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Roy Keane on the only favour Alex Ferguson did for him after he left Man United

“He caught me off guard – ‘He actually cares, a bit.’”

Roy Keane’s time as Sunderland manager ended in acrimony, but the former Manchester United captain performed admirably in his first spell in the dugout.

After he was appointed in the summer of 2006, the legendary midfielder galvanised the beleaguered Black Cats, taking them back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Keane then helped Sunderland survive in the top flight. By the time he left in December 2008, the situation had turned sour, but the Cork-native did an impressive job on Wearside.

Roy Keane at Sunderland.

Keane signed several players he knew from Manchester United and Ireland to help him get the Black Cats back to the Premier League; including Dwight Yorke, Graham Kavanagh, Liam Miller and David Connolly.

Jonny Evans was another player Keane signed from his former club. Keane never shared the pitch with the young Northern Irishman, but Roy was impressed with his defensive ability, his potential and, not surprisingly, Evans’ ability to look after himself off the pitch. The defender joined the Black Cats on loan.

In his second autobiography, Keane wrote that one of the reasons he wanted to sign Evans, then 19, was because he saw him stand up for himself at Man United. This impressed Keane, who commuted to Sunderland for training and matches with the defender.

Roy Keane on Jonny Evans.

“Jonny was a centre-half. He had the qualities of a Manchester United player, and he was bringing them to Sunderland,” Keane wrote.

“For such a young man – he was nineteen – he was very mature, and a born leader.

“Jonny was unbelievable for us. He lived with his mam and dad in Sale, near my home, so I picked him up there and brought him up to see the set-up at Sunderland.

“I knew I was on a winner; I knew him, and I knew what he was about.

“I remembered an incident when I was still at United; there’d been a fight in the canteen and Jonny had looked after himself well – I think he knocked the other lad out. I knew Jonny was tough.”

Roy Keane on Alex Ferguson helping him.

Keane rated Evans highly, saying that he “liked everything” about the Northern Irish defender.

After helping Sunderland secure promotion to the Premier League, Evans returned to Man United but was still on the fringes of the first-team. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were two of the best centre-backs in the world at the time, so Evans had to bide his time.

The following winter, Sunderland were on a difficult run in the Premier League and were hammered 4-0 by Man United on St Stephen’s Day.

“Maybe it was my ego – ‘Let’s have a go at them.’ We were a bit open,” Keane writes.

“Ronaldo’s goal, a free-kick, just at half-time, killed us. That made it 3–0.”

“He could see I was down in the dumps after the game.”

Following the match, Keane and Alex Ferguson shared a drink in the Irishman’s office, and Ferguson offered to help out his former captain by sending Evans back to Sunderland on loan.

Keane says it’s the only time that the Scot ‘showed affection’ after the pair fell out at Old Trafford.

“After the game, Alex Ferguson came to my office for a drink. When he was leaving, he said to me, ‘Give me a call about Jonny Evans.’

“He could see I was down in the dumps after the game. I think he looked at me and thought, ‘He needs a dig-out here.’

“It was the one time he showed me – I suppose – affection: ‘I’ll watch your back.’

“He caught me off guard – ‘He actually cares, a bit.’”

“Niall (Quinn) got on to David Gill and we got Jonny, but there was a massive loan fee.

“So, Ferguson showed me affection, but it was business, too. But – and this is important – Jonny made a huge difference to us.”

Evans after Sunderland.

Evans returned to the Stadium of Light and made 15 appearances as Sunderland secured their place in the Premier League. At the end of the season, Keane tried to sign the defender on a permanent deal, but Man United weren’t prepared to let him leave.

Evans went on to play 198 times for the Red Devils, winning three Premier League titles, two League Cups and the Club World Cup. Keane left Sunderland in December 2008.

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