Last updated : 05 April 2004 By Editor
The Times looks at the implications of life without Roy

‘The win at Villa Park was a reminder of the class acts that
they (United) have in Ryan Giggs and, particularly, Paul
Scholes, the goalscorer and man of the match; of the
emerging brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo; and of the
defensive talents of Wes Brown, who, but for injuries and
misfortune, might have been pushing to replace Rio Ferdinand
in the England defence as well as United’s.

‘It was, too, a victory achieved without the injured Ruud
van Nistelrooy, but, like the previous weekend’s 1-1 draw at
Highbury in the Barclaycard Premiership, it was not a
triumph for the better team. United were forced to play like
underdogs, scrapping for every little advantage and turning
the match into a battle because they knew that they could
not win a contest of skill. More than anything, it
underlined that the biggest task facing Ferguson, that of
replacing Roy Keane, is more pressing than ever. United won
despite their captain, who was the game’s least effective
player in the first hour. Some will point out that he made
several important interventions late on, but so did just
about every one of his team-mates.

‘Age and his hip injury are restricting Keane so severely
that Ferguson had to set up a five-man midfield in which
Scholes and Darren Fletcher were required to do the
Irishman’s running. Keane was so concerned at his lack of
pace that he let his accomplices take on Patrick Vieira and
Edu in the no man’s land of midfield while he stayed in his
defensive trench.

‘It is possible to be a very successful team without a
Keane, Vieira or Steven Gerrard — Real Madrid do very
nicely, thank you — and the time has come for Ferguson to
decide how United will move on without their talisman of the
past decade. Replacing him with another colossus, as Keane
took over the mantle of Bryan Robson, may prove impossible,
so the United manager may have to divert attention from his

‘Reportedly chasing Rafael van der Vaart, the classy Holland
and Ajax attacking midfield player, Ferguson may decide to
spend his money on improving the front end of his team and
hope that two of Eric Djemba Djemba, Kléberson, Phil Neville
and Liam Miller can provide enough cover behind any
combination of Van Nistelrooy, Giggs, Scholes, Louis Saha,
Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and, possibly, Van der Vaart.

‘Once a giant of the game, Keane is now a barrier to
United’s progress. Although he has two years left on his
contract at Old Trafford and is due a testimonial at the
start of next season, he has always expressed an interest in
finishing his career at Celtic. At 33, perhaps the time has
come to depart. Keane was typically understated after
victory on Saturday. “I am not going to get carried away
until I have a medal in my hands,” he said and, if he does
decide to bring an end to his 11 years at United, a sixth FA
Cup Final would be a good way to go out.’