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Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira very nearly formed the world’s most unlikely midfield partnership

Two major releases dominated conversation in November 2005.

One was Microsoft’s flagship gaming console, the Xbox 360, which released in the United States and Canada to much fanfare on 22nd November, ending weeks of speculation and anticipation.

The other had taken place four days earlier, when Roy Keane was released by Man United.

Unlike the Xbox 360, Keane’s release came completely out of the blue.

Keep your friends close…

Keep your friends close…

The midfielder’s 12-and-a-half year spell at Old Trafford was terminated on 18th November, despite the 34-year-old training with Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad, as was routine, just hours prior to the announcement.

Keane himself was resigned to leaving United at the end of the season, but nobody expected the Irishman to depart halfway through what was already proving to be a problematic campaign for Sir Alex Ferguson.

That United’s options were limited in the middle of the park, with Ferguson forced to blood youth in Darren Fletcher and rely on the versatility of Ryan Giggs and John O’Shea to cope with Paul Scholes’ injury, made the release of an experience central midfielder on the verge of recovering from a broken foot all the more suspicious.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the cloak and dagger decision, Keane was unemployed as of 12pm that Friday afternoon.

What happened next is no mystery, with Keane joining Celtic for what turned out to be the last six-months of his career.

The smile of an assasin

The smile of an assasin

But, had the stars aligned, a transfer previously only deemed possible in the virtual world of the Xbox 360 could have come to fruition and seen Keane link up with his former sparring partner, Patrick Vieira.

Vieira had departed the Premier League four months prior to Keane’s impromptu exit, leaving Arsenal after nine years and three Premier League trophies to join Fabio Capello at Juventus.

Trophies aside, Vieira’s time in England was best epitomised by the wars he fought with Keane, culminating in a bust up in the Highbury tunnel that would have been a touch too spicy even for Mike Tyson’s liking.

Now in the more sedate surroundings of Italy, Vieira was part of a Juventus squad that contained Gianluigi Buffon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pavel Nedved, David Trezeguet, Lilian Thuram, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Cannavaro.

Predictably, as of the 18th November, Juventus had won ten of their opening 11 Serie A fixtures, with Vieira forming a partnership with Brazilian grafter Emerson in the centre of midfield.

But, with Keane in limbo, Capello sensed an opportunity.

What could have been

What could have been

Sky Sports went as far as saying that: “Keane is tempted by a switch to Stadio Delle Alpi and is spending the next few days studying Juventus’ proposal.”

Ultimately Keane chose Celtic, but not before spurning another European giant.

In his autobiography, Keane claims: “Real Madrid offered me a year and a half deal. It was the most attractive challenge in front of me, but I didn’t accept it.”

As fate would have it, Capello would have been Keane’s manager at Madrid if he’d accepted the proposal, with the Italian making a swift exit from Juventus following the Calciopoli scandal.

Instead, with Juventus languishing in Serie B for the 2006/07 season, Capello had to make do with Emerson who, along with Cannavaro, followed his manager to the Madrid, where they won La Liga at the first attempt.

Never one to dwell, Keane probably doesn’t waste any time pondering what it would have been like to dominate Serie A midfields with Vieira, or lift La Liga in front of 80,000 people at the Bernabeu.

If he did, it would probably go a little something like this: ‘Juventus took the league through French striker Trezeguet but were forced to hold on for the last 15 minutes after both Vieira and Keane were removed for trying to fight the entire Fiorentina playing staff’.

Serie A wouldn’t have known what had hit it.

(insert Spanish swear words)

(insert Spanish swear words)