“I wish I could have that moment back because I would have gone for him!”
Steven Caldwell only played 11 times under Roy Keane at Sunderland. It was enough time, however, for the pair to have a massive falling-out and heated dispute.
In the 2006/07 season, Keane’s first as a manager, the Irishman helped oversee Sunderland’s promotion to the Premier League. The Black Cats won 27 games under Keane and topped the table with 88 points.
The former Manchester United captain made a dream start to life in the dugout, but, inevitably, there was friction along the way.
Keane & Caldwell.
Keane galvanised the beleaguered club, but not everyone at the club went along for the journey. Steven Caldwell was club captain when the Irishman took over, and Keane had been his favourite player, but the pair didn’t see eye to eye.
“I remember Monday meetings where he’d start well and then you would see him switch and you are thinking ‘Oh my God, here it comes’,” Caldwell tells The Athletic about Keane’s post-match debriefs.
“He would be screaming at somebody for some mistake they made. They could go on quite long as some guys had a go back. I was never scared of him. I was scared of other managers. You are scared when you have so much respect you don’t want to let them down. With Roy, I never had that trust or relationship with him.
“When he went into those rants, I found it a bit nonsensical. I was not scared when he lost it. He could be vicious. The bluntness and the delivery. It was very personal. It was like you’ve done it to him.”
Caldwell’s account of his Sunderland exit.
Caldwell’s contract expired at the end of that season, and with no word from Sunderland, he didn’t expect to be offered a new deal so he started to explore his options. According to the former Scotland defender, this didn’t go down well with Keane.
“He heard wind of this. He asked why I was asking around and if I wanted to leave. I said I would love to stay but had not heard from the club. I explained we have lives and need to plan. I took our conversation as an endorsement he wanted to keep me,” Caldwell said.
“A day later, I was in Asda and got a call from him. He said ‘I have accepted a bid from Burnley, so go and speak to them’. I was getting the shopping with my wife. I had told her everything is great at Sunderland after the first chat. She was pregnant and wanted to stay in the northeast. Then I took the call and she said ‘What was that? And I said, ‘I’m leaving!’ I was in shock. There was no conversation in between.”
Caldwell and Keane clash.
Caldwell initially turned down the offer from Burnley, which, again, he says didn’t sit well with his manager.
“He brought me in and said: ‘They made you a good bid’. I said: ‘I will decide what is a good bid for me.’ I got quite aggressive. We were arguing. He took the captaincy off me. He said: ‘I have given the captaincy to Dean Whitehead. I need players who are up and at it.’ I was furious because I always played with 100 per cent commitment.
“I swear to God, I would have fought at him at that point. I said to him: ‘Are you saying I am not fucking up and at it?’ I wish I could have that moment back because I would have gone for him! I never did. He backed off, said he’d made his decision and it was done.
“I walked out, went home and said, ‘I need to sign with Burnley or it will be four months of hell under this guy.’ He then made some childish and petty comments. I took serious offence at that.’ I would tell him to his face if I saw him. Maybe we would have a laugh about it!”
Caldwell went on to sign for Burnley, where he played for the next three and a half seasons, helping them earn promotion to the Premier League. Keane, meanwhile, helped Sunderland earn promotion to the Premier League and remain there before leaving the club in December 2008.