Roy Keane appeared in Sky Sports’ studio for Manchester United’s trip to Liverpool in the Premier League – and the former Red Devils captain did not hold back in his assessment of Jose Mourinho’s side.
United were largely dominated at Anfield and were ultimately beaten 3-1 as Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench to score twice in the second half.
We kept a close eye on Keane throughout the afternoon, and it made for some entertaining viewing.
David Jones offers Keane a “special welcome” to the show, with the man himself – white beard now making him look like Tim Allen during his transition into Santa Claus – responding with a solemn nod.
The first question is aimed at the new boy: “Which of these two great clubs do you think is now best placed to build the next great dynasty?”
And he’s cutting from the off: “Is that a trick question? Obviously right now you’re looking at Liverpool, the way they’re playing, the goals they’re scoring, the form they’re in. It looks like there’s good days ahead for Liverpool.
“It’s a struggle for United at the moment. They obviously need to dig deep to get a result today. But what happens with these great clubs, they deal with difficult days, and United will bounce back, but it will be a tough day ahead.”
Jones encourages an early jab from Keane by asking whether he worries about United.
“Yeah, of course. There’s a worry because I think defensively they look really, really short. I think United have got a lot of good players, and I think they’re capable of winning a lot of football matches.
“But in terms of winning the big prizes they look short.”
To reiterate the point, when asked whether Jurgen Klopp needs to win trophies to be considered a successful Liverpool manager, Keane can’t help but return to Manchester United’s defensive frailties.
“I think the scary thing for me when you look at United now. It’s alright when you can maybe finish second or third but you’re competing – you can’t win every game or every trophy. But they’re so far behind in terms of points, goals for, goals against.
“The signs are it’s a long road ahead for United. And there’s all chat about Mourinho getting players on side, but I still go back to it, defensively they’re so short.
“We’ve all been part of really good teams. You talk about attacking players, but you need a solid back four, you need an outstanding goalkeeper, you need the foundations to go on, and United don’t look like they have that.”
After an interview with Marcus Rashford is shown, Keane has his say on whether United have lost some of their values and traditions.
“It seems to be, yeah, from the outside looking. In in my time at United, we’re talking about winning trophies, you need obviously very, very good players, but I also thought we had really good characters, really good people, people you want to be in the trenches with.
“I still can’t figure this United team out. The key to be a top player is to do it week in, week out. United have a few weeks where you think ‘yeah they’re not bad.’ A 20-minute spell maybe.
“Then you look back and they look disinterested, which is no good for any of the big clubs. So I think they’ve certainly lost their way.
“I look at the characters, or the lack of characters, the lack of leaders in the team, and you come unstuck – especially in the big games.”
We’re starting to suspect Keane is extremely unimpressed by Manchester United’s defenders, as he yet again goes off on a tangent to talk about their backline.
“When you’re a manager or working on the sideline you want to be able to trust most of your players. I don’t think Mourinho has too much trust in a lot of the United players. He made a point after Arsenal last week when they drew, when the standard of the game was really poor.
“He said his big worry in the game, afterwards during his interview, was that every time the ball went in the box he felt like they were going to concede.
“If you’re a manager sitting on the sideline watching and you felt you were going to concede when the ball went into your box, you’re in trouble.
“He definitely doesn’t trust his back four. People say he’s spent money on it, which he has done, but they’ve made mistakes. They’ve got to go and purchase four defenders”
After Souness briefly interrupts, Keane is back at it.
“At some stage the players have to take responsibility for it.
“I know people say Mourinho has got to get fellas on side, but you’re talking about a lot of international players and if you’re on a pitch and you’re not looking after the ball or you’re sloppy in possession, that does come down to the player.
“At some stage you’re pride has got to kick in as a professional footballer no matter who the manager is.”
"At some stage, the players have to take responsibility." 👊
Roy Keane says the blame for @ManUtd's struggles doesn't solely lie with Jose Mourinho. Do you agree? 🤔
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 16, 2018
Credit where it’s due, Jones is a brave presenter and challenges Keane whether it is days like today Mourinho needs to prove he can do the job of motivating the players, and it’s the first time we get to see Keane get increasingly animated as he speaks.
“Every game feels big for Mourinho at the moment, they seem at a crossroads every week. The Champions League game or today you’re looking at going, ‘What United team is going to turn up?’
“If you’re unsure what team is going to turn up then in terms of the bigger picture you’re in trouble.
“Again, whatever happens today Mourinho wants to be able to look at his players and say, ‘Win, lose or draw, I can look at those players and they’re all going to fight their corner. They’re going to run, they’re going to close people down, they’re going to roll their sleeves up.’
“We’ve all been there, you can’t win every week, but if you’re going to lose football matches, roll your sleeves up and dig in.
