsetting my team-mates,’ Keane said on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football. ‘I had to leave out some brilliant players, brilliant characters, but obviously I’ve done it. Edwin [Van der Sar] was nearly a sparring partner.
KEANE’S UNITED XI
(4-4-2): Peter Schmeichel; Gary Neville, Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam, Denis Irwin; David Beckham, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson, Ryan Giggs; Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo
‘Goalkeepers get too much praise when they make a save. I had to go with Peter because he was very, very good – not as good as everyone thought, but very good.
‘And obviously, I have good memories with him. He was a good character in the dressing room – me and Peter certainly weren’t the best of mates, absolutely far from it, but the most important thing I had for Peter – and all of my team-mates – was huge respect.
‘He produced big moments and helped us get over the line in big matches, that’s the bottom line. Before you go into any match, you look over your shoulder at who’s in goal and you go, “yeah, I’m happy with him – we’ve got a chance.” Peter would produce and help us get trophies.’
Bryan Robson was an idol of Keane’s when he first joined the club, and Keane picked the ex-England captain while explaining that his ambition to displace Robson underlined how good United were in his heyday.
Keane was complimentary about many of his team-mates, hailing Rio Ferdinand for his athleticism while explaining that he had to pick old friend Gary Pallister and exceptional all-rounder Jaap Stam at centre-back.
There was no room for Rio Ferdinand (left) or Paul Scholes, although Keane hailed both stars
‘Centre-back was probably the hardest one because Rio was excellent, Brucey was a good character,’ Keane added. ‘I just couldn’t leave Jaap Stam out. He didn’t play as many games as the other lads but he was big, strong, brave, brilliant at one-on-ones.
‘The other one was an issue but I’ve gone with Gary Pallister. I’d probably say [it was between Pallister and] Rio. Rio was obviously a good athlete and read the game well but my relationship with Pally was pretty good as well.
‘Did [Stam] have any real weaknesses? He could head it, he could leap, he could read the game, he was strong, aggressive, a decent lad. I got on really well with him. Unfortunately you try to move on, but Jaap was a brilliant player for Man United. Brucey was a good player and a brilliant player.’
Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes were close to ousting Ince and Robson, and Keane admitted that he was worried about upsetting his former teammates – confessing that he had even upset himself while making his tough decisions.
Eric Cantona did not feature in a two-man attack starring Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo
‘I’m certainly not going to pick myself,’ Keane said. ‘Bryan Robson has to go in there. Bryan was a great player for Man United, full of courage, scored some big goals for the club when Man United weren’t at their best. I had some brilliant days with Butty and Scholesy.
‘Next to Robbo, I’m going to put Paul Ince. Incey was a very, very good player. Maybe he tarnished his United reputation; he ended up playing at Liverpool or wherever. When he was at United, there was all talk of Incey being the governor.
‘People kind of held that against him but that was just banter, there was no nastiness with that. Incey was a really good teammate and a very good team-mate.’
The only current United player in the starting XI is Cristiano Ronaldo, who Keane said he immediately took to because the future five-time Ballon d’Or winner did not want to delay his arrival at the club from Portugal.
Keane said: ‘Did we all say in the dressing room, when he was 17, that he was going to go so far? No.
Keane picked Wayne Rooney (right) because of his formidable record after signing in 2004
David Beckham (centre), Ryan Giggs (third from left) and Gary Neville (third from right) are in
‘But did we all think he had a chance of being one of the greatest players ever? Yes.
‘A lot happen – injuries, distractions – but for all his off-field stuff, I didn’t ever feel at United that he was getting distracted by that.’
The serial Premier League winner described Cantona as a ‘brilliant lad’ despite picking Wayne Rooney over him because of the former England hitman’s record.
Keane said: ‘Eric was a brilliant player for Man United. I’m upset to leave Eric out. Eric was a brilliant character and produced in the big games.’