Keane leaves Manchester United

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Roy Keane's 12-year stay at Manchester United ended on Friday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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Roy Keane's 12-year stay at Manchester United ended on Friday. The Irishman had long been regarded as manager Alex Ferguson's spokesman, disciplining players and relaying the coach's instructions. However, he may have gone too far two weeks ago when he singled out players for criticism in an interview with the club's in-house television station. Surprising departure Although Keane had already said he expected this season to be his last at Old Trafford, his sudden departure surprised former teammates and fans. "I thought he'd be there for a few more years and I thought that he'd maybe go into coaching there," said David Beckham, who played alongside Keane until leaving for Real Madrid in 2003. "He's won everything in club football ... and he's done it by gaining respect throughout the football world - from the players that he's played with and those he's played against." Ferguson paid a then British record 3.75 million pounds in 1993 to get Keane as a replacement for former England captain Bryan Robson. A combative midfielder, defending at one end of the field one minute and scoring at the other the next, Keane's drive and ambition propelled United to the European Cup, seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Intercontinental Cup. Keane may now get the chance to end his career at Celtic, which he'd previously wished. Always the leader Even with the 34-year-old being increasingly injury-prone, there's unlikely to be a shortage of clubs interested in signing someone so competitive he can inspire his team without playing. Knowing he was banned from the 1999 Champions League final, he dominated a Juventus midfield containing Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Edgar Davids to carry his team through to what would be a famous triumph over Bayern Munich in Barcelona. When United won the final, the players formed a tunnel on the field for Keane to walk through with the trophy aloft. "He was one of the best players the club has ever had," said former teammate Nicky Butt, who played in that game. "He was a leader - that's how he will be remembered." Never say die The never-say-die attitude also led to a string of bust-ups even before criticizing his teammates for a poor attitude or lack of ability. In 2000, he slated fans he said were more interested in "prawn sandwiches" than soccer and, two years later, quit the Ireland team on the eve of the 2002 World Cup finals after berating manager Mick McCarthy over training facilities and tactics. Still smarting from a preseason argument with Keane, Ferguson refused to let the club's television station broadcast the interview in which Keane lambasted teammates including Rio Ferdinand. "There is a shortage of characters. The players have been asked questions and they are just not coming up with the answers," Keane said. Angry supporters While the comments irked Ferguson, they were exactly what fans wanted to hear. Already dismayed by the team finishing outside the Premier League's top two places three of the past four years, supporters were further angered by American billionaire Malcolm Glazer's takeover, which turned the club from one of the world's richest into one heavily in debt. And with the out-of-form Ferdinand procrastinating over accepting a contract that was reportedly the most lucrative in English soccer, fans identified even more strongly with Keane. "We as supporters particularly loved him because he sweated blood for us," Shareholders United Vice Chairman Sean Bones said. "It does put added pressure on the Glazer family because not only do they have to replace Roy, who is irreplaceable, they also have to acquire another player to keep their promise to supporters." One possible replacement is Germany captain Michael Ballack, who is out of contract with Bayern Munich at the end of the season. Bayern this week withdrew an offer of a new contract, suggesting Ballack may even leave during the January transfer window. United is fourth in the Premier League, 10 points behind leader Chelsea and struggling to qualify from the first round of the Champions League. (AP)