“That’s why there’s huge question marks. We’ve obviously seen he’s not happy with Pogba and Lukaku and one or two others. It doesn’t look good.”
Despite suggesting Pogba needs to take responsibility for his own performances, Keane still admits he would pick the midfielder in his starting XI…before going on to spend the next few minutes slating the France international.
“I would (pick him). I think he’s a talented player, but whatever’s going on in his head, he seems to be letting the manager down.
“The manager has brought him to the club. He made him captain earlier in the season.
“Now we don’t see what Pogba’s like on the training pitch or when they’re travelling to matches. But if the guy’s not pulling his weight, it doesn’t matter who you are, he deserves to be left out.
“I think Mourinho has obviously got to be brave from his side of it, which he is. That’s why we go back to the characters. If you’re playing for a big club like Liverpool or Man Utd, and you’re not in great form, then you roll your sleeves up and become a really good team player.
Again Jones challenges Keane, asking why Mourinho made Pogba captain only to take the armband away from him.
“Maybe he was trying to get him on side. People talk about Mourinho not trying to get players on side. Maybe that was a nice touch to say, ‘Listen, there’s obviously something amiss here. I’ll make you captain.’
“But Pogba has obviously thrown it back in his face because he’s done something to really upset him. It must have been something really bad because to take it back off him, and when he’s taken it back off him he’s probably lost the player then with that decision.”
Keane is getting redder in the face now, and he adds: “We can talk about Mourinho all day. His CV warrants that he knows something about the game – absolutely outstanding. At some stage you’ve got to look at the players.
“International players, lads the age of 25, 26, they’ve got to take responsibility. I never had a bad game and looked at the manager and gone, ‘Well that’s your fault, whatever about tactics and systems.’
“Roll your sleeves up and do a job. When the United players turn up today and put the United jersey on, embrace it, embrace the badge, embrace the history. Don’t be thinking, ‘Well the manager’s getting on my nerves.’
“Play the game, do your jobs, and it wouldn’t surprise me if United can do something today. I’m not writing them completely off, but in terms of winning big prizes…well short.”
🗣 – "If the guy's not pulling his weight – no matter who you are – he deserves to be left out."
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 16, 2018
After getting particularly heated, Gary Neville breaks the tension while making the point that Jesse Lingard could have picked a better week to launch a clothing line.
“Have you got some?” he cheekily asks Keane, who initially looks furious before breaking into his first smile of the afternoon. It doesn’t last long.
“If there was a good, strong dressing room that wouldn’t be tolerated. That’s why I worry about the United dressing room.
“For a young player who’s still learning his trade – he could be the nicest kid in the world, I don’t know the lad – but if you’re coming up with all that nonsense…
“People say you should have other stuff outside of football, I don’t think you should. Football should be your number one priority.”
Neville bursts out laughing, but Keane continues.
“It should be! Focus on the game. Don’t hide behind your cars or your tattoos or your girlfriends or your agents. Play the game, and you can do all that stuff when you retire.”
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 16, 2018
Keane has made his distaste for United’s defenders clear, but he has a backhanded compliment for Liverpool’s Van Dijk.
“Without a doubt (he’s the best defender in the Premier League). There’s some bad defenders out there, but he is up there as definitely the best at the moment.”
Roy Keane on Virgil Van Dijk: "When they bought him you thought, 'that's a lot of money', now he looks really cheap."
— DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) December 16, 2018
Keane knows all about the challenges of playing at Anfield, and he opens up about visiting the famous ground. Yet again, he finds a way to return to his favourite subject.
“When we were doing well I always felt this was still the toughest away game.
“In a sense league form goes out of the window. On paper Liverpool look stronger, but I still feel United have the players up front to cause Liverpool all sorts of problems.
“Defensively, I do think United will be under the cosh, and I’ve got huge question marks about United’s back five.”
Why didn’t he mention that earlier?
United’s defence can at least take some solace in knowing they aren’t the only players Keane doesn’t rate.
“I think they certainly will target him. I have to say I’m not his biggest fan. I don’t think he’s a great defender. I don’t think he’s necessarily great in possession going forward, so United will certainly look at him. That’s stating the obvious.”
Lukaku struggled at Anfield last term, having just one touch in the opening 20 minutes have the match.
Despite initially sounding like he’s about to lay into the striker, Keane is more measured in his assessment of the Belgium international.
“I think it’s up to himself. If you get one touch after 20-odd minutes you need to do better.
“He’s like a lot of strikers, he depends on the service he gets. If you get balls into him and balls into the box the stats will tell you he will score goals.
“Last season was last season. It’s a different challenge today. And he’s still a handful. If you’re in his shoes, every time he steps onto the pitch I reckon he thinks he can score a goal.”
You can sense Keane still wishes he was leading the side out as he has his final say before kick off.
