Roy Keane very nearly didn't make it as a professional footballer. Given his current status in the game such a statement seems almost laughable but as a youngster he was unable to secure an apprenticeship with any English clubs and was forced to begin his football career with Cobh Ramblers in the Irish league.

Keane wasn't going to give up on playing at the highest level though, and requested trials with a number of English clubs when he reached the age of 18. Brian Clough was the only manager to respond and brought him over to Nottingham Forest and immediately spotted the potential in Keane's game and signed him up. But instead of blooding him in the youthg team or even the reserved, he was thrown into the deep end and given his first team debut at Anfield. He was a Nottingham Forest regular in no time and played in his first FA Cup final at the end of the 1990/91 season.

There was to be further cup disappointment the following season as Keane was runner-up again at Wembley, this time to Manchester United in the Rumbelows Cup. However his reputation as one of the hottest properties in England was spreading quickly. In 1992/93 when Forest were relegated, Keane jumped ship and a bidding war between Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers began. Nottingham Forest wanted £5 million, when the record transfer at the time was only £3.3 million.

United were unwilling to meet their demands and it looked like Jack Walker's millions would bring Keane to Blackburn. But Forest saw sense and lowered Keane's price tag and Manchester United snatched him up for £3.6 million, a new British transfer record. It was to be some of the best money spent by United this decade.

At the time of his arrival United already had a midfield dynamo in the shape of Paul Ince. As the self-proclaimed "Guv'nor" of the United midfield Keane became his understudy until Ince left in 1995 and Keane became boss.

The crux of Roy Keane's game revolves around his powerful engine which sees him steaming from end to end of the pitch, right up to final whistle. He is primarily played as a defensive midfielder, breaking up opposition attacks and protecting the back-line. But when required he can power forward and has contributed a number of important goals down the years. Not least a vital header against Juventus in the second leg of last season's European Cup semi-final.

Sadly Keane has also built up quite a long disciplinary record, with a string of bookings every season and the occasional sending off to boot. Red card offences include punching Jan Aage Fjortoft at Old Trafford, stamping on Gareth Southgate, and more recently being dismissed for a second booking in the FA Cup semi-final replay with Arsenal at Villa Park in April 1999.

Despite his fiery reputation, Keane was entrusted with the club captaincy after Eric Cantona retired in May 1997. He led the team into 1997-98 but his season was short lived when in September a cruciate knee ligament injury ruled him out of action for eight months. A seemingly innocuous challenge on Leeds' Alf Inge Haaland snapped the ligament in Keane's right knee and with it United lost their most influential player. The loss of their captain had costly results in United's overall season as they finished empty handed in all competitions.

Upon his return last season many wondered whether he would be the same player as before his injury, as other players like Gascoigne and Shearer had suffered long term effects. But Keane soon proved all the doubters wrong as he came back better than ever and was the backbone of United's assault on three fronts.

The season was to end in personal disappointment for Keane however, as he was first suspended from the European Cup final and then injured in the fifth minute of the FA Cup final. But he still lifted the FA Cup as captain and was there in the Nou Camp to celebrate United winning the European Cup.

Keane is also highly experienced at international level and made his debut for the Republic of Ireland in 1991. Since then he has been their most influential player and was voted Ireland's player of the tournament in the 1994 World Cup.

Patrick Eustace 2000. Last modified on Thurs, 27 Jan, 2000

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