- Rewind to 2001
Keane takes revenge on Haaland
The name Alf-Inge Haaland will forever be associated with the Manchester derby, and a certain Mr Roy Keane. Back in April 2001, Keane virtually ended the career of the Norwegian with a horror tackle and earned himself what must be classed as the most deserved red card in Premier League history as the clock ticked down in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Haaland would play just 48 more minutes of football.
The history of the Manchester derby has had its fair share of violence; such events are commonplace in football when the proximity of a rivalry comes into play. But no event in the derby has seen such a fallout as that which unfurled on April 21, 2001.
To begin to tell the story of an otherwise relatively dull 1-1 draw, one has to go back four years to a clash between Manchester United and Leeds United on September 27, 1997. It was two months after Roy Keane had been handed the captaincy of United by Sir Alex Ferguson and Keane was, according to his autobiography, "in no shape at all" for a tie that came a mere few days after a drinking session that had left him physically and emotionally exhausted despite the fact it was only approaching the ninth game of the season.
Still, evoking his traditional warrior spirit, Keane was handed a start, but he clashed with Leeds midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland throughout. The Irishman would later claim that he had been baited all game but, with United 1-0 down and five minutes of the game left to go, he snapped. Off the ball, Keane kicked out at Haaland, first with his right foot and then his left.
"I was trying to trip him up rather than kick him. I knew it probably meant a booking, but f**k it..." Keane later wrote, but he paid the consequences for his actions. The United skipper caught his studs in the turf and tore his cruciate ligament and, to add insult to injury, was booked as he lay stricken on the turf.
Haaland, however, was unaware of the seriousness of the injury. Standing over Keane, the Norwegian accused him of faking it in a bid to stop the referee from brandishing a card. He wasn't to know that Keane's knee had snapped but - with his opponent in serious pain on the pitch - left him in no doubt what he thought of his 'play-acting'.
Keane recalls the moment he fouled Haaland
As a result of his injury, Keane missed the rest of the 1997-98 season and it took him until the start of the following campaign to fully regain his fitness. Without their inspirational leader, United had squandered an 11-point lead at the top of the table and allowed Arsenal to lift the Premiership trophy for the first time under Arsene Wenger.
Keane's return coincided with probably the greatest moment in United's history: the Treble of 1999 - although he missed the Champions League final due to suspension. However, as United continued to battle the Gunners for domestic supremacy, Keane had not forgotten his treatment by Haaland and exacted his revenge when he next met the Norwegian on the pitch. It did not occur until April 2001, by which time Haaland had signed for Manchester City, adding derby fuel to an already red-hot fire. It was a moment that few fans or journalists who were there on the day would forget.
The first 86 minutes were eventful in their own right as Paul Scholes missed a penalty before "Teddy Sheringham celebrated being crowned Footballer of the Year by putting United ahead with a second half spot-kick", according to the BBC's match report. The club from the blue half of Manchester, though, fought back and while "City had barely troubled the United defence in the second half, [they] were on level terms with seven minutes left when [Steve] Howey bundled home [Paul] Dickov's corner".
It would finish 1-1. But it was all too much for Keane, who flattened Haaland "with a challenge that was high and late" and stood over his opponent shouting abuse into his pain-stricken face. David Elleray had no choice other than to send the Republic of Ireland international off for the fourth time in his refereeing career and the media rightly leapt on Keane's moment of revenge.
Paul Hayward, in the Daily Telegraph, wrote: "Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. It is a measure of Keane's capacity for belligerence that no Manchester City player attempted to exact retribution with a fist or even a handbag."
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson retreated to the territory of "I've not seen it", but rather oddly it was a muted post-match response from the injured party himself. "It's funny - since 1997 he's never once looked me in the eye," Haaland revealed. "There are always hard fouls in a game like this, but that was well over the top. I won't tell you what he said to me. Let's just say it wasn't very nice. I'm only glad my leg was off the ground, otherwise he would have done me a lot of damage. I must upgrade my insurance the next time we play Manchester United."
But there would not be a next time. Haaland managed only 48 minutes more on a football field as he failed to respond to treatment (it was the knee Keane missed - which already contained a long-standing complaint - that proved to be more damaged) and he retired two years later. Keane initially received a three-game suspension and a £5,000 fine from the FA, but the feud between the pair took on a different dimension when Keane's autobiography came out in August 2002.
One of the key passages saw the United skipper admit that he set out to injure Haaland purposefully that day. "I'd waited long enough. I f****** hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries."
The FA took an immediate interest and Keane did not help the situation as he went on record on September 1 in an interview with Sunday's Observer Sport Monthly. The 31-year-old was asked if he had any regrets about the Haaland incident, but replied: "No. Even in the dressing room afterwards I had no remorse. My attitude was, 'What goes around comes around'. He got his just rewards. My attitude is an eye for an eye."
However, soon after the Observer interview was conducted, Keane apparently rang the magazine insisting that he had "never in my career set out to deliberately injure any player" and had made "a genuine effort to play the ball" in the incident. The Irishman would also point to ghostwriter Eamon Dunphy for what he called "a degree of artistic licence" over the famous quote. Dunphy admitted he paraphrased certain sections of Keane's book, but it was not enough to placate the FA and Keane was handed a record £150,000 fine (two weeks' wages) and a five-match ban over his comments.
What happened next? Haaland was released by City in February of 2003 and retired soon after, unable to get his knees back to full working order thanks both to the challenge and a long-standing complaint. He considered legal action, but backed down and, in 2007, he was interviewed about the incident by the Daily Mail but could not bring himself to mention Keane by name. "It is still there, every day," the footballer-turned property developer said. "The knee still hurts, that isn't going to go away. I have to accept that. Did that tackle end my career? Well, I never played a full game again, did I? It seems like a great coincidence, don't you think?"