Manchester United supporters once tweaked the lyrics to Roy Keane’s chant to reference his lacerating summary of Mick McCarthy in Saipan and if there is another spectre from Keane’s past who warrants such treatment it is Alf Inge Haaland.
Keane and the Haalands are certain to be serenaded during Sunday’s Manchester derby. City fans have updated their Toure brothers ditty to 2 Unlimited’s No Limit, now a paean to Haalands Alfie and Erling.
Hey Jude has long been a regular on the matchday playlist at the Etihad Stadium and United fans have been airing their paean to Keane through The Beatles anthem for more than two decades.
The days when United matchgoers would goad an ill-advised opponent with “You should’ve signed for a big club” are almost as distant as their last championship. No right-minded United fan would question Haaland plumping for the club his father played for, about as far removed as possible from Alfie’s three years at City – also their last three years at Maine Road.
Haaland senior and Keane patrolled the same touchline on the opening weekend at the London Stadium for Erling’s Premier League debut. “He’s waiting for Roy over there,” Micah Richards chuckled. Keane, clutching a microphone, smiled sheepishly.
Sky Sports are still yet to gift the watching world the sight of Keane and Haaland stewing next to each other in the same studio. Putting Keane within touching distance of Sir Alex Ferguson might only relegate it to an undercard.
It was a jolt to see Keane next to Patrick Vieira pitchside in Spain back in November 2011. The pair bonded through their punditry presence on ITV and a producer recalled the surreal experience of wandering through the streets of Warsaw with the duo during the European Championship in 2012. “Patrick, would you like an ice cream?” Keane asked Vieira. Haaland was made to scream.
Keane and Vieira’s rivalry was fiery but professional. To Keane, Haaland crossed the line by accusing him of feigning injury at Elland Road in September 1997. Fast-forward four-and-a-half years and any detective examining the studs Keane had embedded in Haaland’s right knee would not have struggled to assume a motive.
Keane’s words in his 2002 autobiography read as starkly as a script from an episode of The Sopranos: “I’d waited long enough. I f—–g hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c–t. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. Even in the dressing room afterwards, I had no remorse. My attitude was, f–k him.”
Keane’s punishment was a record £150,000 fine and five-match suspension, served while he was recovering from a hip injury. City considered legal action but dropped it as Haaland underwent surgery on his left knee in the summer of 2001.
They had encountered each other before ‘Kneegate’. Oft-forgotten is Keane memorably confronting Haaland when still at Leeds at Old Trafford in November 1998, or the photograph the Manchester Evening News photographer Chris Gleave captured of the captains in the first Maine Road derby in four-and-a-half years in November 2000.
The caption filed reads: “Roy Keane reluctantly shakes hands with Alfie Haaland at the start of the game.” In an image taken seconds earlier, Haaland’s outstretched hand is left hanging as Keane crouches down to greet the diminutive mascot.
The hip surgery denied Keane an audience with Blues in the final Maine Road derby in November 2002. He was also absent for United’s first visit to the City of Manchester Stadium in March 2004 before captaining them to their first win on new enemy turf in February 2005.
Keane has been back to City as a manager with Sunderland and as a pundit for ITV and Sky. He brazenly clenched his fist in response to United supporters during the January 2012 FA Cup tie but had to run the gauntlet outside the Etihad on the final day of last season with City fans still celebrating their euphoric title triumph.
The sands of time, Keane’s complimentary analysis of City, the unlikely bromance between him and Richards and this genial generation of matchgoers have softened Keane’s receptions in Eastlands. United captains do not get much redder than Keane and Gary Neville and both were dusting off ticker tape and rubbing shoulders with Pep Guardiola and Jack Grealish on the Etihad pitch in May.
A new Haaland in blue is a reminder of the enmity that lingers and time is not a great healer for Alfie, who has derided Keane’s managerial record on Twitter and in 2014 deleted a tweet likening Keane’s beard to Saddam Hussein’s. That was in response to Keane dwelling on the knee-high challenge in the opening chapter of his second autobiography.
Keane described Haaland as an “absolute p—k to play against. He was niggly, sneaky.” Regrets, Keane’s had a few, but not Haaland: “He represents the parts of the game I don’t like.”
Haaland’s history with United was more bilious when he was at Leeds, referring to them as “scum” on his official website ahead of a top-of-the-table encounter between the clubs in February 2000.
It makes the Haalands’ receptiveness to Erling joining United all the more fascinating. United’s interest first emerged when their scout Tommy Moller Nielsen watched the 17-year-old plunder four goals in 20 minutes against Brann in July 2018.
Yet the nearest Haaland got to joining United was a training session at The Cliff on the morning of Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against City last year. By then, he had already rejected United and was openly flirting with City on his first professional outing at the Etihad, describing the surroundings as “beautiful”.
Jan Aage Fjortoft, another Norwegian victim of a Keane red card when he was thumped suddenly whilst playing for Middlesbrough, flanked Haaland at West Ham last month in his role as presenter for Viaplay’s Premier League coverage. He has approached Haaland and Keane about a reunion and is cautiously optimistic.
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