A very public transfer saga: How Roy Keane's Man United move played out over three months in 1993

Amid a backdrop of brinkmanship and extraordinary candidness in the newspapers, Alex Ferguson eventually signed the 21-year-old for a record £3.75 million. But it was far from straightforward.

A day after being unveiled at Old Trafford in July 1993, Keane travelled to the club's pre-season tour of South Africa (above).
A day after being unveiled at Old Trafford in July 1993, Keane travelled to the club's pre-season tour of South Africa (above).

THE SHORT STORY goes as follows.

It is approaching the summer of 1993 and Roy Keane, the 21-year-old Nottingham Forest midfielder, is a wanted man.

Just three years after Brian Clough bought him for £25,000 from Cobh Ramblers, Keane is set to become the most expensive player in British history, eclipsing the record £3.3 million Blackburn Rovers paid Southampton for Alan Shearer the previous year.

The Ewood Park club, backed by the millions of steel magnate Jack Walker and with Kenny Dalglish in charge, are set to splash out once more.

Dalglish and Keane meet.

They agree a deal.

They shake hands on terms on a Friday but the paperwork can’t be completed and signed off over the weekend.

This is when Manchester United step in.

Alex Ferguson has gotten wind that Dalglish has upped the ante. He arranges for Keane to come to his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

They play a couple of frames of snooker. Keane’s head is turned. He reneges on the gentleman’s agreement with Dalglish. 

He is furious. And lets Keane know it. Ferguson, too.

Just like that, everything has fallen into place.

Only it wasn’t quite that straightforward.

soccer-barclays-league-division-one-nottingham-forest-v-norwich-city Keane (centre) and Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough (right) are presented with awards before a game. Source: EMPICS Sport

Instead, Keane was at the centre of an extremely public transfer saga that was played out over the pages of the Cork Examiner for three months, from April 1993 to the day he was unveiled at Old Trafford on Monday, 19 July.

Football reporter Noel Spillane had a handle on the story like no one else, with a direct line to Keane throughout the brinksmanship.

There were midnight phone calls, search parties in Mayfield and tit-for-tat stories in the media.

Keane had signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract at the City Ground in March ’93, despite the fact the club were in the midst of a relegation battle.

The reason was simple. Brian Clough.

Once the doyen of Nottingham announced that he would be leaving in late April, the goalposts changed.

The list of clubs who expressed an interest were – in no particular order – as follows.

United. Blackburn. Arsenal. Tottenham Hotspur. Aston Villa. Liverpool. Sampdoria. Juventus. AC Milan. Real Madrid. Atletico Madrid. Seville.

soccer-fa-cup-final-nottingham-forest-v-tottenham-hotspur-preview Keane dons a Robin Hood hat and sword during his Forest days. Source: EMPICS Sport

As becomes apparent, and in Keane’s own words, he felt the need to ‘do what is best for Roy Keane’. Which is why a world record £7 million move to Sampdoria was also on the cards until the Italian side were able to prise David Platt away from rivals Juve instead.

“I am definitely on my way out at the City Ground and after our match away to Ipswich Town at the weekend I will have to sit down with the chairman, Fred Reacher and Brian Clough and discuss my future,” he told the Examiner on Monday 3 May, 1993.

“Again, I won’t rushed into signing for anyone or making any hasty decisions. But it was on the cards, I suppose, for a couple of months as we were fighting relegation virtually all season.

I have played under the best manager there is in football at Nottingham Forest. I would like to work under another great manager but it’s difficult to find one… for me, no one touches Brian Clough.

“I said before that I didn’t think First Division football would do me any favours, especially with the World Cup coming up next year and, I think, Cloughie would go along with that,” Keane added.

It’s disappointing for me to be leaving. They are a great club and I will never forget that they gave me my big break in this game. Cloughie was a major factor in me signing the new deal but situations change in football now that he has decided to retire.”

This was Keane being most candid a full two months before he would eventually hold a United scarf above his head.

This is the long story.


Tuesday, 13 April, 1993

The charm offensive at Old Trafford begins. With Blackburn circling while United are going for their first league championship in 26 years, Bryan Robson makes his side’s pitch for the player best suited to eventually replace him.

“Roy Keane is a winner, the lad shows a good attitude and he wants to work hard at his game. He’s a real bright prospect for the future and Manchester United would be mad not to be keen on the player,” Robson told Spillane in an exclusive interview.

“I think Roy Keane would probably want to be the Roy Keane of the 90s rather than the next Bryan Robson. He has got all the potential to be a top player and I am sure he will reach that peak… he’s halfway there already.

