Roy Keane took it upon himself to test the mettle of the next crop of Manchester United players during his spell as captain.
Matchdays weren’t the only occasions when Roy Keane took his leadership responsibilities very seriously at Man United as the Irishman made a point of challenging the resilience of every youngster who came through the ranks and was given the opportunity to train with the Red Devils’ first team.
Keane’s penchant for tough tackling wasn’t reserved for games and he’d often leave a bit on his own teammates in training to find out if they’d wilt or fight back under pressure.
Former United youth product Danny Simpson has recalled how players used to dread being on Keane’s team in training more than playing against him because of the standards the Corkman set.
Simpson remembered one particular incident when Spanish defender Gerard Pique was breaking through but found himself on the receiving end of some classic backbone-testing treatment from Keane.
“Sir Alex sent me and Jonny (Evans) to Sunderland to play under Roy Keane who was an idol,” Simpson said on Man United’s official podcast.
“I’d done a year in Belgium – are you ready to go to the Championship and take on that pressure under your idol who scared you?
“I remember training with the first team and you know when the bibs get given out and it’s 10 vs. 10 – if Keano got a bib you didn’t want one. If you were on his team you got hammered.
“Even if it was a good pass to him and he messed up it was your fault. He just hammered you but it toughened you up.
“I remember him hammering Pique, going ‘who are you?’ He went mad about his hair and his wristband. He hammered him.
“He was an idol and we went there and learned a lot. We managed to have a successful spell and win the league.”
Pique has spoken previously of his experience with Keane and admitted that, long before he made the switch to Barcelona, he was left terrified after his phone went off prior to a match at Old Trafford.
Pique was just 18 years old, getting the chance to play for one of the biggest teams in world football and found himself sat next to Keane in the dressing room as the United starting XI awaited a team talk from Sir Alex Ferguson.
That’s when Pique’s phone began buzzing and after an enquiry from Keane about the source of the vibration, the famously temperamental skipper gave the young defender both barrels.
“I realise it’s me. It’s my cell phone. I left it on vibrate, and it’s in the pocket of my pants, stuffed in the clothes bag that’s hanging right behind Roy’s head,” Pique told the Players’ Tribune in 2018.
“Roy can’t find where the noise is coming from. Now he’s looking around the room like a maniac. His eyes are darting everywhere, and he’s trying to figure it out. You know the famous scene with Jack Nicholson in The Shining, when he bursts through the door? That’s what he looked like.
“He screams out to everybody, ‘Whose phone is that?!’ Silence. He asks again. Silence. He asks a third time. ‘Whose. Bloody. F*****g. Phone. Is. That?!’
“Finally, I spoke up, like a little boy. Very softly, I said, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s mine.’
“Roy put his arm around me, and he laughed, and he told me not to worry about it. No, come on, of course I’m joking!
“Roy lost his mind! He went nuts in front of everybody! It was incredible. I almost shit myself. But it was a good lesson.”