Daniel Nardiello on joining United, the personal touch of Fergie and Jose Mourinho.

Competition at Manchester United is fierce, and Daniel Nardiello has experienced it up close and personal. From the highs to the lows, he has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt. From a United debut at Highbury, to being released by United and having to get his career back on track, Daniel has encountered the many contrasting emotions that a career in football can bring. He joined Utd in 1999 having been spotted by scouts playing district football for Wolverhampton Wanderers and established himself as a regular for the reserves, where he scored on a frequent basis. Moreover, Daniel made his debut in 2001 in a League Cup game at Highbury when he came on as a second half substitute in a 4-0 defeat against the old enemy, Arsenal. In 2005, he left the club in search of first-team football and has gone on to play for teams such as Barnsley, QPR, Blackpool, Bury, Exeter City and Rotherham United in a career which spanned 17 years. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking to the former United man and we spoke about his time at Old Trafford. In addition, he opens up on his feelings upon leaving United, his great respect for Alex Ferguson and his views on current boss Jose Mourinho.
Morning Daniel. How did your move to Manchester United come about?

Hi Jimmy. I think I was thirteen, and I was playing for my local district team in the age-group above myself in a national competition. I managed to score a couple of goals and we won the game. I caught the eye of Jeff Watson, a football scout at Manchester United; it just went from there really. I was at Wolves at the time and my contract was coming to an end. I spoke to Manchester United when the contract was up and for me it was a no brainer to join the club and potentially start a career there when I finished school.

Was it difficult being a such a big club at a young age?

On a personal level, not at all. Being so young, I didn’t even think about it to be honest. It was almost the norm. I believed in myself, believed in my ability and I believed I had a decent chance of playing in the first-team at some stage. I think it’s only when you are that bit older that you appreciate what kind of a position you are in and how it could be intimidating to some people. However, at 16 or 17 years old, you just take it in your stride I suppose. I found it pretty easy and I was relatively comfortable with it all.

How much pressure is on you once you sign that professional contract?

I think it takes a certain type of mentality to make it in sport. I didn’t really feel pressure as such; I was just enjoying playing football. Although at the same time, it wasn’t like playing football as a kid because results were starting to matter. Its the same principle though. I just wanted to go out and have fun. For me, I never really felt the pressure. It was just something that was very natural for me.


How much contact did you have with senior management and Alex Ferguson at that time?

There was quite a lot of contact. I spoke to Ferguson a few times, especially as I was coming through the ranks. Obviously I trained a lot with the first team and he was always on hand to give advice and to give you some sort of guidance; he was great for me on a personal level. I had to ask permission to buy my own house though! When I was 19, I wanted to move out of the digs and he told me you can only move out when you have had 3 months worth of cooking lessons with a chef at United! He had a huge input into the youth at Manchester United. He was very approachable; but you also knew he was the boss and not to mess around with him.


I have read several accounts of Ferguson from ex United players, and they all say the same thing: that he got to know everybody, from players, to the canteen lady, to the laundry staff. How important is that to achieve success?

Yeah, that is bang on. I actually happened to bump into Ferguson towards the end of my career. It was about three years ago when I was playing for Bury. We happened to be going to see the same specialist! He spoke to me as if he had seen me last week, and it had been years since I had come into contact with him. For him to remember me out of all the players he has had over years is phenomenal and says a lot about him. He had that personal touch and he always showed an interest in everybody at the club. Ferguson knew that in order to be successful, everybody needed to be on point together; everybody was of equal importance.

You made your debut at Highbury, against Arsenal. What was going through your head before hand?

The thing that was going through my head was the underfloor heating in the dressing room! It was great. Everyone was walking around in their bare-feet beforehand! In terms of the game itself, I wasn’t nervous. I was just hoping to get a run out on the pitch. I knew I was on the bench as I had found out a couple of days before that I would be travelling with the squad. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting it when the call came. I was just delighted to get on, make my debut and try and hopefully make a positive impact. It was a dream come true but it’s something I don’t think you appreciate until later on in life. A debut at Highbury is pretty special, and I was just so pleased to get that United shirt on.

Having been released then, how did you go about getting your career back on track?

I had a meeting with Ferguson at the end of the season and he said that he could give me another year, but he felt it would be better for my own progression to go out and get first-team games on a regular basis. In my opinion, it was the right thing to do. I was 22 or 23 at the time, and I knew I needed to play every week. It was tough in one sense because obviously I was leaving Manchester United who had been a big part of my life. However, I seemed like the logical thing to do; I had quite a bit of interest and I was just happy to go out and get regular games and score as many goals as I could.

Is there contact with the club after you depart?

A little bit. However, being brutally honest, the club don’t have time to do that. I guess there is only so much old clubs can do. They will help you to a certain degree but at the end of the day, you can only rely on yourself. Perhaps there isn’t enough help, but that is just the world we live in now. If clubs were to look after the players who leave the club, they wouldn’t have the time to develop the players who are still there. It’s a tough one. It can be a ruthless business to be involved with.

Is there any contact nowadays with people from your time at United?

I live in Manchester so I bump into people all the time, but nobody that is still there. I do speak to some of the old lads from my time there that I came through with. I played a couple of friendly games behind closed doors, towards the end of my career with Rotherham and Bury. I bumped into some of the staff and it was great to see them and reminisce about the past.

What is your best memory from your time at United?

It’s probably my debut at Arsenal. It was unexpected and it came quite early on in my career. To play at Highbury, against Arsenal, for Manchester United; that is three big things. It is probably the pinnacle of my time as a United player.

What was your initial reaction to the sacking of Jose Mourinho?

I wasn’t surprised at all, to be honest. I’ve seen it coming over the past couple of months and I think it’s a real shame how it has ended. I think its been obvious that fans aren’t happy with the football being played. 

How much fault do you think lies at board level or does the blame lie solely with him?
Obviously it boils down to the manager, but I believe there are a number of different reasons that haven’t helped his cause along the way. For example, certain players thinking they are bigger than the club and not being backed in the market are key points for me. It’s all been a bit shambolic really. The argument about not playing the Utd way I get, but I don’t know what people expected when Jose Mourinho was appointed. We all know how he sets up and plays.

Who would you like to see as replacement and why?
Manchester United have to learn from their mistakes. It has to be a manager who can handle being at one of the biggest clubs in the world. It needs to be a man who has an attacking philosophy and more than anything, the new manager needs to be given time, the whole team needs to be built from scratch in my opinion. As for a name, I’m stuck, I am just glad its not my job to pick!

Finally, what advice would you give to a young aspiring pro trying to make it in the modern game?

To believe in yourself. Don’t let anything or anyone knock you down or get in your way. Football is brutal; everybody is going to look after themselves, you need to look after yourself. Believe in your ability, do the best you can every day and you should be okay. You don’t get to the top or to a big club by luck. Having self-belief is important. If you work hard every day to be the best, you will be okay.


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