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PA Supermodel Claudia Schiffer at Old Trafford in December 2001.
# Flashback
From Claudia Schiffer to Ronaldo - Roy Keane knows model behaviour now a must at United
Pillars of professionalism can no longer be ignored if Erik ten Hag is to rediscover the glory days at Old Trafford.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 30th 2022, 10:18 AM

CLAUDIA SCHIFFER IS Old Trafford’s guest of honour to promote the partnership between Manchester United and Unicef.

It’s 1 December, 2001, and as Chelsea come to town things are not going well on the pitch for Alex Ferguson’s side.

They are sixth in the Premier League and have lost successive away games 3-1 to Arsenal and Liverpool. This afternoon will turn out even worse when they lose 3-0 and drop to seventh.

Before kick-off, though, supermodel Schiffer is joined on the pitch by Ferguson and some of his A-Listers for a photo.

New signings Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron, who arrived for upwards of £40 million combined, are flanked either side by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Wes Brown.

On the edge, wearing a scowl and woolly black hat, is Roy Keane. It does not take a body language expert to see the United captain would rather be anywhere else but here.

Mainly because he would have felt United shouldn’t have found themselves anywhere near that position in the table – especially as their bid for an unprecedented fourth Premier League title in a row was already up in smoke.

Keane’s face in the photo – with Ferguson and Schiffer holding aloft a ‘UnitedforUnicef’ t-shirt – gives the game away completely.

Looking at it now, it reinforces the feeling that his defence last Sunday of Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent behaviour was a kind of betrayal of the principles that not only made the Corkman United’s driving force, but also a must-watch pundit for Sky Sports.

A week has now passed since Keane’s impassioned soliloquys.

man-utd-schiffer PA Supermodel Claudia Schiffer at Old Trafford in December 2001. PA

He is supposed to be the pundit you count on to cut through so much of the posturing that is part of the Premier League’s pantomime, destroying the falsehoods that try and blind you to the truth: football is a simple game with success built on basic standards.

Work ethic. Will to win. Talent.

But as Matt Dickinson, author of the book ‘1999: The Treble and all that’, explained last weekend, team spirit should not be misconstrued as a brotherhood.

cristiano-ronaldo-and-erik-ten-hag-file-photo PA Ronaldo with Erik ten Hag in training this week. PA

He was involved in enough incidents off the pitch to illustrate that good behaviour is not a pre-requisite so long as you delivered on the pitch.

One of Keane’s targets to try and put Ronaldo’s behaviour into context was Paul Scholes, and his refusal to travel to London with a make-shift United squad of fringe players and youth prospects, including John O’Shea, for a Worthington Cup (League Cup) tie they would end up losing 4-0 to Arsenal.

It was 5 November 2001 – 21 years ago next week and a month before Schiffer would arrive at Old Trafford – yet still pertinent for Keane today.

Indeed, that period is another prime example of how events that seem seismic in the heat of the moment often reduce to little more than a flicker.

Scholes’ show of dissent came less than 24 hours after that comprehensive 3-1 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield left United mired in sixth. Chelsea, of course, would soon prod them further down to seventh.

Scholes featured for the last 13 minutes of the Merseyside humbling after replacing David Beckham, so perhaps not unreasonable for him to stand firm with Ferguson about playing the following night.

Given the Scot had announced his intention to step aside at the end of that 2001/02 season, a sense of drift began to waft over the club.

liverpool-v-manchester-united PA Ferguson (centre) with Scholes (right) at Anfield in 2001. PA

“Maybe the players have been there too long, maybe their success is just being taken for granted,” Ferguson told the Daily Telegraph after losing to Liverpool.

“It is not always quality that wins games of football.”

This was a time when Old Trafford was at its most vulnerable, incredible given that van Nistelrooy and Veron had just been added to a squad that won the previous season’s title by 10 points and the 1999/00 campaign by a record 18.

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Simon Barnes, in the London Times under a headline ‘Reds’ crisis as sands of time run out for jaded Fergie’, wrote gleefully: “This is worth savouring. Ferguson admitting weakness. Ferguson admitting he is weary of the struggle. Ferguson admitting he is human. Weary, it seems, to the soul.”

Barnes then quoted an Italian magazine interview with Ferguson, which given the success that would eventually follow – with a blossoming Ronaldo at the fore of it – has a poignancy.

“I have been a manager for 28 years and the game has changed. It is infinitely more difficult these days. There is too much expectation, too much pressure,” Fergie lamented.

“It has become very difficult for me to take. Eventually it wears you down. I will be 60 on 31 December and have asked myself many times: ‘How long will I last? There are still so many things I want to do’.

“They (years as a manager) haven’t given me my sons. My memories of when they were lads stop in the morning when I dropped them off at school. There was nothing else. I didn’t see them grow up, while I have seen a generation of young footballers grow up.

“That is what I have missed and, maybe above all, this is what makes me go now. To see if I still have time to get something back. I want to make up for lost time.”

soccer-fa-barclaycard-premiership-manchester-united-v-southampton EMPICS Sport A dejected Roy Keane, with Alex Ferguson in the background, in December 2001. EMPICS Sport

Such open vulnerability has only become common with Ferguson since retiring in 2013 – these admissions at seemingly the peak of his powers show United have had to navigate far great challenges to stability than an errant, ageing superstar.

West Ham United are the visitors to Old Trafford today and there is a slim element of symmetry with that period of instability 21 years ago. Paolo Di Canio scored a famous FA Cup goal to shock Ferguson on his own patch in the January of ’01.

A league title still arrived in May but standards were slipping. As Keane pointed out at the end of that November, when Scholes did indeed start against Arsenal at Highbury, only for the Gunners to come back and win 3-1 after two disastrous errors from goalkeeper Fabien Barthez.

“What happened in the past is the past, that is the problem with this football club for too long, people have been looking back,” he said.

Ferguson and Keane were on the same page, with the manager adding in his programme notes on the afternoon of Schiffer’s visit for the Chelsea game: “Manchester United are not unbreakable. Football is not just about being at the top all the time, it’s about accepting the challenge when things are not going right.”

Keane seems to have missed that point with Ronaldo, but never has that seemed so pertinent a message for those in positions of power at the modern-day Manchester United.


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