Erling Haaland’s Roy Keane row: Family feud between Man City superstar and Man United great explained

Erling Haaland produced an emphatic answer to lingering questions over his form this season.

The Manchester City striker returned to Pep Guardiola’s starting line up and racked up four goals — two coolly dispatched penalties, one exquisite header and a rip-roaring left-footed finish during Saturday’s 5-1 win over Wolves.

It lifted City to within a point of leaders Arsenal with three matches to play. One of those is a game in hand at Tottenham. If they win all three, they will be champions for a record fourth-consecutive season.

Haaland also looks pretty much guaranteed to make it back-to-back Premier League Golden Boots. Newcastle striker Alexander Isak and Chelsea attacker Cole Palmer were within a goal of him at kickoff on Saturday but the Norway superstar’s Wolves bounty took him to 25 league goals in 2023/25.

Considering Haaland spent almost two months on the sidelines with a bone stress injury in his foot across December and January and has struggled for form and fitness since, it is no mean feat.

As he celebrated a sixth Premier League hat-trick and ninth overall since joining City in the summer of 2022, a familiar family foe came into the 23-year-old’s crosshairs.

MORE: How Erling Haaland thrilled the Etihad Stadium with a four-goal haul

What did Roy Keane say about Erling Haaland?

City played out a turgid 0-0 draw against Arsenal after the March international break. As in their 1-0 October defeat at Emirates Stadium, Haaland struggled to make an impression on the contest.

He also drew a blank in the 1-1 draw away to Liverpool that preceded that match and former Manchester United captain Roy Keane was among the Sky Sports pundits who conducted a postmortem on Haaland’s performance.

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“The level of his general play is so poor”, Keane said, “Not just today. I think his laying stuff off, his headers and whatever it might be.

“In front of goal he is the best in the world, but his general play for such a player is so poor. He’s almost like a League Two player, that’s the way I look at him. He has to improve and it will do over the next few years.”

Erling Haaland

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Erling Haaland’s brutal response to Roy Keane

Basking in the glow of a fine performance and with another match ball for his collection, Haaland was asked about Keane’s observations and whether hearing such comments “fires him up”.

“I don’t really care that much about that man, so that’s all right,” was the laconic response when speaking to Viaplay.

Guardiola was a little more forthcoming, explaining how the road back to top form and fitness has been a tricky one for Haaland to negotiate, with or without criticism.

“Today he did it and against Nottingham Forest as well,” he said, having brought Haaland off the bench to seal a hard-fought 2-0 win at the City Ground. 

“He was injured, an important one. He’s so tall. To come back to his best form, he needs time. It’s not like Jeremy [Doku] for example or Phil [Foden]. 

“I’m happy for his performance and his exceptional goals and the penalties as well because we know how sometimes they are not easy. The second and the fourth were unbelievable. I’m really pleased for him.”

What happened with Roy Keane and Erling Haaland’s dad?

There is some heavy context around Keane criticising Haaland or passing any comment on him at all. During his playing days, Keane clashed with the player’s father, Alf-Inge Haaland, a former midfielder and defender for Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and City.

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In 1997, during a game between Leeds and United, Keane injured his knee ligaments when attempting to trip Haaland. 

“He was winding me up from the beginning of the game,” Keane wrote in his 2002 autobiography. “Five minutes from time… I lunged forward at Haaland. I was trying to trip him rather than kick him. I knew it would probably mean a booking but, f*** it, he’d done my head in.”

As that extract outlines, it had been something of a feisty contest and, in the immediate aftermath, Haaland accused Keane of feigning injury — something the Republic of Ireland midfielder did not forget in a hurry.

During the closing moments of a Manchester derby that finished 1-1 in April, 2001, City defender Steve Howey cancelling out Teddy Sheringham’s second-half penalty, Keane went over a bouncing ball and clattered his studs into the side of Haaland’s right knee.

“I’d waited long enough,” Keane wrote. “I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). [I said]: ‘Don’t ever stand over me again sneering about fake injuries.’”

Roy Keane abuses Alf-Inge Haaland after being sent off

That particular passage of Keane’s 2002 autobiography earned him a five-match ban and £150,000 fine from the FA, having already been red-carded and suspended for three games on account of the challenge itself.

Erling Haaland joining an all-conquering City to claim some sort of ultimate vengeance for his stricken father was a seductive narrative for some. There was the unusual spectacle of United fans chanting “Keano” before Haaland converted a penalty in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford this season.

“People were singing to me ‘Keano,’” Haaland told the BBC Match of the Day afterwards. “I don’t know why, but it is what it is. It was a nice celebration and a nice game.”

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Haaland Sr had been carrying an injury in his left knee that eventually required surgery. After the sickening blow he received to his right knee from Keane, he never completely recovered.

He played 45 minutes of a friendly for Norway against Bulgaria the following week — the last of his 34 international caps — before his 181st and final Premier League outing as City beat West Ham 1-0, a result that could not spare them from relegation.

“Did that tackle end my career? Well, I never played a full game again, did I? It seems like a great coincidence, don’t you think?” Haaland said in an interview with The Daily Mail

In 2001/02, Haaland made four substitute appearances for City across December and January. He called time on his top-level career after unsuccessful rehabilitation attempts at the end of the following campaign.

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