AFC Eskilstuna
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Leg 1
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By ESPN Staff

Keane leaves Manchester United

Roy Keane has sensationally left Manchester United by mutual consent, the club announced today.

A statement released by the Old Trafford outfit confirmed that their long-serving captain has departed with immediate effect after it became clear that his future at the club was untenable.

The 34-year-old's representative Michael Kennedy met United chief executive David Gill at Old Trafford to thrash out details of Keane's severance, completing one of the most dramatic departures Manchester United has ever known.

The announcement comes less than three weeks after Keane's amazing outburst at his team-mates during an MUTV interview so damning that it was deemed 'unbroadcastable'.

Sir Alex Ferguson was known to be furious at the timing and verocity of the personal attacks contained within the interview and publicly rebuked his skipper prior to the win over Chelsea on November 6.

Once the depth of Ferguson's feeling was known it became clear that Keane had no future at the club.

A previous offer for a testimonial in recognition of the Irishman's 12-and-a-half years at Old Trafford has been confirmed in writing but Keane will not be at the club in an official capacity if he decides to take the offer up.

'It has been a great honour and privilege to play for Manchester United for 12 years,' said Keane.

'Whilst it is a sad day for me to leave such a great club and manager I believe that the time has now come for me to move on.

'After so many years I will miss everyone at the club.'

Keane had already cast doubt over his long-term future at United earlier this season when, in a live phone-in, he said he believed that his current contract, which was due to expire at the end of this season, would be his last.

The statement astounded Ferguson and Gill who believed they had a verbal agreement in place to discuss the Cork-born star's future later in the year.

Almost immediately speculation surfaced that he would join Celtic in the summer, and in their official statement United have today made it clear that Keane is now free to sign 'a long-term deal with another club to enable him to secure his playing career beyond what would have been the end of his contract at United in the summer'.

While the relationship between Ferguson and Keane, which has proved to be such a bedrock of United's success down the years, has now been broken apparently beyond repair but the United manager, who breezed through this morning's media sessions without mentioning the dramatic developments about to unfold, was quick to pay tribute to Keane's contribution.

'Roy Keane has been a fantastic servant for Manchester United,' said Ferguson.

'The best midfield player in the world of his generation, he is already one of the great figures in our club's illustrious history.

'Roy has been central to the success of the club in the last 12 and a half years and everyone at Old Trafford wishes him well in the rest of his career and beyond.'

The last of Keane's 326 league appearances for United came at Anfield in September when he broke his foot late in the goalless draw with Liverpool.

The Irishman is thought to be close to a return to action although where it will be is now open to major debate.

Throughout his many triumphs at Old Trafford since his £3.75million arrival from Nottingham Forest in 1993 probably his greatest performance came in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Juventus in 1999 when he virtually singlehandedly rescued United from the brink of defeat to steer them into the final for the first time in 31 years.

His Herculean efforts came at a cost though as a booking picked up in the game meant he was suspended for the final, ensuring he missed United's greatest day in his time at the club.

'During my time at the club I have been fortunate to play alongside some of the best players in the game and in front of the best supporters in the world,' said Keane.

'At all times I have endeavoured to do my best for the management and the team.'

Never one to hold back when he felt standards were slipping Keane's frustration at United's current fall from grace has been evident for a while.

His annoyance is made worse by the knowledge he is no longer capable of rousing the Red Devils as he has done so often in the past.

Although many of United's fans were in agreement with his damning assessment of the current side's qualities, most would also acknowledge his direct criticism of individual players crossed the boundaries of acceptability.

It was left to Gill to administer the last rites on Keane's time at the club.

'Roy has been a towering figure at the club for over a decade,' said Gill.

'His dedication, talent and leadership have been qualities that have marked him out as one of the true greats.

'On behalf of everyone at the club we wish him every success in his future career.'

Who replaces Roy Keane?

Roy Keane's exit from Manchester United sparks the question - who can replace the club's most successful captain?

• MICHAEL BALLACK: Different in style to Keane, but Ballack is Germany's best midfielder since Lothar Matthaus and would improve United. Sir Alex Ferguson may still need to find a ball-winning midfielder if he plumps for the Bayern Munich man. If the manager could nurture Paul Scholes into that role, then Ballack could take on the former England midfielder's attacking duties. Out of contract next summer, and potentially available for free.

• DIDIER ZOKORA: The St Etienne midfielder is a tough-tackling Ivory Coast international, thought of as one of the best midfielders in the French league. Expected to leave his present club before long, Zokora would be affordable and he has been compared favourably with the likes of Michael Essien in some quarters, but a relative lack of experience at the highest level counts against him.

• THOMAS GRAVESEN: It could be argued that Everton have not yet recovered from the shock of losing Gravesen to Real Madrid in January. Playing the same tigerish role as Keane has fulfilled so successfully, only Frank Lampard was matching Gravesen for consistency over the first half of last season. Vastly experienced and could certainly do Keane's job. Likely to be available, too, with the Brazilian influx at Madrid pushing him to the fringes.

• GENNARO GATTUSO: Amazing to think, as he enters a seventh year as an AC Milan regular, that some remain unconvinced by Gattuso. Reported to have admirers at Old Trafford, the Italian is cut from similar cloth to Keane and never shies a challenge. After a year with Rangers earlier in his career, Gattuso has hinted at wishing to return to British football.

• MANICHE: One of the stars of Porto's 2004 Champions League winning team, Maniche went on to further impress for Portugal at Euro 2004, but his move to Dynamo Moscow has been a disaster. 'I am not well, nor is my family. I don't like the country, I don't like the league and I don't like the weather,' he said prior to Portugal's World Cup qualifier against the Russians, infuriating locals. If weather is an issue, Manchester might not be inviting, but Maniche is among Europe's finest.

• MAHAMADOU DIARRA: Lyon kept Diarra this summer but lost Michael Essien to Chelsea. Opinion was divided in France over which midfielder was the better. Just 24, the Malian began his career aged 18 with Crete before spending three years at Vitesse Arnhem in Holland. Claims to have turned down Arsenal and Inter Milan during the summer.

• STEVEN GERRARD: Liverpool's captain refused the chance to join Chelsea this summer, and it was the allure of the club he grew up supporting which convinced him to stay. A move to Old Trafford is highly unlikely given his allegiance, even though he would be the ready-made replacement for Keane.