‘When he apologises I will probably say hello’ – Manchester United bust-ups that helped shape Sir Alex Ferguson’s greats

Barring one high-profile example, that scenario usually only ever went one way.

United made two things habitual during the 1990s and 2000s in particular when Sir Alex was at the helm; winning trophies and bust-ups. The latter helped contribute to regular and almost non-stop silverware as their unparalleled competitive edge spilled over from training sessions, matches and the occasional knees-up!

Several names spring to mind when thinking about Sir Alex and bust-ups. Footballer-turned-pundit Roy Keane will, almost certainly, be front and centre for any Google search to that tune – while the footballer-turned-pundit hasn&apost exactly relaxed his animosity towards the Scot since hanging up his boots.

“As much as I&aposm not one to hold a grudge, I wouldn&apost forgive Ferguson,” said Keane during his 2019 appearance on the Off The Ball podcast: “The media spin, how I apparently upset everybody, it was all nonsense. I don&apost care if it&aposs Alex Ferguson or the Pope, you&aposre going to defend yourself.

“When he apologises I will probably say hello to him, yeah. But I&aposve no interest in speaking to the man.”

That was not the beginning or end for Keane and Sir Alex and the hard-nosed Irishman has often fired shots at his former manager from the studio or via his two autobiographies. So much he said this, he did that, but the reality is once the toxicity spilled over their partnership was only ever going to go south.

That infamous interview with MUTV in 2005 following an alarming defeat to Middlesbrough – in which Keane was not even on the teamsheet due to injury – lit the dynamite stick and an almighty explosion naturally followed. The exact ins and outs have been told, contested and speculated on for almost two decades now, but within a month Keane&aposs contract was terminated. He pitched up at boyhood club Celtic for a short spell before retirement and that no-holds-barred rant was the last United saw, or heard, from Keane in an official capacity.

Keane was not the only United mainstay to have Sir Alex order him a taxi to the end of the road.

Jaap Stam – a colossus at the back for three years either side of the Millennium – was pushed out the door to Lazio in 2001 after the Dutchman penned some less than complementary words about his then-manager in what seemed to be a forthright autobiography. Even title wins in each of his seasons did not save Stam from the boot.

Speaking of boots, the most infamous one in Premier League history was, allegedly, kicked by Sir Alex and collided with none other than &aposGolden Balls&apos himself in the heat of the moment amid FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.

A cut and scar above the eyeline did nothing to diminish David Beckham&aposs good looks and, if anything, it underlined the bad boy image he carried around for a short while. Alas, just a few months after that February 2003 episode the then-England captain was on his way to Real Madrid and United needed a shiny new No.7.

That turned out pretty well with Cristiano Ronaldo bursting onto the scene to become the greatest player on the planet before taking the same journey to the Santiago Bernabeu himself. Ronaldo came and went without so much as denting his father-son-like relationship with Sir Alex.

Before he was booted, physically and figuratively, Beckham enjoyed a similar dynamic with Sir Alex and they have, seemingly, patched up more than Beckham&aposs left eyebrow since.

Sir Alex, though, took a little while to forget that one, as underlined in his 2013 autobiography. He wrote: “The next day the story was in the press. In public an Alice band highlighted the damage inflicted by the boot, it was in those days that I told the board David had to go. The minute a Manchester United player thought he was bigger than the manager, he had to go.”

And off Beckham went.

Appeasing those with a fondness for nostalgia, Beckham and Sir Alex have reunited in recent years and every time the free-kick specialist mentions his former manager – or &aposThe Boss&apos as he calls him – there is an appreciation of what Sir Alex did for him and what they achieved together in a generation-defining team.

Still, that doesn&apost stop others around at the time making light of the swinging dressing room boot. Pressed on the incident during an interview with FourFourTwo magazine, then-assistant manager Carlos Quieroz said: “It&aposs time to establish the truth behind that story…

“I was there in the dressing room that day and, let&aposs put things right, it was not a good shot, because the boot first hit a table and, only then, it went in Beckham&aposs direction. Sir Alex, I&aposm very sorry, but your left foot was not quite as good as you think!”

Before and after boot-gate, Paul Ince and Ruud van Nistelrooy were sold at, arguably, the tip of their powers after clashing with Sir Alex in 1995 and 2006 respectively – with Inter Milan and Real swooping – while the Scot managed to do something even Keane might have approved of when picking his own fight with Peter Schmeichel.

With those two – Keane and Schmeichel – yet to trade blows in a quaint Hong Kong hotel rather than beneath the Las Vegas backdrop befitting for such a heavyweight showdown, Sir Alex &aposordered&apos the great Dane to find himself a new club in 1994 when faulting him for numerous things in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool.

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Schmeichel was spared a proper hairdryer – and his P45 – to keep goal for Sir Alex for another five years. The row, then, perhaps didn&apost quite match the heat of those that came before and after.

Keane revolted, Beckham softened and Van Nistelrooy apologised. Added to Stam, Ince and Schmeichel, they all suffered the same fate at the time and clashing with Sir Alex was the beginning of the end for most, but one man who needs no introduction – Wayne Rooney – side-stepped a one-way fare out of Manchester.

Rooney and Sir Alex were said to have locked horns on a number of occasions throughout their days together at the club, but at one particular juncture – when the club&aposs all-time record scorer handed in a transfer request (2010) amid interest from Chelsea – it threatened to indefinitely sour things for &aposWazza&apos at United.

Of course, that proposed move didn&apost pan out and the rest, as they say, is history. But while Rooney firmly bucked the trends to outstay Sir Alex afterwards, he later admitted the whole episode was tinged with regret.

During a lengthy chat with the UTD Podcast in 2020, Rooney said: “I think it&aposs good [his relationship with the fans]. It [also] took a hit in 2010 when I asked to leave the club, which I get. I understand that frustration from the fans over that. But, again, I had frustrations myself with the way the club was going.

“It was all quick [the transfer request] and something that I regret now… Decisions were getting made on emotions rather than sitting down and thinking them through.”

“I don&apost think it was immediately forgotten. I could feel the tension in the first few games and for some fans, to this day, probably won&apost get over it fully. I understand that. As a fan, that&aposs your club and I can understand that situation.

“From my point of view, I was getting my head down and working hard, trying to perform. I know at the time what I wanted, but it probably wasn&apost my place to be going into Sir Alex&aposs office saying that.”

Bust-ups to that magnitude – not to mention standards and trophies – have dried up since the legendary manager opted to retire after the 2012/2013 season which marked the club&aposs most recent Premier League triumph. But there have been fleeting attempts to restore former glories right to the present day.

Jose Mourinho was never going to pass through Old Trafford without leaving his mark in both senses. Love him or loathe him, the Portuguese lifted European silverware for the club, but big ones Mourinho and United craved – the Premier League and Champions League – proved elusive before his high-profile sacking in December 2018.

Mourinho vs Pogba and Shaw were acted out in differing circumstances. Both players outlasted the manager, and the latter remains at Old Trafford after getting his career back on track.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the wheel and barely took a wrong turn away from the pitch, while Erik ten Hag is currently weighing-up how to handle Jadon Sancho after their astonishing war of words – played out in the media – when Ten Hag dropped his forward the Arsenal game. Details on that will follow.