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Neil Humphreys
Monday, Oct 6, 2014

Sports

Man United lack real leaders

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Monday, Oct 6, 2014

Roy Keane

Gerard Pique won a treble with Barcelona and played a pivotal role in Spain's World Cup win in 2010.

But Roy Keane still messes with his underwear.

In a stellar career, Pique handled Sir Alex Ferguson in the dressing room and Carles Puyol in the penalty box. Only his former Manchester United captain left him "s******* himself".

As a leader, Keane commanded something more than fear. He expected total compliance. He demanded a player's heart and soul.

No one has come close to replacing Keane at United. That much is obvious. But Pique's remarks this week are a reminder of what the club still lack.

The Red Devils are more mice than men. Some bark because they cannot bite.

Only Louis van Gaal radiates real authority at the club.

Even in Brazil, it was remarkable to watch Dutch players, coaches and journalists yield in his presence.

Ferguson generated a similar aura at Old Trafford, creating an unsubtle blend of admiration and intimidation.

SUPERIORITY

On the pitch, Keane was the physical embodiment of Ferguson's innate strength, fortitude and sense of superiority. Winning was a way of life.

In an interview this week, Pique recalled his phone vibrating loudly in his trouser pocket and Keane going "crazy" in trying to identify the culprit.

To this day, Pique remains relieved he wasn't caught. When he spotted Keane doing TV work at a Champions League game last year, he hid.

Even in retirement, Keane exudes the power of a heat-seeking missile. With his grey beard, he looks like he should be sharpening an axe in a log cabin.

His inescapable presence only reinforces what United do not have. Unlike Ferguson, van Gaal cannot call upon such a forceful kindred spirit to do his bidding.

Who's going to tell Radamel Falcao, for instance, to stop talking to his agent Jorge Mendes on the phone?

Juan Mata displays the ferocity of a snoozing tabby cat. Angel di Maria and Ander Herrera are at risk of being toppled by a stiff breeze and Robin van Persie is preoccupied with rediscovering his game rather then remonstrating with others.

What's more, United opted to get rid of the three leaders in their back four, moving on Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra and leaving the inhibited Jonny Evans as the most experienced defender at the club.

Daley Blind hinted at his lieutenant qualities at the World Cup, but he's the new kid on the block. He struggled to take command in recent games against Leicester City and West Ham.

That just leaves Wayne Rooney.

The skipper's credentials are still up for debate. His public berating of the kids at the club, with Tyler Blackett in particular feeling his wrath of the skipper, lacked conviction. It felt like a relief teacher trying too hard.

COMPARISON

In comparison, Keane was the respected discipline master who said enough with a glare. The eyes had it.

Rooney's shouting was heavy on theatricality, but light on leadership. He came across as petulant, rather like persuasive.

A decade from now, it's highly unlikely that Blackett will hide from his old captain, still intimidated by that animalistic aggression.

With Rooney suspended for three games, United's lack of shepherds to guide their spring lambs will be all the more glaring.

Teams seldom win trophies without one.

This season's obsession with "soft centres" is a natural reaction to the demise of the old-school enforcer. Tactical tweaks make the gut-busting runs of blood-crazed generals less common.

But men of substance still inspire the silverware charge. Last year, Yaya Toure and Steven Gerrard rallied those around them, sustaining the title race until the final day.

And Chelsea still have John Terry, a polarizing figure beyond Stamford Bridge but an omnipotent rabble-rouser inside the dressing room.

Jose Mourinho usually insists on at least one foaming pitbull to snarl at friends and foes alike.

United, on the other hand, have too many individual talents and not enough chiefs. When Leicester sliced through the Red Devils like a knife in warm butter, no one stepped forward to stem the bleeding. No one halted the charge.

As Pique pointed out, there really was only one Keano. He was a one-off, a unique wrecking ball of midfield malevolence.

Keane led by example.

At the moment, no one really leads United at all.


This article was first published on Oct 4, 2014.
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