“Roy was steaming – all I was thinking was, please don’t come for me!”
Listen back to Clinton Morrison’s brilliant recollection of the infamous ‘Saipan incident’ which rocked Irish football in the build-up to the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
It’s almost 17 years ago that Roy Keane was sensationally sent home from Republic of Ireland’s World Cup squad before a ball had even been kicked, after launching a foul-mouthed tirade at manager Mick McCarthy at their training base on the Pacific island of Saipan.
The Manchester United legend was unhappy with the preparations of the team ahead of their huge opportunity to shine on the global stage, and challenged his boss in front of the entire team and staff.
Former striker Morrison had a front-row seat as the row unfolded, and he told talkSPORT of how he was sent ducking for cover when it all kicked off.
“Roy wants things done professionally,” the London-born star – who won 36 caps for Republic of Ireland, scoring nine goals – told talkSPORT.
“He was at Manchester United and he said when it comes to the World Cup, he wanted things done properly.
“But the first day we got to Saipan was a nightmare. Our kit went missing and the training facilities were not the best.
“If Roy waited a day, we went to a place called Chiba [near Tokyo, Japan] and it had the best facilities, the pitch was like a carpet. But he’d lost his head the day before, he’d gone mad.”
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But that was not the extent of Keano’s gripes. Reports at the time claimed the midfielder was not only unhappy with the facilities, but also their travel arrangements to Saipan, McCarthy’s tactics and even the team’s diet.
It all proved too much for the hot-headed star, who reneged against McCarthy’s strict media ban to lift the lid to the Irish press and things spiralled from there…
Morrison continued: “Mick said to us, ‘no one is allowed to do any interviews’.
“I used to get on with Roy. I used to like getting in his brain and I still speak to him now, I think he’s a wonderful guy. He told me: ‘Make sure you’re here not to make up the numbers, Clinton. You’re here to play.’
“We spoke for an hour and then we went for dinner and we always had a sing-song, so I’m there signing my Irish songs, as I do, and Mick comes in with a paper.
“Roy had obviously had a moan [to the press] about the facilities, and Mick said: ‘I told you not to do any interviews, so why have you done this?’
“Roy said: ‘I did an interview because I wanted to. The set-up, the surroundings, they have not been good enough’.
“They started arguing. I’m thinking, hang on a minute, our best player, the best player Ireland have probably produced for many, many years is there arguing with the manager and the whole squad is watching it.
“He said to Mick: ‘You were a bad player anyway, you had a rubbish first touch and you’re a poor manager. The only manager I respect is Sir Alex Ferguson‘.
“Then he said: ‘And you’re English, you’re not even Irish!’
“As soon as he said that, I think most people who were born in England put their head under the table. I know I did. I was thinking, please don’t come for me!
“I don’t know if it would have come to blows, but Roy was steaming!
“I think Mick could have done it in a different way, spoke to him one-on-one, because Roy was always ready to blow back then, always fighting things and always ready to go into one.
“They got separated and Roy stood there and said: ‘Go on, Mick. What are you going to do? Make a decision.’
“So he had to send him home and, literally within two days, he was back in Manchester wearing that horrendous Diadora tracksuit he used to wear walking his dog.
“I couldn’t believe it!”
Despite losing one of their key players, Ireland made it out of the group stages – finishing runners up to Germany – but went no further than the last-16, where they were beaten by Spain on penalties.
Listen back to talkSPORT’s interview with Clinton Morrison IN FULL above!