“You leave all that nonsense in the dressing room. The bottom line is if you’re a player and you’ve grown up wanting to play football for a living and you end up playing for Liverpool or Man Utd then this is the place to be.
“This is what you should embrace. You should enjoy it. Yeah, there’s pressure. There’s pressure on both sides. You can enjoy that. Playing for Liverpool or Man Utd is a privilege.
“This is what you’re judged on. Not Man Utd beating Fulham last week when everyone says they’ve turned a corner. Absolute nonsense.
“This is where you’re judged today, the big games against your biggest rivals.”
Graeme Souness is probably the only pundit not intimidated sitting next to Roy Keane in a studio. You can almost see Souness thinking: "don't even think about trying that shit with me".
— Nick Westby (@NWestbyYPSport) December 16, 2018
Manchester United go into the break perhaps fortunate to be drawing 1-1 after capitalising on a mistake from Alisson Becker to equalise through Jesse Lingard, who managed to finish despite launching a clothing label earlier in the week.
But Keane first gets the chance to vent about Ashley Young’s role in Sadio Mane’s opener. Surprise surprise, he’s not happy with the United full-back.
“Defensively he’s not up to it. I know that’s not his natural position but he’s nowhere near good enough and he makes a lot of them types of mistakes.”
And then it’s on to Lingard’s equaliser.
“You need a bit of luck in this game and United have got it. They’ve stayed in the game.
“This is the first time they’ve probably got three or four passes together. Jesse Lingard’s done well in terms of following the passes into Lukaku.
“But what can you say about the goalkeeper? Listen, decent ball in, but he should be catching that with his eyes shut.”
Two Xherdan Shaqiri goals in the second half secure a 3-1 victory for the hosts, and Keane is dismayed by his former side’s performance.
“They’ve just dominated everything: corners, possession, shots, goals. And I’m not surprised. I did fear the worst today. I think it could have been a lot more. Towards the end Liverpool toyed with them. A tough day for United. As I said, I’m not surprised.”
Back in the studio after an ad break and Keane, to his credit, doesn’t look too glum – and least no glummer than usual. But then he seems perturbed by what he’s just seen.
“It’s very easy up here to be critical of players, but when you’re talking about Man Utd, I certainly believe a lot of the players playing today aren’t good enough for Man Utd. I really believe that.
“I think they’re good players, but not for Man Utd.”
And then it’s back to his favourite subject.
“We’re talking about creativity, but I really think the biggest problem for United is defensively. You have to get some sort of foundation to go forward.
“They’re all over the place, and I think if Liverpool were really at it today towards the last 10 or 15 minutes they could have scored four or five.”
Keane has perhaps been calmer than expected, but it is when he isn’t speaking that he really shows his frustration.
“At 2-1 did it ever feel like Manchester United were going to get back in it,” Jones asks Souness, at which point Keane grimaces, shakes his head and audibly groans.
What we would pay to send him into the visitors’ dressing room right now.
Mourinho refutes suggestions his players weren’t giving their all, and Keane backs up the manager’s assertion before turning his attention to unused substitute Pogba.
“I think the players are giving everything. It’s a tough interview there. He’s an experienced manager, and he’s going to come out and defend his players.
“I think there’s one or two problems with his players. They’re obviously not in top form, the obvious one being Pogba.
“Pogba’s sitting on the bench today, watching that game and not getting on then you’re thinking his days must be numbered. I don’t think they’ll do anything with Pogba in January but come the summer you move him on.
“It’s no big deal. He’s left Man Utd before.”
This is followed by another plea to sign more defenders.
Roy Keane & Graeme Souness when they both start slating Paul Pogba pic.twitter.com/sECuIrUxqm
— ODDSbible (@ODDSbible) December 16, 2018
In his post-match interview, Mourinho admits United can’t win the title but insists they can still finish in the top four. Keane agrees that’s the best they can hope for.
“You’re eyes don’t lie to you. You’ve seen a Man Utd team there that, I suppose, fourth is the best they can get.
“If you came down from the moon today and didn’t know anything about Man Utd and look at them today, you’d be going, ‘They’re an average Premiership team.'”
We could go on, but Keane mainly repeats himself – in this order:
– Slags off Ashley Young’s defending.
– Praises Liverpool, saying the signing of Virgil van Dijk was “key”.
– Criticises United’s board for not signing any more defenders.
– Says the gap between United to Manchester City and Liverpool will only get bigger.
– Slags off United’s defending.
– Suggests some United’s players don’t enjoy playing for the club.
– Says some of United’s players aren’t good enough for the club.
– Insists United have “no chance” of finishing in the top four.
It’s worth pointing out that Keane remains relatively calm/silently threatening throughout.
Gary Neville, on the other hand, is absolutely irate and seems to be biting his tongue when he has to sit back and keep quiet.
Souness and Carragher, meanwhile, can’t help but occasionally smirk.