“He said, ‘I’ve had enough of you. It’s time we sorted this out’.”
Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel played together for six seasons and 197 games, but the former Manchester United teammates weren’t best friends by any means.
Following Eric Cantona’s retirement in 1997, Keane was appointed Manchester United captain by Alex Ferguson, ahead of Schmeichel, the more senior player.
The Irishman picked up a severe knee injury early into the following season and was sidelined until the start of the 1998/99 campaign. Schmeichel captained the Red Devils in his absence.
Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel.
Keane’s return propelled Man United to a historic treble and he was the driving force behind one of the most successful seasons English football has ever seen. Yet, his return resulted in Schmeichel handing back the captain’s armband.
Schmeichel is said to have reluctantly relinquished the captaincy, and it’s possible this was the immediate source of the tension between the pair when the club went on a pre-season tour in 1998.
As the Irishman details in his second autobiography, he and Schmeichel came to blows on a tour of Asia.
“Peter was waiting for me…”
“I had a bust-up with Peter when we were on a pre-season tour of Asia, in 1998, just after I came back from my cruciate injury. I think we were in Hong Kong. There was drink involved,” Keane says in the book.
“Myself and Nicky Butt had had a night out, and we bumped into Peter at the hotel reception desk. It was about two in the morning. We said a few words to one another – a bit of banter, a bit of stick. I went to Nicky’s room for some room service, had a sandwich, got up to go – and Peter was waiting for me, outside the room.
Roy Keane on Peter Schmeichel: “I wouldn’t say we disliked each other, but we weren’t best buddies either.”
Keane reveals that he and Schmeichel were not close off the pitch and that there was “tension” between them. In his first autobiography, Keane refers to the Danish goalkeeper as a “poser” but someone he respected as he was a brilliant goalkeeper.
“There’d been a little bit of tension between us over the years, for football reasons. Peter would come out shouting at players, and I felt sometimes that he was playing up to the crowd – ‘Look at me!’
“He was probably also doing it for his concentration levels, keeping himself on his toes. But I felt he did it too often, as if he was telling the crowd, ‘Look at what I have to deal with.’
“I wouldn’t say we disliked each other, but we weren’t best buddies either.
The tension spilt over into a physical brawl.
“He said, ‘I’ve had enough of you. It’s time we sorted this out.”
“So I said, ‘Okay.’
“And we had a fight. It felt like ten minutes. There was a lot of noise – Peter’s a big lad.
“I remember saying to him, ‘I think I was fighting last night’
Keane says that the next morning he had a vague recollection of the fight, and had to contend with delaying Denis Irwin for the team bus, something which irked his fellow Corkman.
“I was sharing with Denis Irwin, and we were a few minutes late for the bus going to the airport. We got a call from the physio: ‘Where are you?’ Denis was one of the best pros you could ever come across, so being late for the bus tarnished him; you’d have thought he’d been caught with drugs or something. He was having a go at me.
“I remember saying to him, ‘I think I was fighting last night.’ My hand was really sore and one of my fingers was bent backwards.
“Throughout the flight, Peter wore his sunglasses. He never took them off, and it wasn’t very sunny”
Over the day though, details of the fight began to emerge. To make matters worse, he and Schmeichel had to do a press conference together when the team reached their next destination.
“The manager had a go at us as we were getting on the bus, and people were going on about a fight in the hotel the night before. It started coming back to me – the fight between myself and Peter.
“Throughout the flight, Peter wore his sunglasses. He never took them off, and it wasn’t very sunny.
“We landed – I don’t remember where. When the team arrived at a new destination for a game, two of the players had to go and do a press conference. And this time, it just happened to be myself and Peter.
“In the meantime, Nicky Butt had been filling me in on what had happened the night before. Butty had refereed the fight. He even got a new nickname for it – Mills Lane, after the famous boxing referee.
“Anyway, Peter had grabbed me, I’d head-butted him – we’d been fighting for ages.
“At the press conference, Peter took his sunglasses off. He had a black eye. The questions came at him.
“‘Oh, Peter, what happened to your eye?’
“He said, ‘I just got an elbow last night, at training.
“And that was the end of it. The tour finished eight or nine days later and nobody said anything – none of the staff, nobody. My hand had recovered, and Peter’s black eye had faded.
“He told us that we were a disgrace to the club”
Once Man United resumed training back in England, Alex Ferguson reprimanded the pair, immediately calling them into his office.
“He said, ‘The two of you were fighting.’ He knew exactly where we’d fought – I think he mentioned the twenty-seventh floor. He told us that we were a disgrace to the club and that we’d woken Bobby Charlton up, that Bobby had come out of his room and seen us.
“‘Do you have anything to say?’
“Peter put his hand up.
“‘Gaffer, I want to apologise. It was all my fault. I was waiting for Roy in the corridor. I take responsibility.’ The manager went, ‘Oh, you’re a fuckin’ joke’, and kicked us out of his office.
“Peter took responsibility for the fight, which was good. I admired him for it. But Sir Bobby could have tried to break it up.”
Keane would later joke that the fight happened because Schmeichel was “feeling brave” after having “two pints.”
While the pair were never friends, the Irishman highly respected Schmeichel and said that the dynamics of the club changed when he left in 1999.
Keane correctly states that Man United didn’t adequately replace Schmeichel until Edwin van der Sar joined arrived at Old Trafford in 2005.
Originally published on May 10, 2020.