Manchester United legend Roy Keane made 480 appearances for the club, scoring 51 goals in the process. Despite numerous midfielders being groomed for Keane’s role since the Irishman’s departure in 2005, it’s arguable whether Sir Alex Ferguson has successfully replaced United’s most successful midfield destroyer.
Ferguson brought Carrick to the club as Keane’s replacement – at cost of £18 million – in 2005 and the former West Ham United player has amassed 158 games, scoring 13 goals. Over the past three Premier League winning seasons Carrick has been hugely influential. Yet both his passing and tackling are underrated by Sir Alex, who has left the England international out of the side on more than one occasion this season. The same is true of Fabio Capello, who may not pick the Geordie for the World Cup in South Africa and appears to prefer Manchester City’s Gareth Barry in the holding role.
Meanwhile Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller, Kleberson, Owen Hargreaves and Anderson have each been given the opportunity to fill Keane’s void. Perhaps only now that Darren Fletcher – the most improved player in world football – is in possession can Ferguson be happy. Even then, the Scot cannot measure up to Keane’s influence at the club.
Hargreaves’ capture in 2007 should have been the answer. The Canadian-born international has the speed and tenacity that marks him out as a World Class player in the defensive midfield position but injuries have placed the former Bayern Munich’s career in doubt. The player’s return in December is welcome but the outcome is uncertain.
Ferguson has also missed out on some high quality midfield players in the transfer market, none more so than Michael Essien. The Chelsea midfielder would walk into the United side. His 12 goals in 113 games for Chelsea is a bonus; more importantly Essien has become the London side’s defensive rock in midfield.
When Ferguson finally moves upstairs a realistic choice for the manager’s post might be Steve Bruce, the former-United defender who is doing an admirable job at Sunderland. If it happens, then the manager should bring Lee Cattermole with him. Bruce, who as a player amassed 309 Premier League games at Old Trafford, did just this when moving from Wigan Athletic in the summer. Cattermole, with 16 under-21 caps, is surely a future England international and one of the best prospects in the Premier League.
The North East-born player, at just 21, is an established Premier League performer alreasdy. With little history of injury problems (until a recent knee problem) the tough-tackling player has the kind of feisty attitude that would allow him to settle among the stars and egos at Old Trafford.
Cattermole has already surpassed the number of appearances Keane made at a similar age. The next step might well be into the Irishman’s boots.