Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane is to become the highest profile ex-player to take up refereeing, Football Association papers have revealed. Keane, who has taken several refereeing examinations since being sacked by Ipswich in January, could even be fast tracked into the Premier League in time for the 2011/12 season, according the documents seen by United Rant.
Keane’s promotion is part of the FA’s increasingly hardline stance on the organisation’s ‘Respect’ campaign, underlined by the five-match touchline ban handed to Sir Alex Ferguson last month. The United manager will sit out Saturday’s trip to West Ham United and three further matches, including the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Wembley.
Keane’s extraordinary appointment opens up the possibility that the 39-year-old former player could even take charge of fixtures involving United next season. Rant understands that there will be no special restrictions in the Irishman’s officiating role.
In papers seen by Rant this week, Keane’s refereeing performances in the Suffolk and County League since January (pictured, above) are described as “among the best seen” by a rookie official. Occupying the eighth rung on the non-League football pyramid, the Sussex League has enabled Keane to remain at his family home in Woodbridge, Suffolk, while training.
“Keane demonstrates a gravitas rarely seen [in a match official] … as a former player he commands the pitch with authority and it is obvious that players respect his decisions,” continues the report. “Keane’s understanding of the game is first-rate.”
In the papers Keane scores highly on decision-making and discipline, although the former player is criticised for a “cavalier attitude” towards issuing cautions.
Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body which represents officials in England’s top league, is yet to officially comment but in an off-the-record briefing sources at PGMOL told Rant that refereeing peers are firmly behind Keane’s rapid elevation. PGMOL believes that a high-profile ex-player will initiate a trickle down effect of respect for referees in the professional game.
Keane’s remarkable promotion to officialdom is the latest twist in the Irishman’s colourful career. Starting at Cobh Ramblers in 1989, Keane then played for Nottingham Forrest before making a British record-breaking £3.75 million move to United in 1992. Keane saw out a stormy career, which included eight red cards, at Celtic before retiring on medical advice in July 2006.
As a manager Keane enjoyed two successful seasons with Sunderland, including promotion from the Championship in 2007 before taking over at Ipswich in April 2009. His dismissal by Portman Road owner Marcus Evans brought an end to 18 turbulent months in Suffolk.
And Keane’s agent says that the Irishman is approaching his new career with the same intensity as playing and management.
“Roy is a dedicated profession and he will undertake refereeing duties every bit as seriously as he played and managed,” Olaf Priol told Rant.
“He is absolutely serious about this. He understands he’ll get some stick from former pros, those he played with and against, but Roy knows that refereeing is broken in England and he thinks he can fix it.
“Roy was a hard pro and he’s a hard ref but in these days of diving and harassing officials, players and managers will draw the line with him on the pitch. This is the best thing that has happened to refereeing since the invention of the whistle.”
Keane is not the first player to turn official. Newton Heath (later United) players Sam Black and Herbert Dale became referees in the 1880s. Meanwhile, Bradford City and Chesterfield player Steve Baines became an official after retiring in the late 1980s. By 1994 Baines was an Assistant Referee in the Football League, and full official by 1995.
Former manager Ferguson could not be reached for comment as Rant went to press.