Manchester United have never replaced Roy Keane, since his 2005 exit from the club, and it may be impossible to ever do so, says former Red Devils star Alan Smith.
Smith and Keane played together at Old Trafford when the former joined the club from Leeds United in 2004 until the latter departed a year later.
The Englishman deputised for Keane in a defensive midfield role when the Irishman was struggling for fitness and Smith is well aware what the captain brought to the team, and that it was much more than just strong leadership qualities.
His qualities as a man and a player made him unique and Smith believes he has not been replaced, and may never be.
‘No-one could ever replicate it, so it was [about me] trying to do as good a job in a similar position. It wasn’t like, “you’re going to be a Roy Keane”. I could never do that job.
It was put to Smith that Keane is considered overrated as a player by some, due to his memorable other talents of leadership, motivation and organisation, but Smith feels this is a long way from the mark, and anyone who was on the pitch with the Irishman would agree.
‘You could ask any player that’s played with him or against him and I’d say 99 per cent of them would all have the same answer for you,’ said the former England striker.
‘For me, it’s not just a case of Roy being a leader. That’s so disrespectful to him as a footballer as well.
‘You don’t play for Manchester United and captain them based on just being a leader. That’s such an unfair criticism of someone who’s probably been one of the Premier League’s greatest central midfield players.’
Smith was well regarded by Keane at Old Trafford and got a favourable mention in his second autobiography, although just as much for his off-the-field attitude as his play.
‘Alan Smith came in from Leeds, and started really well,’ wrote Keane. ‘I got on well with Smudge.
‘One thing that struck me about him was that he never drank. That made him stand out, a bit. He’d still have a late night with us, and a crack and a laugh. He’d stay to the bitter end.
‘I’d stopped drinking by this time, so we’d often end up chatting together. We were the only two left capable of holding a conversation.’