Roy Keane has hailed the return of the feel-good factor to Manchester United having seen the club reach the Carabao Cup final and move one win away from ending their six-year trophy drought.
A 2-0 win on the night helped United record a 5-0 aggregate win over Nottingham Forest to reach the final, where they face Newcastle on February 26. Despite the ease of their passage, United boss Erik Ten Hag was quick to remind his players of the high standards required to succeed at Old Trafford.
Nonetheless, the win was an 11th success in 12 games since the season’s resumption.
They are also still alive in four competitions; the only Premier League side to make such a claim.
All in all, there are huge signs of progress since Ten Hag took control. A first trophy since the 2017 Europa League would be the next step towards the club’s recovery. However, there is no disguising from the club’s main aim – a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League.
That will boost Ten Hag’s summer transfer funds as he looks to further strengthen his squad. To that end, United are reportedly paying close attention towards a Juventus star fast emerging as a top summer priority.
Whoever he brings in, Ten Hag will want to ensure any new signings have the right personalities to succeed.
That is something that Keane feels held United back in recent seasons.
And with Ten Hag making some tough decisions and binning off some big-name stars, Keane has pinpointed two men he felt held them back.
“When the manager came in, United were rock bottom and we had to talk about the recruitment,” he told Sky Sports. “But what I think was key as well was the five or six players that left.”
Roy Keane picks out Man Utd trouble makers
He continued: “I’m not knocking all these players. But Pogba, Mata, Matic, Jesse Lingard, lads who’d been around and knew they were leaving. They knew they’d be leaving and their contracts were up for most of them and I think that wasn’t helping.
“There definitely feels around the club a new energy. The new manager has put a few markers down after a bad start to the season, and that momentum and that feel good factor is back at the club. The energy levels are different.”
Keane was asked then more specifically about Cristiano Ronaldo, who departed at the end of November after having his contract torn up.
Asked if it is one of the crop he is referring to, Keane was not shy in adding his name to the list.
“I think that’s helped (Ronaldo’s departure) the manager and the club,” Keane added.
“No one wanted that to be hanging over the second half of the season and it should have been dealt with in the summer. That whole Ronaldo situation, he obviously wasn’t going to sit on the bench and be happy with it.
“They’ve now dealt with it and now it’s now hanging over the club anymore. But also the other five or six lads that left, Cavani another one. Those who were fringe players, coming off the bench, and when they were coming on they weren’t bringing anything because they felt they should have been starting.
“Those subs and fringe players have to come on and be ready. Whereas the fringe players last year, you just felt they were energy sappers.”
Alejandro Garnacho set a challenge
Of the new wave of stars making an impact, Keane certainly likes what he sees in young Argentine Alejandro Garnacho.
However, Keane wants to see the winger taking his game to the next level.
And speaking prior to the second leg against Forest, Keane is keen to see even more from the 18-year-old.
“Every player is so different,” Keane said. “The fact he’s so young and he’s had more of an impact coming off the bench, so he’ll be delighted to get his opportunity [starting vs Forest].
“If you want to be an attacking, young player for Man United, you’ve got to be brave, You’ve got to have courage, you’ve got to affect games when you get your opportunity. And that is what we saw with this great finish late in the game [against Fulham in November]. As a young player he’ll have to get more consistent.
“But listen, he’s fantastic, and he’s getting involved. That’s what you want from any attacking player when he starts. He’s getting assists, a few goals, he played a huge part in United’s season [against Manchester City].
“We talk about momentum turns – you wouldn’t want to play against him, and he’s exciting to watch. That’s what United fans want to see.”
READ MORE ~ Wout Weghorst: Dutch legend ‘bothered by’ Man Utd transfer as doubts still shroud venomous impact