Roy Keane was never one to hide his emotions.
During United’s historic 1998/99 season, Keane was determined to make up for lost time having missed 10 months between October 1997 and August 1998 with a crucial ligament injury courtesy of Leeds United’s Alf-Inge Haaland.
And April ’99 was, for Keane, a defining period in his United career.
With Ferguson’s side chasing success on three fronts, United faced a series of crucial games during the nerve-shredding climactic weeks of the season.
In the space of 14 days between April 7-21, the Red Devils faced bitter rivals Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final and subsequent replay in addition to both legs of their Champions League semi-final against Juventus.
That crucial four-game stretch began with a home first leg against Juventus.
Juventus were no strangers to Keane and United with the sides having faced each other four times in the Champions League group stages during the 1996/97 and 1997/98 campaigns.
United had beaten the Bianconeri 3-2 in their last encounter at Old Trafford, and with a daunting trip to Turin to come in the ’99 second leg, Ferguson was determined to secure a positive result in the home game.
Achieving that proved problematic, however, as Giggs was left to rescue United with a late leveller. Carlo Ancelotti’s Juve, though, held a slender advantage courtesy of Antonio Conte’s away goal.
Juventus were a serious side – Keane
And Keane, writing in his 2002 autobiography, detailed the threat posed by a Juventus side aiming to reach a fifth successive European final.
“Juventus at home in the Champions League semi-final first leg was a huge test,” wrote Keane.
“We didn’t play well. Conte gave them the lead – and a critical away goal – Ryan Giggs bailed us out with a last-minute equaliser.
“We were on a twenty-game unbeaten League and Cup run, but this was a significant step up in class. With Inzaghi up front, Zidane, Deschamps and Davids in midfield, and a typically mean Italian defence to back them up, we were not talking about Nottingham Forest and 8-1 victories here.
“This was serious no-chinks-in-the-armour opposition (well, there are chinks in every team’s armour, it’s a question of being able to get at them).
“The Juventus result could have been worse. Inzaghi had a great chance to put Zidane in for a second goal, but went for glory himself, and missed.”
While Juve failed to score a second away goal, United were still disappointed, knowing that they had left themselves with an uphill battle in the return leg.
And Keane and Ireland teammate Denis Irwin exchanged some choice words during the post-match meeting.
“Unusually for a home game the manager had decided on an overnight stay at Mottram Hall hotel about five minutes away from where a number of our players lived,” wrote Keane.
“Detail. Always thinking. Typical.
“After the game, we returned to the hotel for a meal and a team meeting. Harsh words were spoken. Becks and Giggsy got a bollocking for not working hard enough when we didn’t have the ball.
“I was next. I’d had a right go at Denis Irwin for something that happened in the build-up to their goal. Denis had a go back.
“The manager suggested I apologise. No, I was sticking to my guns. If this was an analysis of the game, let’s analyse it.
Keane refused to apologise. While the former United skipper did not specify why he was angry with Irwin, looking back on the goal, it is possible that Keane felt as though Irwin should have come out to press Conte after Jaap Stam’s poor clearance fell straight to the Juve captain.
Conte proceeded to lay the ball off before eventually receiving a pass from Davids before slotting past Peter Schmeichel.
“The atmosphere was hot and heavy for a while,” recalled Keane.
“I refused to apologise. Then we went to bed. Denis and I were, as always, sharing a room. There was no problem when we got upstairs.
“I didn’t apologise but we laughed about it. Are footballers sometimes childish? Of course. They have to be, otherwise they’d just start believing that they were only playing a game!”
Of course, we all know what happened next: Keane inspired United to a memorable 3-2 win in Turin, teeing up a Champions League final meeting with Bayern Munich.