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Roy Of Hope

Never mind the absence of Becks, with Roy Keane sticking it to his critics Manchester United will win the Premiership again. Words Tony Cascarino

Tony Cascarino, 29 Aug 2003

I had a fairly substantial pre-season bet on Manchester United retaining their title and, having seen their second half performance against Newcastle, I think it’s money well spent!

All the talk’s been about this new lad Ronaldo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their key man again is Roy Keane. It annoyed me at the end of last season when people said, “Oh, he’s not the player he used to be.” Given the seriousness of the injury he’d come back from, he finished the campaign well and was almost back to his old self in United’s final two games. Roy’s never happier than when he’s sticking it to his critics, which is why I knew he’d work his socks off pre-season and come back fitter and more up for it than ever.

He’s more renowned for winning and keeping possession than his pinpoint passing, but he played two through balls on Saturday that Zidane Zidanne would’ve been proud of. Add in the times he bombed forward and joined the attack and it was a vintage Roy Keane performance.

There’ll be times as the season progresses that they’ll miss him, but overall I think Man U have benefited from David Beckham’s transfer, particularly as they had to sell to buy. Beckham’s great at whipping balls in, but he never got beyond people like Ronaldo’s shown he can. Djemba Djemba’s a lot quicker than Veron was as well, so they’ve pace in attack and midfield that they didn’t have last year. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if United get Real Madrid again in the Champions’ League. Beckham was fine in the middle of the park, but I don’t think he ever got beyond Roberto Carlos and into the final third because Carlos was quicker. I suspect Ronaldo would cause them a few more problems.

Fergie would’ve been all too aware of that, which is why he had no qualms about letting David go. It’s obvious from his little exchange with Geoff Winter that Sir Alex’s concerns aren’t limited to the Champions’ League! If that’d been a Second or Third Division game he’d have escaped with a ticking off, but because it was on Sky and millions of people were watching Uriah Rennie had to be seen to be taking action. I imagine at worst that he’ll get a one-match ban and then it’ll be forgotten about.

The other thing that came out of Saturday is that Newcastle don’t stand an earthly of winning the Premiership. Their defending was a shambles and I didn’t think much of their midfield either. Bellamy will add a bit of flair when he returns, but they’ll do well to nick a Champions’ League place.

The only threat to United are Arsenal, who are dependent on their French stars keeping fit, and Chelsea who are going to get better and better as the season unfolds. They won’t be doing a Leeds United – you know, spending big and then having to offload in a year’s time because they’ve overextended themselves. There’ll be no selling of players unless Ranieri thinks they’re surplus to requirements. It says a lot about the quality of Chelsea’s squad that they’ve let one of England’s best young strikers, Carlton Cole, go on loan to Charlton. I’d love to be back at Stamford Bridge this season, although looking at the talent available I’d be lucky to make it onto the groundstaff! I’m not convinced that they’ll overtake Man U this season, but I’ll definitely have a wager on them winning the 2004-5 title!

Of course, the other big talking point last week was Ireland’s game against Australia. They were far more physical and outmuscled us for the first hour, but as so often happens, we dug in and got a result. Much of the credit for that goes to Brian Kerr. A lot of my fellow pros criticised his appointment saying that he didn’t have any top level experience, but every side he’s picked has gone out there and battled to the final whistle.

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