Two of English football's winners will go head-to-head on Boxing Day as an enduring partnership blossoms into a new rivalry. Former Manchester United skipper Roy Keane will lead Sunderland into battle against his old club with opposite number Sir Alex Ferguson determined not to allow the young pretender to dethrone him just yet.
The two men will be in opposite dug-outs for the second time since Keane launched his managerial career with the Scot having got the better of him - if only just - at Old Trafford in September when Louis Saha's 71st-minute strike secured victory by the narrowest of margins. United ruled the roost in English football for more than a decade with Ferguson at the helm and Keane his leader on the pitch - the 36-year-old won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and only missed out on a Champions League winners' medal through suspension.
British football's pre-eminent boss continues to add accolades to his curriculum vitae long after his planned retirement, but that comes as no surprise to a man who watched him work his magic at close hand. Keane said: ``What you find with all these top managers and top people, whether it be sport or business, they like to win.
``That's what you find with all these people - and they never get sick of winning, and that's why they are so good. They love winning, they never get sick of it. ``Some people like to win once or twice and that's it. These people like to win year after year after year, and to have that drive and desire is fantastic. ``That's why you have got to admire these people.''
Perhaps one of the reasons for their success together is that Keane and Ferguson share at least some of the same characteristics, a fact acknowledged by the younger man. He said: ``I like to win, yes, I like to win.'' That is something Keane has struggled to do so far this season, and Sunderland dropped back into the relegation zone once again as a result of yet more late misfortune as Reading snatched all three points with a controversial winner on Saturday.
The former Republic of Ireland captain's commitment and intensity have never been in question, although as he unburdened his soul following his appointment at the Stadium of Light, he admitted that might not always have served him well. He arrived on Wearside having brought down the curtain on his playing days at Celtic following his split with United after more than 12 glittering years at the Theatre of Dreams.
His departure was preceded by a difference of opinion with Ferguson, although he insists he has no regrets. Keane said: ``I don't have any regrets about the way it ended - maybe one or two people might, but I don't. ``All good things come to an end and that was it. It ended the way it ended. ``It was brilliant, it was everything I thought it would be. It was fantastic.
``I loved it, I loved every minute of it.'' An apology was offered and accepted as Keane launched the latest phase of his career, although while Ferguson was a big help during his first year in management, the advice has dried up more recently. Keane said: ``Of course it does when you are in competition. It's all right when you are in the Championship and one or two managers are keen to help you with certain players or whatever.``But then when you are in the same league as them - and rightly so - then all that stops.'' Keane is one of several United old boys in the Sunderland camp - Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Danny Higginbotham and Paul McShane are likely to be involved, and 36-year-old Yorke admits he will be as excited as anyone. He said: ``It does not make any difference that I am a little bit older than some of the guys and have been there and done it, I am still as excited as those who have never played against them before.'' Read more...