“Roy Keane is quick, he’s got good stamina, he’s gets forward well, he can score goals and he’s got a great engine between the penalty areas.

soccer-rumbelows-league-cup-final-nottingham-forest-v-manchester-united-wembley-stadium Keane tackles Denis Irwin when they were on opposing sides. Source: EMPICS Sport

“He would suit United’s style of play too and if we win the championship at the end of the season I think that might strengthen our hand in any transfer talk.”

Friday, 16 April

Keane, who has signed a two-year deal to promote Lucozade, is attracting attention of AC Milan and Juventus, while Real Madrid and Sevilla are also monitoring the situation.

As part of his new contract with Forest, there is an escape clause relating to relegation which means an English club can sign him for £3m while £5m would be required for those sides mentioned on the continent.

Tottenham, his boyhood club, also express their interest as manager Terry Venables searches for a replacement for Paul Gascoigne, whose move to Lazio in Serie A has left a void in north London.

A fee of £3m has been mentioned but I wouldn’t expect a British club to pay £5m for me on the open transfer market,” Keane said. “If an Italian or continental club were interested they would pay whatever it takes to get their player.”

Wednesday, 21 April

The headline on the front of the Cork Examiner says it all: Roy Keane to be sued

The story explains how court proceedings are understood to have been issued against him relating to an alleged incident with a woman two years previously. Keane’s solicitor, Olan Kelleher, refuses to comment on the case to the Cork Examiner about the matter which the paper reports would be heard at the Cork Circuit Civil Court.

Saturday, 24 April

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Noel Spillane of the Cork Examiner, Keane addresses a number of issues, declaring: “I am no angel but people just want to have a go at me wherever I go… I don’t go around looking for trouble in pubs and dance halls. And that’s a fact… I just want to play football, that’s all.”

His off-field problems are not putting off interested parties and the race is on to capture his signature.

Tuesday, 4 May

Kevin Moran, the Blackburn captain and Ireland team-mate, has been a source of advice while on international duty. So too his fellow Cork native, Denis Irwin, who is firmly in the red corner.

A few things will determine where I go and when I go,” Keane says.  “I would need to like the style of play the club adopts, the size of the club would be a factor too and, of course, my personal terms would have to be a consideration as well.

Keane’s parents, Mossy and Marie, were at the City Ground to see Forest’s relegation from the Premier League confirmed that weekend.

As the Examiner reported at the time: “I may buy a new house in Manchester in the next few months, but that means nothing. Blackburn is just down the road,” said Keane, whose ultimate ambition is to play in the lira-laden Italian League.

“If a club comes in for me with a bid that Forest can’t refuse then that’s that. I will be on my way and what I have to keep tabs on is that next year is World Cup year.”

Friday, 14 May

Alex Ferguson goes public on the matter, insisting the Uefa rule governing foreign players will not put off the club signing non-English talent: “It’s absolute rubbish to say that United are only interested in English players,” he says.

world-cup-qualifier Keane celebrates with Ireland before his United move. Source: EMPICS Sport

Frank Clarke, the new Forest manager, says he wants loyalty from Stuart Pearce and Keane. “There has already been contact from other clubs and it would take 20 minutes to read out the list of clubs interested in Roy Keane alone, and I am not surprised,” he explains.

Thursday, 20 May

The Cork Examiner report the following: “Roy Keane will have his future sorted out within the next two weeks. The 21-years-old Republic of Ireland midfielder, a key member of Jack Charlton’s team for our World Cup tie in Albania on Wednesday, will make up his mind when he returns from international duty in Tirana.

“Keane confirmed in an exclusive interview with the Cork Examiner last night that Mr Brendon Batson, deputy chief executive of the Manchester-based PFA, was handling the entire transfer after the young Corkman severed his ties with London-based agent, Mr Denis Roach.

I have yet to talk to Frank Clark, the new manager at Nottingham Forest and I plan to do that when I get back from Albania. I have a fair idea of where I want to go and I want to get things sorted out fast,’ said Keane.”

Keane is at home in Mayfield as the speculation ramps up and, as he tells the Examiner, his priority is keeping fit. “Every day I do a few sprints and some jogging around the place. I just want to keep the heart pumping and build up a sweat. You have to take time out to do it and when you are on your own you have to discipline yourself to do it.

You need a professional approach when you are away from the club but I get out every day and I plan to do some work on an exercise bike as well.”

Ireland’s next three World Cup ties are away to Albania (May 26), Latvia (June 9) and Lithuania (June 16).

