Micheal Carrick on taking number 16 from Roy Keane.
Before Michael Carrick’s arrival at Old Trafford, it seemed as though no one could live up to the legacy that Roy Keane left in the No. 16 jersey. It was a challenge the former Tottenham Hotspur player embraced from the minute he landed at the club and he described that challenge in his 2018 autobiography, ‘Between The Lines.’
Carrick first came across Keane during his time at West Ham during the 2000/01 season and described the Cork native as “the hardest of them all”. During their FA Cup fourth-round tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford, the England international discovered not only the power of Roy Keane on the pitch, but also the enormity of the club in general.
“Roy Keane was tough but fair.”
Carrick noted that Keane was “an honest competitor, tough but fair”. But what really struck him that day was the feeling of playing in Old Trafford against a legendary United team and he couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to play there every week.
Six years later, that was the situation Carrick found himself in when he joined the Manchester club from Spurs for a fee of £14 million. He was brought in to replace Keane after the former captain had left the club under a cloud of controversy following that infamous MUTV segment in late 2005.
During a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson on his first day, the then 24-year-old was asked if he was ready to step into those shoes.
“Before I left his office that first morning, Sir Alex asked me which shirt number I wanted. ‘There’s No. 16 if you want it?’
“‘Yeah fine, no problem.’ Roy Keane’s old number meant this was no ordinary shirt and other newcomers might have been tempted to ask what other numbers Sir Alex had spare.
“‘You sure, son?’ ‘Yes’.”
For the first few months of his career at Manchester United, Carrick constantly noted the comparisons to Keane both because of his jersey number and his style of play. He attempted to play down the significance of the shirt on his back.
“I knew the legacy and challenge I took on with Keane’s No. 16. Later, I learned Sir Alex felt I showed ‘courage’ in taking on No. 16 as I could have been superstitious about the Keane connection. In fact, my desire for Keane’s shirt was a deliberate statement that I had no fear.
“For the first few months at United, if I didn’t play well, people said, ‘Ah, he’s not Roy Keane’. Every day for my first few months, I was asked, ‘What’s it like replacing Roy Keane?’ ‘Well it’s not really an issue, I just get on with it as normal’, I’d reply. I tried to make it that the shirt was just a piece of material rather than an important part of the fabric of Manchester United’s history.
“Of course I knew No. 16 was a big issue, partly because Keane left in fairly acrimonious circumstances. Nevertheless, what Roy Keane did for the club was amazing and his great legacy is stuck there for all to see. He was integral to Manchester United’s success.
“I understood fans wanting a new Roy Keane but you can never replace a player like that like for like so you do it another way. Best, Charlton, Cantona, Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand, Neville, Ronaldo, Rooney – you can’t find another of any of them. And Keane’s in that bracket.
Carrick explained that while he did not think Roy Keane was the best midfielder in the Premier League – that honour fell to Paul Scholes – he believed the Irishman was in the top level.
Keane had forged a legacy through the high standards he drove at the club and Carrick was aware that he had to live up to those standards.
“It’s not a difficult exercise to put Keane in the top level of Premier League midfielders. I rated him as an opponent and all the United lads told me that people didn’t appreciate how good a passer Keane was. ‘He was so good getting the ball to the forward’s feet’, Rooney once said to me.
“Keane’s technique got overlooked because he was so aggressive and people fixated on that. His willpower was in your face, snarling at times, and he was just so demanding of his team.
“Keane’s legacy lived on in those high standards and I knew I had to step it up, I couldn’t pass sideways, I had to go forward, be bold.”
First published in 2020.