Keane heads for Old Trafford exit

By MATT LAWTON, Daily Mail

Last updated at 11:09 17 November 2005

Roy Keane believes his hopes of a new contract at Old Trafford have been dashed after recent clashes with manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Manchester United's captain hopes to make a surprise comeback tonight, more than two weeks ahead of schedule, in an attempt to prove his fitness for next week's crucial Champions League game against Villarreal.

But the United board appear convinced the injury problems he has struggled with for the last couple of years, as well as the breakdown of his relationship with Ferguson, mean he should not be awarded a new contract at 34 when his current deal runs out at the end of the season.

It is seven weeks since Keane told a fans' phone-in on the club's own MUTV station that he expected this campaign would probably be his last at United, only to be met with silence by the Old Trafford hierarchy. Since then, nothing has persuaded them to offer him a contract extension.

Keane aborted his first attempt to return from a broken foot, failing to appear in last Monday's reserve team visit to Burton Albion. Ferguson said he could be out for "another two or three weeks" but United's skipper will try to play at Hyde tonight against West Bromwich reserves.

Ironically, a recurrence of the injury could be identified by United as another reason for letting him leave in the summer, by which time United hope to have lined up Germany's Michael Ballack as a replacement.

Keane has clashed with United several times this season. He rowed with Ferguson over facilities for the players' families on a preseason training camp in Portugal. Keane did not go on the Far East tour that followed.

He then stunned his employers with his MUTV announcement about leaving in the summer. The club, he revealed, had made no attempt to offer him an extension to his current deal.

That was seen by United as a deliberate ploy to put them under pressure and when Keane then criticised fellow players for last month's defeat at Middlesbrough during an interview with MUTV, Ferguson and chief executive David Gill intervened and prevented the interview from being broadcast.

A heated meeting between Keane and Ferguson followed, as well as a frank exchange between the Irishman and the rest of the squad, and relations between player and manager were soured further when Ferguson publicly announced that such criticism should have remained behind closed doors.

Last week, Ferguson even expressed doubts about Keane's credentials as a future manager.

Ballack, meanwhile, has told Bayern Munich he might stay after all. Although his contract expires at the end of the season, he said yesterday: "I just want to have the opportunity to listen to other offers. I haven't turned Bayern down."