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Roy Keane has admitted he struggled in the final years of his Manchester United career as he tried to navigate his body and diet changes.
As a young player with United and Forest in the early 1990s, Keane was the prototypical box to box, all-action midfielder that English football has a consistent track record of developing. The Irishman would not take care of his diet and drink heavily before matchday, something he paid for later in his career.
In his final years at United, Keane often cut a cumbersome figure in central midfield, no longer able to cover every blade of grass at Old Trafford and relying on midfield partners to do a significant portion of the running for him.
This is something he attributes to drinking heavily as a United player in the 1990s, carrying over a culture from the Irish professional scene that centred around the mantra ‘win or lose, we’re on the booze.’
In an interview with Gary Neville on Sky Sports’ ‘The Overlap ‘, Keane expressed his difficulties as a senior statesman of the United dressing room in maintaining the level of fitness he had in his early years.
“When I done my cruciate, that was a big one, when I was out for a year. It was tough,” Keane told Neville when asked about the second part of his ‘two-part’ United career.
“It’s tough coming back from a long-term injury at The Cliff [Manchester United’s previous training ground], the facilities were not great, and obviously I was a bit older, I had kids at the time.
“My time at United, same with Forest, nobody ever needed to ask me for a night out. I used to love it. To me, that was part of the package, but that was part of my mentality from Ireland. I played League of Ireland; you know that ‘win or lose we hit the booze’ and all that stupid carry on.
“When I was a bit younger, I got away with it, but when I did my cruciate, it was extremes. Obviously, I played in the middle of the park, and towards the end of my career, I was gaunt-looking. I was picking up more injuries—dead legs. I was cold all the time. After fifteen minutes in the dressing room, I’d be freezing.”
Keane went on to reflect about how, due to advice from a dietician in Milan, he had taken the request to cut down on red meat as a prompt to stop eating meat altogether, causing his iron levels to plummet.
“I was trying to live and act like an Italian or French player, like Mikael [Silvestre], Laurent Blanc, Fabien [Barthez]. I used to look at them, and they were doing stretches and eating salads all the time, and I thought, ‘maybe I’ll try some of that.’
“But I forgot that I’m Irish. I like a bit of rubbish. That’s what helped me in my career. That’s what suited me.
“My lifestyle when I was young cost me a lot. I finished at 34 because of injuries, because I played and trained when I was injured. The role I was playing, as a sitting midfielder, I should have been playing until I was 37 or 38.”
It is well publicised that Keane had a tough relationship in his later years at United with Sir Alex Ferguson, culminating in his shock exit from the club in 2005. However, United stalwart Neville prompts Keane to reflect on how Keane was Ferguson’s lieutenant for ten years, acting as the Scotsman’s voice on the pitch.
“It was brilliant,” Keane replied.
“That’s why the anger I have towards the end of my period with United and Ireland is justified. Because I feel I was wronged.
“I did the Q+A with you in Dublin, and you were saying about how there was no way of coming back from that. The damage was done six months before that. But I knew it was coming. I wasn’t daft,
“At the end of it, when you’re working with people and the respect is lost, then it’s over.”