ON THIS DAY IN 2005: Liverpool took on Manchester United in a Premier League clash at Anfield, and although the match itself wasn’t memorable, it ended up representing the last stand of a United legend
Liverpool supporters had big plans.
It was, after all, less than four months after Istanbul. Manchester United were in town and this was a prime chance to gloat.
Cardboard European Cups were dotted along the Kop along with a banner declaring the Reds as ‘European Cup owners’, while “we’ve won it five times” rang around the four corners of the ground. The response from the away section of the Anfield Road end wasn’t exactly suited to the gentle Sunday lunchtime air.
And as it transpired, the action off the pitch turned out to be far more exciting than what we saw on it.
As has quite frequently been the case whenever the pair meet in the Premier League, especially at Anfield, the hype surrounding the game wasn’t justified.
A Liverpool front two of Peter Crouch and Florent Sinama-Pongolle were unable to get the better of a United defence which featured Kieran Richardson, with Roy Keane back after missing a Champions League clash with Villarreal with a hamstring problem and partnering Alan Smith in front of the back four.
The hosts had lost each of their last three Anfield matches against United, and the point gained from the goalless draw wasn’t seen as a disastrous one in the end, even though it contributed to a slow start to the season which featured just one win in the first six games as any hopes of adding the Premier League title to the Champions League quickly evaporated.
For United it was a decent point as they set out on their challenge to ward off the growing force of Chelsea and their regular rivals Arsenal, still no doubt shocked that this Liverpool side had managed to do what they did at the end of the previous season.
But an unremarkable game suddenly took on a greater meaning when Keane left the pitch two minutes from time to be replaced by Ryan Giggs.
It was unlike the Irishman to walk off when the game was still on the line, and so you thought that something had to be wrong.
There was something, and Keane would never play for Manchester United again.
Whoever it was, it was a pretty unlikely customer.
On a day when Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard had been central to Liverpool’s efforts, it was the little Spaniard Luis Garcia – so crucial to that Champions League win – who had seemingly put in the challenge on Keane that had forced the Irishman off the pitch before the end.
Scans would soon reveal that Keane had broken the third metatarsal in his left foot, an injury similar to one that many players were picking up at the time, and he was initially ruled out for two months.
It was a blow to United, of course, but also to Ireland, who faced a crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Switzerland in the October..
Keane would ultimately miss the game, in which a win would have secured a playoff place, and they drew 0-0.
Before that game clash had already been whispers that Keane would end his international career, but back in Manchester it was the nature of his injury which was drawing attention.
X-rays of Keane’s broken metatarsal indicated that United thought it had been caused by a bladed boot landing on top of Keane’s foot, seemingly ruling out Garcia’s sliding tackle as having caused the damage.
Instead the club thought it was Crouch who had completely accidentally trodden on Keane following an aerial collision, with United suspecting the forward was wearing blades. Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t a fan of the boots, which were hugely popular at the time and still are, and he made his feelings known.
“It’s something we feel very strongly about,” said Ferguson, via the Irish Times.
“We banned blades a year ago, as most clubs have, and we have got pictures around the training ground of the serious injuries they can cause.
“Yet Roy’s X-ray clearly shows the impression of a blade where the injury is.”
Even to this day, reports on Keane’s injury still cite Garcia’s challenge as having caused it, with the malice of what was a fairly routine tackle exaggerated over the years.
It was never fully established how the club captain got injured though, and United dropped their investigation pretty quickly.
There were other things going on at the time, after all.
Exactly two months to the day after that Anfield injury, which was the initial estimation of his absence, Keane left United.
Those two months had, of course, featured the infamous, never broadcast MUTV interview in which the skipper had been extremely critical of some of his teammates in the aftermath of a 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, and the fallout from that sped up a process which was always going to happen at the end of the season anyway.
So much has been said from both sides and more about the circumstances surrounding the departure ever since, with Wayne Rooney recalling the events on a podcast with boxer Tony Bellew just this week.
“To be fair, it wasn’t that bad,” said Rooney of the interview, which he says Keane invited the whole squad to watch together.
“I think it was obviously a problem with Roy and the manager in the past.
“So, anyway, it’s got into an argument, and a few different things got said, and I see Alex Ferguson jump over his desk, and I’m thinking ‘wow, this is crazy’. He jumped over the desk, he’s getting held back… it got calmed down.
“Anyway the next day Roy Keane’s come into training, and then about 30 minutes later we’ve seen him driving off, and that’s the last we’ve seen of him.”
He was indeed gone, eventually joining Celtic despite interest from a number of clubs including Real Madrid.
His final days at United had been spent off the pitch owing to that Liverpool injury, however it had come about, and you sense that had just ramped up the tensions that existed in Keane’s mind – with the club, the manager, and with himself.
His time at Celtic was hardly stellar, playing just 13 matches as his career petered out, but he would be the first to admit he’d lost motivation by then.
“The fact is, the morning I left United I lost the love for the game a little bit.”
A career-ending injury then, however it came about.