Former Sunderland defender Danny Higginbotham has provided an insight into working under one of English football’s most divisive and controversial characters, Roy Keane, in the Independent.
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The full-back played alongside Keane during his early days at Manchester United, and was reunited with him at Sunderland in 2007 where the former Republic of Ireland midfielder was manager.
Under his leadership, the Black Cats went from relegation-threatened in the Championship, to promoted as champions to the Premier League in one season. But once they reached the top flight, the wheels began to fall off gradually.
During Higginbotham’s only season at the Stadium of Light, they lost twenty-one times, and managed to stay up by just three points. And it was ahead of a December clash with Aston Villa – with the team on a run of six defeats in nine games – that Keane provided what Higginbotham would describe in his autobiography, as one of the most bizarre teamtalks he had ever received.
“‘Listen lads, basically, you’re shit. Try and enjoy the game. You’re probably going to get beat. But just enjoy being shit’,” Keane reportedly told his players.
“It was bizarre at the time, but turned out to be a stroke of genius,” Higginbotham – whose goal put the side 1-0 up within ten minutes – said.
And while the team were unable to hold on for the win, and Keane was subsequently sacked less than a year later, the former Stoke man has defended his long-time colleague, and compared him with one of Keane’s own mentors.
“He’s a far cleverer person than people realise or would like to acknowledge. He knew what he was doing when he said that, he knew the reaction he would get from some of us, and that was a trick right out of the Brian Clough handbook,” he added.