Tuesday, 25 May

Forest confirm Sampdoria’s interest in signing Keane for a record £7 million on the eve of Ireland’s game in Albania.

The bid, which may take Des Walker back to the City Ground after his unhappy spell in Italy, was confirmed by Forest with Keane adding: “I have been told by Brendan Batson, the deputy chief executive of the PFA in Manchester, that Sampdoria are one of two Italian clubs interested in me.

signing Keane with United chairman Martin Edwards at his unveiling. Source: EMPICS Sport

“Everything is in the balance at the moment. I am keeping an open mind on things just now. The World Cup match in Albania must take priority.

“People have urged me to stay on in England with one of the bigger clubs for another two or three years to gain more experience and so on but I don’t see it that way. I have made the right decisions for me in the past and I would hope to continue to do so now.

“I have spoken to Fred Reacher, the club chairman at Forest and he knows the score with me. He knows where things stand but if Sampdoria are coming in with a firm bid then that’s another option for me.

“Things change in football and I might never get the chance to play in Italy again. If this materalises I’d go in the morning.”

Thursday, 27 May

Ireland beat Albania but for Mossie Keane, who joined hundreds of other fans to watch the game in the Fitzpatrick’s Silversprings Convention Centre, he was, according to the Examiner, ‘outside in the toilet with his fingers in his ears’.

Me nerves are very bad. Of course we’re very proud of him he’s a good son, and he has a lot of friends. He’s going back to Nottingham now to make up his mind about the transfer. It’s up to himself. I don’t know anything.”

Friday, 28 May

The front page of the Cork Examiner reports on the historic meeting between President of Ireland Mary Robinson and the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace.

Three of the blurbs at the top relate to British Prime Minister John Major firing the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, as well as an obituary for the actor and author James N Healy. The third declared ‘Chase on for Keane’.

Inside, the local hero is pictured at The Matthews Centre presenting one of his Ireland jerseys to the All-Ireland Childrens’ Hospice, to raise money for the forthcoming Assisi to Rome pilgrimage later in the summer.

roy-keane-signs-for-united Keane in a United jersey for the first time as he is presented on the Old Trafford pitch. Source: PA

There is further food for thought about his future as he speaks to Spillane by phone from his home in the sleepy village of Scarrington outside of Nottingham. “There’s no way I could agree to stay on and play in the First Division. This is a World Cup year for me and the rest of the Irish lads and playing in a lower division would do me no good whatsoever.

“I am keeping an open mind on whether to stay on in English football or make the big money move abroad. It’s an opportunity that might not crop up for me again and that’s my big worry.

“I want to do what’s right for Roy Keane. I will be talking things over with my family at the weekend. Once I know the clubs that are interested in me I can sit down and weigh up what the best move will be for me.”

Saturday, 29 May

Blackburn lay their cards on the table, offering Keane a four-year contract with wages reaching £10,000 a week the day before he is due to take part in David O’Leary’s Ireland testimonial at Lansdowne Road. As confirmed in another exclusive interview with Noel Spillane, Keane and Dalglish held talks yesterday (Friday, 28 May).

Blackburn are the first club I have actually sat down and spoken to about a move. The fee is restricted to £3.5 million within England but I am more than happy with the arrangements.

“Kenny Dalglish told me that the club were going places next season and they intend to go for a League and Cup double. They want to challenge the likes of Manchester United, Aston Villa and Liverpool next year in the chase for the major domestic trophies.”

Monday, 31 May

Alex Ferguson is phoned at home by an English football reporter for his thoughts on Blackburn making their move. Keane is also at home in Mayfield on a week’s holiday ahead of Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers with Latvia and Lithuania on 9 and 16 June, respectively.

Ferguson said: “We are obviously aware of Blackburn Rovers’ interest in Roy Keane, who is one of the best young midfield players in the country. We intend to get permission from Nottingham Forest today to speak to the player himself about a possible move.”

So they go about tracking him down.

119612-cantona Keane with Eric Cantona and Alex Ferguson at Manchester Airport. Source: EMPICS Sport

As the Examiner explained at the time: “Despite United’s first championship in 26 years, they are unlikely to be in a position to match Blackburn’s deep-rooted financial strength.”

While home, Keane is pictured in that day’s edition at “Time Off for Leisure” in the Mathews Centre with the caption reading: “One decision Roy Keane is smart about is where to buy his swimwear.”

Wednesday, 2 June

The headline says it all: Keane to meet with Ferguson

The story begins: “Roy Keane travels to Manchester tomorrow for a lunchtime meeting with United boss, Alex Ferguson.”

