30 Years On: How Roy Keane Snubbed Kenny Dalglish To Sign For Manchester United

The Irishman joined the Red Devils on this day in 1993
12:10, 19 Jul 2023

Roy Keane wasn’t always a snarling figure with his head shaved and a bark that pierced the walls of the Manchester United dressing room. Back at Nottingham Forest he was a young lad with a teddy boy hairdo and an elegant, energetic gait in one of the top flight’s most under-rated midfields.

Brian Clough’s side played in a kind of 4-2-3-1 before it was categorised as such, with midfield runners often seen bursting beyond the front man and Nigel Clough serving as both an advanced midfielder and an ace marksman at various stages.

Keane revelled in playing alongside the likes of Garry Parker, Ian Woan and Gary Crosby as Forest gained a reputation for being a quite magnificent side to watch on their day, with the Irishman netting 33 goals in three seasons in a role which allowed him to enter the opposition box at will.

But there was an inevitability in talk of him flying the City Ground nest, especially during a 1992-93 season in which Clough Senior’s sheen had clearly worn off and the Tricky Trees went hurtling towards relegation.


He very nearly went to Blackburn Rovers, who at that time were using billionaire owner Jack Walker’s cash to try to sign every big name in the game as they built towards a first league title since 1914. And Keane had agreed to become the subject of a British record £4 million transfer by signing up for Kenny Dalglish’s star-studded team.

“I met Kenny Dalglish and agreed a contract, decent money,” Keane recounted years later. “I was on about £250,000 a year at Forest and Blackburn offered me £400,000. I agreed a deal one Friday night and we shook hands.”

Yet destiny was to send him to Manchester United, the reigning Premier League champions.

“I met [United assistant boss] Brian Kidd and Alex Ferguson, and had a game of snooker with them. They gave me small talk about how great I was, and I believed them. They offered me £300,000 a year, which was not a massive rise considering it was going to be a tranfer record.”


After turning his back on Blackburn, Keane headed off on holiday to Cyprus. Yet a player who would become known for his ferociousness in an all-conquering United midfield later admitted to harbouring a sense of trepidation himself as the wheels began to turn on his transfer while he was out of the country.

“Kenny Dalglish found out I had agreed to go to United and he was fuming. He said ‘I’m going to come to Ayia Napa and I’m going to find you.’ So in every bar in Ayia Napa I was looking over my shoulder, waiting for Kenny Dalglish to walk in.”

Dalglish never did track him down, and on July 19, 1993, Keane’s £3.75m transfer to Manchester United was completed. He was the most expensive player in British football history and would go on to become an Old Trafford legend.

Seven Premier League titles followed, along with four FA Cups, the 1999 Champions League he did so much to win despite not playing in the final, and he was the Footballer of the Year in 2000. In 2021, he was entered into the Premier League Hall of Fame on the back of 366 appearances, 39 goals and a glut of big-game performances.

Who knows how things might have turned out if he had received that dreaded tap on the shoulder in Ayia Napa 30 years back.


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