Roy Keane wasted less than 10 seconds to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
More than 17 years after his last appearance for Manchester United, the iconic former skipper was back playing for his old side, turning out in the 2-1 defeat by Liverpool Legends. The Sky Sports pundit has long insisted he wouldn’t turn out in the charity matches due to his lack of fitness.
“I’m not fit. I’m far from fit. My fitness levels are actually very, very embarrassing. Just because I’ve not put on loads of weight doesn’t mean to say I’m fit,” he told Off the Ball podcast earlier this year.
“I wouldn’t really be able to do any running,” he added. “Put it this way, I’ve been invited a number of times over the last few years to play legends games or whatever you want to call it. I’d find it really difficult because I wouldn’t be able to get around.
“Too many injury problems. I try to have a decent diet obviously and I’m wary of putting on too much weight, but I certainly wouldn’t be fit enough to go on any sort of run.”
But after some persuasion from best pal Denis Irwin, Keane was back in a United shirt and back to being Public Enemy No.1 of the Kop. The 51-year-old was booed throughout the afternoon, despite the object of the afternoon being to raise money for the charity.
Keane was named amongst the substitutes for the second leg of the Legends of the North clash, after United lost the first encounter 3-1 at Old Trafford in May. That didn’t stop the home support jeering every time his name was mentioned, or he ventured away from the dugout.
And those boos intensified when he came off the bench in the 76th minute of the game, with the scores level at 1-1. Keane looked to be enjoying the extra attention and his old determined face was clear to see.
He then broke that steely stare when old team-mate Ronnie Johnsen approached him and offered to give him the captain’s armband. During his time with United, Keane established himself as one of English football’s greatest ever leaders, lifting the Premier League title on four occasions.
But Keane – clearly believing he’s no longer the main man post-retirement – wasn’t happy with Johnsen, pushing away the centre-back and telling him in no uncertain terms to not hand it over. That incident was arguably the most notable of his short cameo, as Liverpool’s fresher legs conspired to help them earn a late victory.
United had actually taken the lead in the opening stages, when Dimitar Berbatov’s stunning strike with the outside of his foot found the top corner. Berbatov was the star of the show in the opening 45 minutes, with United looking the better of the two sides.
But with a bigger squad, Liverpool were able to make a raft of half-time changes and that ultimately proved the difference. Robbie Keane and Mark Gonzalez both came on at the break, with the Irishman setting up Gonzalez moments into the second half.
The pressure continued for much of the rest of the game, before Florent Sinama Pongolle scored a late winner, leaving the returning Keane on the losing side.