Ferguson, with the help of Denis Irwin, made contact with Keane at the family home in Mayfield and incited him for a meeting.

Obviously, United are interested in me or they would not have taken the trouble to make contact with me at home,” Keane says. “I will go to Old Trafford tomorrow to meet the manager and I will listen to what they have to say.”

Ron Atkinson at Aston Villa has also entered the fray with player exchange mooted but nothing more comes of it.

Monday, 7 June

Another twist. Another headline: Gunners join Keane race

Keane confirms the details to the Cork Examiner: “George Graham has been in touch. I am happy to speak to them. I will probably meet with Arsenal when we get back from Riga on Thursday.

“The lure of European football with United is an obvious attraction but everything is in the balance at the moment. I am 99% sure of where I will be playing my football next season.

soccer-manchester-united-tour-to-south-africa Keane during his first training session while on a pre-season tour to South Africa. Source: EMPICS Sport

“Only Manchester United and Blackburn have come in with firm offers at this stage and it’s between the two of them, I suppose. I don’t want it dragging ton for too much longer. I want my future sorted out as fast as possible.”

It will be over a month before it finally is all over.

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

Get Gavin's exclusive writing and analysis from the 2022 Fifa World Cup

Become a Member

Friday, 11 June.

After a man-of-the-match display on the occasion of his 15th cap and the win over Latvia, there are headlines of a different kind.

Decision Time Roy screams the Examiner, with the story inside beginning: Roy Keane will decide the destination of his £4m move this weekend — and it looks certain to be big-spending Blackburn Rovers.

south-african-tour-soccer Keane with Alex Ferguson in South Africa. Source: EMPICS Sport

Nottingham Forest’s Republic of Ireland midfield star will speak to Arsenal this weekend and, possibly, again to Manchester United as well. But these are expected to be no more than courtesy calls by telephone from Ireland’s World Cup preparation base.

Monday, 14 June

Exactly two months after Bryan Robson made United’s pitch through the media, the headlines in Ireland are definitive.


“It will be a relief to have it out in the open and stop all the questions I have been getting about my future,” Keane tells the Examiner from Ireland’s base at the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan.

“I have one or two more phone calls to make to England today before I finalise things. I think it’s the right move for me and I don’t envisage any late hitches.”

Tuesday, 15 June

Twenty four hours later and the move stumbles because Blackburn have not gone through the proper channels. Their chief executive blasts Rovers’ behaviour as ‘out of order’ while manager Frank Clark’s discussions with Keane have not gone well.

Roy is going nowhere until we get the £5m we value him at. Roy seems to be under the misapprehension that he can sign for anybody he likes. But that is not true. He is under contract to us and he won’t be leaving until we get the price we want.”

All the uncertainty has creeped into international matters with Ireland manager Jack Charlton issuing a strong rebuke on the eve of the World Cup qualifier away to Lithuania, where a win will send Ireland top of the group.

“I don’t know why you are asking me about transfer deals. I have an important match to concentrate on.”

Friday, 18 June

A couple of days after Ireland win in Lithuania, this feels like a big moment. On the front page of the Examiner, sandwiched between an ad for the Sound Store, guaranteeing ‘the biggest and best range of fridges and freezers at the lowest prices’, and a 44-piece Newbridge Silverware canteen set for £199.99, it looks like Keane is heading to Old Trafford.

“I am waiting on one more telephone call today, but that’s all I am prepared to say,” Keane admitted from his home in Mayfield.

soccer-manchester-united-tour-to-south-africa Keane in action on his debut in a friendly in South Africa against Paul Merson of Arsenal. Source: EMPICS Sport

Ferguson even spoke to Keane’s mother, Marie Keane, at her home on Saturday night while Roy was in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, with the Irish squad.

The Examiner report that Ferguson’s parting shot on the ‘phone was that he would “see her later.”

Tuesday, 22 June

Now the banks are getting in on the Keane hysteria with Irish Permanent putting an ad on the front of the Examiner for the ‘Guaranteed Performance’ of their bonds. It declares: “Roy Keane’s performances are guaranteed to impress rival club managers. If you’re looking for a guaranteed performance from your savings choose Irish Permanent Guaranteed Capital Bonds.”

The headline inside reads ‘United poised to seal Keane deal’ and while Ferguson calls Forest’s valuation of £5m ‘unrealistic’, he is determined to get his man.

Keane, meanwhile, is on holiday with friends in Cyprus until 7 July but Ireland team-mate and fellow Cork native Denis Irwin is home to collect his third Jury’s Hotel (Cork) Sportstar of the Month award.

