Alex Ferguson admitted that he could have sued after an article about his comments on Robbie Keane appeared in the media.
After attending a dinner event in Blackpool in 1999, Alex Ferguson was asked why Manchester United didn’t sign Robbie Keane when he left Wolverhampton Wanderers for Coventry City.
Keane made the move from Molineux for a then-British record fee for a teenager of £6 million and Ferguson cited the fee as the reason why the Red Devils didn’t consider the Irish striker.
But the way his quotes were framed to suggest that the Scot didn’t believe Keane was worth that much seriously irked Ferguson.
Speaking to the Irish Times in early 2000, Ferguson explained the context of his comments and insisted that he had made it clear that he wished he’d signed Keane when he was coming through the Wolves ranks.
Praising Keane’s “enthusiasm, stamina and drive” as a youngster, Ferguson dismissed suggestions that he didn’t rate the Dubliner and clarified his remarks.
“It was an absolute disgrace,” Ferguson said of the report. “I did a dinner to help out a lad in Blackpool. At the end they wanted to ask a few questions and one asked, ‘Why do you not sign Robbie Keane?’
“I said, ‘Well, for a start I should have signed him when my son told me to, when he was only 16. Darren told me all about him. Now, by the time we came to watch him he was in the first team at 17.
‘The way we operate is that if I am going to pay £6 million for a player I want to play him in my first team. Now there is no way Robbie Keane would get in my first team over Yorke, Cole, Sheringham or Solskjaer. So £6 million to me at the moment is a waste of money. If I was getting him for £100,000 and leaving him in the reserves for a couple of years – the way we do with a lot of young players like Jonathan Greening – yeah, that’s the way it works for us. But for us to pay £6 million for an 18-year-old lad and play him in the reserves is out of the question.’
“That’s exactly the way I answered it. But there was a freelance reporter at the dinner and he sold it in a different context. I could have sued but there was no point.”
Keane spent a season at Coventry before his transfer to Inter Milan, where he spent just a few months before a loan move to Leeds United became a permanent one.
After Leeds, the Irishman spent six years with Spurs prior to a switch to Liverpool which surprised Ferguson, who again referenced the fee commanded by Keane when he made the move to Anfield in 2008.
(Originally published on March 24, 2021).