Roy Keane's accusation that Sir Alex Ferguson is still "striving for power" despite retiring as Manchester United manager in May is unlikely to soothe fraying nerves at Old Trafford as David Moyes attempts to avoid a third consecutive defeat, against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Responding to Ferguson's criticism of him in his recent autobiography, Keane risked alienating United's supporters by inferring that Ferguson is still an influence behind the scenes, while also claiming that the infamous MUTV interview which led to his departure from the club in November 2005 had been "tongue in cheek". In an entertaining ITV documentary, Keane and Vieira - Best of Enemies, to be shown on ITV4 tonight, Keane also maintains it was "absolute nonsense" to suggest he tried to become United's de facto manager while he was still a player at the club, and reopens the feud surrounding Ferguson's fallout with Coolmore over the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar.
After successive Premier League defeats against Everton and Newcastle, United will crave stability over the Christmas period, but Keane's observations about Ferguson's role as a director will cause further discomfort for Moyes, whose team are ninth in the table with only six wins from 15 league fixtures. "The two words the manager used all the time were control and power. That was the way he worked. You can clearly see that because he's still striving for it now, even though he's not a manager," Keane said. "There's massive ego involved in that. You have a power and control over people and you try to have it when you're not even working with them."
Now assistant to Martin O'Neill with the Republic of Ireland, Keane plays down the MUTV interview in which he was scathing about some of the team's younger members, including Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson. The programme, which was pulled, provoked a crisis at United and led to a team meeting at which Ferguson said Keane had "eyes narrowed like wee black beads", in a "frightening" manner. Keane now says: "Well if you believe that you believe anything", and goes on: "I said a few comments to be fair about Darren Fletcher, about tackling, but almost tongue in cheek really about it.
"But what was important for me was we managed to watch the DVD together - and every player had the opportunity to watch it and I watched it with all of them. And I got the opportunity to say: look lads, anyone got a problem?" The answer from Ferguson, his staff and Keane's team-mates was: yes. In the ensuing argument, Ferguson has revealed, United players began walking out of the room where they had gathered to hear Keane's defence. Soon after, he was leaving United. Ferguson called the interview "a disgrace" but Keane rejects that verdict in the programme presented by Gabriel Clarke.
Keane says in tonight's show, which recounts one of the great Premier League player rivalries: "Well, he is wrong with that one. Just because Alex Ferguson says it doesn't mean it's the truth. He is absolutely wrong. "What the manager told me was, 'I think we've come to the end' and I said, 'You are right'. I had obviously lost respect for him and he had lost respect for me. "I never felt for one second I was more important than the manager. That's absolute nonsense." Keane also defends David Beckham, who was sold to Real Madrid: "You don't win league titles by having choir boys in the dressing room. And all these boys did challenge the manager in different ways.
Becks did challenge him. "If you marry a certain woman, is that challenging the manager? The manager has to understand that and say: 'Listen we've got different personalities in the dressing room, but maybe that's why we're winning trophies.'?" Elsewhere he renews previous attacks on Ferguson over the former manager's dispute with John Magnier and JP McManus. "It can't be good for the football club, it can't be," Keane says, "if a manager of a club is taking legal action against major shareholders. If people don't think that had a negative effect on the club they are living in cloud cuckoo land."
There is a rare note of warmth when Keane says: "The biggest compliment I could pay him is that he always had a good feel for what the group needed, whether it was a team talk, or if a player stepped out of line. He generally got it right. The type of player I was, I would sometimes push boundaries with people. Asked by Clarke what Ferguson's biggest strength was, Keane replies: "He's ruthless."
Asked for a weakness, he responds: "Loyalty." Clarke asks him who was the best manager he played under. Keane answers: "Without a doubt Brian Clough." Clarke persists: "Not Sir Alex?" And Keane responds: "You asked me the question, I answered you."