I think Roy knows in his heart and soul that a move to Manchester United is the best career move he could make,” Irwin says. “Roy will also be joining a team that is destined to win more major trophies over the coming years. I have no doubt that.”

Thursday, 8 July

A day after Keane returns home and Arsenal are officially out of the race. ‘Graham is a double loser’ is the headline as Keane informs the Gunners boss that he has no interest in a move to Highbury, while Ireland captain Andy Townsend, unsettled at Chelsea, also rejects a move to north London.

“Roy Keane has made it quite clear that he is only interested in joining Manchester United and I was surprised that I couldn’t sign Andy Townsend for £1m in the light of the player’s willingness to take a move,” Graham lamented, thus confirming that Keane had also chosen Old Trafford over Ewood Park.

Source: EMPICS Sport

The Irish lotto also reached a jackpot of £2 million, with the Examiner declaring: “It would still be a few bob short if you were shopping for Roy Keane. Neither will a single winner be able to buy a Van Gogh painting, a Lear Jet, the Shelbourne Hotel, the Hope diamond, the Cork Examiner, Gazza, or the QE2. Tough, isn’t it?”

Thursday, 15 July

David Platt’s £5.2m move from Juventus to Sampdoria means any interest the latter had in Keane was now gone, while relegated Forest also begin spending the money they were expecting for Keane with a deal worth £2.75m for Southend United’s Stan Collymore.

However, as United chairman Martin Edwards explains, the fact Keane is available for £3.5 million on 1 October as part of his release clause, it means they are prepared to wait it out. United are drawn with Honved in the first round of the European Cup and if Keane is to play any part in Uefa competition for United he must sign before 15 August.

Obviously Forest are trying to get as much as they can,” Edwards says. “But we will wait until October if we have to. I don’t think we will be raising our bid.”

There is also some acrimony developing among the United squad with Paul Ince prepared to reject a new contract worth £7,000 per weeks because the salary is £1,500 less than what Keane’s weekly wage will be.

Saturday, 17 July

The deal is done with Forest assistant manager Alan Hill the one to officially break the news. “Roy Keane will be a Manchester United player this weekend,” Hill says. “The clubs have agreed a fee and he will undergo a medical test in Manchester early next week.”

In a midnight phone call, Keane tells Spillane in the Examiner: “I am just sitting here waiting for the phone to ring. It’s all down to the two clubs at this stage and there’s nothing else I can do.”

soccer-manchester-united-tour-of-south-africa Roy Keane playing golf in Johannesburg Source: EMPICS Sport

The transfer is apparently thrashed out between Martin Edwards and Forest Fred Reacher, who, according to Spillane, “shook hands on the deal on a golf course on the outskirts of Nottingham on Saturday”.

He continues: “As exclusively revealed in this group of newspapers a month ago, Keane ended one of football’s longest-running transfer sagas after United, who had tracked the player for several months, upped their bid to £3.75m after team boss Alex Ferguson persuaded his chairman to come up with the £250,000 shortfall.”

Ferguson added: “What’s an extra £250,000 if we reach the latter stages of the European Cup next season? Roy Keane is a magnificent signing for us and he’s the nearest thing I have seen to a young Bryan Robson in years.”

Monday, 19 July

Keane is officially unveiled as a Manchester United player at Old Trafford and he declares it a dream come true.

“When Manchester United were interested, so was I and I just couldn’t turn a blind eye to them. I have always been a supporter of the club since I was a youngster…

I was prepared to listen to other offers after Blackburn came in for me but United were my obvious choice. This is a dream come true… There was only one club for me. It should be called ‘Magic’ United.

“United are the best and biggest club in Britain. Money is important but it’s not everything and moving to OT is like a dream come true. They have got the best stadium, the best team and greatest supporters in the country. All I want to do now is get to know my new team-mates.

“I never agreed any contract with Blackburn Rovers although I did shake hands with Kenny Dalglish on a possible transfer. I agreed personal terms with him but that was all. United were probably the last club I spoke to and I was delighted to put pen to paper for them.

soccer Keane celebrates scoring on his Premier League debut against Sheffield Wednesday. Source: EMPICS Sport

“The transfer saga dragged on and on but I had made up my mind that United were the club for me having talks with Alex Ferguson. I worked with one of the best ever managers with Brian Clough and I wanted to keep that trend going when I moved on.

“Alex Ferguson has a proven record in England and Scotland and he has assured me that United are a team going places.”

It just took him a bit longer than expected to get there. And where Keane helped take United is a whole different story.

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

About the author:

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel