DANNY Higginbotham went from cleaning Roy Keane’s boots as a Manchester United apprentice, to playing under the fiery Irishman at Sunderland.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that in his new book, Rise of the Underdog, Higginbotham’s admiration for Keane as both player and manager leaps off several pages.
People look at him and think he is an angry manager, but he gets the best out of players. He got the best out of meDanny Higginbotham
Higginbotham’s belief that Keane was the best midfielder of his generation is a source of debate, yet it’s a view shared by many after his contribution to the Manchester United engine room at its pomp.
But Keane’s stint in management seems to receive far less credit.
It’s easy to paint Keane as the hot-head who didn’t have the man-management skills to deal with players less gifted than him – a narrow-minded view given further fuel by his ill-feted spell at Ipswich.
The excerpts of Higginbotham’s book in the national press have centred on a Keane team talk at Aston Villa when he told Sunderland’s players they were **** and they proved him wrong with a 1-0 win.
Look back though and Keane’s spell in charge of Sunderland was a stunning feat, despite its sticky ending.
He took a club lingering ominously at the bottom of the Championship, dragged it back to the Premier League and then kept it up with a bit to spare.
Higginbotham, signed at the start of that top-flight campaign in 2007/08, told the Echo: “People say there is no correct way to manage, it’s what gets the best out of the players.
“It might be difficult for great players to go into management and get frustrated.
“But he took over the club when they were bottom of the Championship and then finished comfortably in the Premier League. That’s not easy!
“I think sometimes his time at Sunderland is not given the credit for how well he actually did.
“People look at him and think he is an angry manager, but he gets the best out of players. He got the best out of me.
“I think he would be a great manager now given the opportunity, I really do think that.”
Injuries had seen Keane’s playing career climax at Celtic the year before his arrival at the Stadium of Light, yet Sunderland’s squad still got a glimpse of his quality.
Keane would participate in 11-a-side training games on a Thursday and still outshone everyone else involved.
“He was still the best player on the training ground by a distance,” added Higginbotham.
“He could do fantastic things easily that the rest of us found very difficult to do.
“He still played in central midfield in training and he stuck out like a sore thumb.
“At times, you thought ‘can you not play for us?’
“That desire and commitment were still unbelievable. He was still the best midfielder of that generation.
“It was ridiculous how good he was.”