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20th Jul 2018

Brian Clough anecdote shows how highly he rated Roy Keane

"I love you, Irishman"

Robert Redmond

“I love you, Irishman.”

Roy Keane was Brian Clough’s last great signing. Before he was an outspoken football pundit and Ireland assistant coach, before he was Ipswich and Sunderland manager and before he was Manchester United captain, Keane was one of the hottest properties in English football thanks to his displays for Nottingham Forest.

The Irish midfielder, who had been overlooked by English clubs as a teenager because of his height, was spotted playing for Cobh Ramblers by a Forest scout and joined the club age 19 in the summer of 1990, costing just £47,000.

Keane was soon in the first-team and became a key player.

At the end of the 1992/93 season, the first year of the Premier League, Forest suffered relegation and Clough retired as manager. However, the reputation of Keane was greatly enhanced after his performances for the struggling side. He became the most expensive player in British football when United paid £3.75m for him. Keane would become the pivotal player under Alex Ferguson as the club dominated English football over the next 12 years.

Countless words have been written about Keane’s relationship with Ferguson. The pair appeared to be kindred spirits during their time at Old Trafford until it went sour at the end and they fell out. Keane’s relation with Clough was equally complex.

The legendary manager, who won a league title and back to back European Cups with Forest, rated Keane highly and gave him his debut at Anfield in a match against Liverpool, the best team in the country at the time.

However, according to the former midfielder, Clough also punched him after Keane under-hit a back-pass during an FA Cup loss. “When I walked into the dressing room after the game, Clough punched me straight in the face,” Keane recounted in his first autobiography.

“‘Don’t pass the ball back to the goalkeeper, ‘ he screamed as I lay on the floor, him standing over me. I was hurt and shocked, too shocked to do anything but nod my head in agreement. My honeymoon with Clough and professional football was over.”

Yet, the respect between the pair never waned, as evidenced by this anecdote in an article on Keane’s time at Forest. According to Nick Miller, writing in Four Four Two, Keane was the only member of a struggling Forest team to be spared the hairdryer treatment following a disappointing result, such was Clough’s admiration for him.

“On an occasion when Clough was in one of his more irascible moods, he stalked around the dressing room offering a different insult to every player,” Miller writes.

“Accusations of laziness and complacency were tossed around, while he told goalkeeper and staunch Yorkshireman Mark Crossley to ‘buy a house in Nottingham or fuck off and play for Barnsley’. When he reached Keane, Clough said: “I love you, Irishman.

Scot Gemmill, another member of that Forest team, told a similar story a few years ago. “At the end of the game, Clough would normally be on his knees, offering to untie Keane’s boots for him, because he idolised Keane,” Gemmill said in an interview with The Telegraph.

At the time, the pair was on diverging paths. Keane was on his way to becoming one of the most dominant players in English football, and Clough was in a sad decline, unable to prevent Forest from dropping out of the top-flight.

The former Ireland captain has since said that Clough was the best manager he played under. That statement is probably up for debate given Ferguson’s tremendous success, but the respect between the pair was evident.