When I started Red Devil Talk in June, there was one man that I was eager to speak to. A man that for me, epitomizes everything that Manchester United is about. Passion for the shirt? Check. Understanding the culture and what it means to play for Manchester United? Check. Hatred of the Scousers? Check. Gary Neville has transformed into one of the best pundits on television since he began his career in the media after retiring from football. He is insightful, objective and tells it as it is; even when United are involved. Having said that, from speaking to Gary, one thing struck me and it was very apparent: his passion for Manchester United burns as brightly as it did when he was a 10-year-old boy. He was hooked on United from the first moment he stepped inside Old Trafford as a young child. Gary cites his Dad as the single most important influence in his life, and when reminiscing about those early days, the drive to the stadium, queuing up at the turnstile, there is an excitement in his voice as he recalls the moments which ultimately, shaped a life-long obsession with the Red of Manchester United.
‘Gary Neville is a Red’ has been sung by the Old Trafford faithful since I myself became obsessed with Manchester United. Despite the nature of his work in the media, one thing is crystal clear: Gary Neville is still a Red. He is as desperate as we all are for United to topple that mob across town and win the Championship for a 21st time in May. Away from the TV monitors, he still enjoys watching the Scousers lose. He is one of us.
During the week, I had the pleasure of speaking to Gary for the bones of 40 minutes on all things Manchester United.
Good morning Gary. I am going to start this off by asking about your childhood. In the opening chapter of your autobiography, ‘Red’, you state that you felt as if you were ‘the only United fan in the playground’. What are your abiding memories from those times?
Hi Jimmy. Yes. It’s an interesting one because I visited a school yesterday in Failsworth and I actually asked the question in two classes: how many Manchester United fans were there? I would say that about 85% of the class put their hands up, and the other 15% supported City. I think the influence of the Sir Alex Ferguson era has had a huge impact on the fanbase locally.
With regards to myself, I grew up in Bury, which is about ten miles away from Manchester. Growing up, there were a lot of Liverpool fans, which is probably down to the success Liverpool had in that era. Having said that, you wouldn’t have expected so many Liverpool fans in a suburb of Manchester. For me, I couldn’t understand that. I could understand people supporting Bury, or Bolton, maybe. I remember it being painful every year. It almost felt like false promises every year, and that we were maybe one player away from winning the league. We got excited every summer and every season we started well; but it always fell away, it never materialized. We always ended up looking like the fools at the end of the season. We won the odd FA Cup. and in those days, the FA Cup was a big deal. It was a huge trophy, and a lot more significant than it is now. However, it could never compete with winning the league, or a European Cup. They were tough times as a Manchester United fan, growing up in the seventies and eighties. For the fans who haven’t lived through a period of not winning leagues, I would imagine the past five or six years has come as a shock. It was the norm when I was growing up, a very painful time.
I think City winning it with the investment they have put in, or Chelsea winning it with the investment they have put in is one thing, but I do genuinely believe that Liverpool have a chance of winning the league this season. If that were to happen, it’s a whole different ball game because they are a club with a huge fanbase. I know from working on Sky that the two clubs that are watched the most are Manchester United and Liverpool; by a country mile. Liverpool with a Premier League title under their belt would be a real force. I think that idea scares the living daylights out of any United fan. At United, the problem is that you have got a team built by four different managers. There are still Sir Alex Ferguson players, there are Louis Van Gaal players, you’ve got David Moyes players, and now the Jose Mourinho players. What you’ve got is a level of inconsistency in the approach on the recruitment. Whereas at Liverpool, every player brought in fits the bill for exactly what Jurgen Klopp wants. He has been given time to do it, and that’s why I was vocal about giving support to Jose Mourinho in getting what he wants. He needs to be allowed to build a team by him and for him.
You touched on Jose Mourinho there, and we will move to that shortly, but how much of an influence did your father have on you in those early days?
He was my biggest influence in terms of doing what I am doing in my life. He took me to see United from an early age. I’ll refer back to what I was saying about speaking to the kids in the school yesterday, I asked them ”how many of you have been to Old Trafford?”
I think about ten of them put their hands up, and I said to the boys sitting up the front, ”and what were your thoughts? What did you think of it?.” They replied, ”Wow. It’s big.” And do you know something? It made me shiver a little bit. That is exactly how I felt when I first went to Old Trafford. I remember walking up those steps and thinking ”Wow, amazing. It’s massive!”. Its an unbelievable feeling.
To think that kids, still, to this day, walk into Old Trafford, and have that feeling, that captures your mind and your heart, and have a sense of wanting to be there all the time. I had that feeling, and it came from my Dad. I played football four or five times a week and my Dad always took me. He is the biggest influence I have had in my life. He took me to every Manchester United game he possibly could from the age of about five, right through to the age of ten. When I was about ten, he started working at Burnley and Bury football club, so on a Saturday, I would go and watch them sometimes. I started going again properly when I was about fourteen. and then went regularly again. I missed about three years from the age of eleven to fourteen. However, from the age of five to ten, it was constant, I was there all the time.
I remember the first time I went to Old Trafford. It’s a fantastic place, and it does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
It is fantastic. When I think of the Stretford End, the United Road, and the Paddocks, and when I think of the amount of people in there, the noise, and the atmosphere. It was such a thrill; absolutely unbelievable. It is something that you can’t describe and no modern football ground can create it. It’s just something that will live with me forever. I was always in the K Stand, that’s where our tickets were. The away fans were underneath us, and it would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
I always remember the sound of the coins coming up from the section below, from the away fans. I remember asking my Dad, ”what was that?”. When it hit the seats, it made a real noise that you would always remember.
I remember coming out against West Ham once, onto the forecourt, and it was absolute bedlam. My Dad had to grab me and Phil and rush us through it, and this happened quite a bit. That’s just how it was back then! It’s what we knew and I remember going there every single Saturday that United played at home and queuing up. I’d get fish and chips. Actually, now that I think of it, I didn’t have fish and chips! I’d get chips and gravy, or pudding, chips and gravy, or maybe pie, chips and gravy! It was just unbelievable; the best day. When you are a kid in the car, even for just a half an hour, which you think is a long journey as a child. Then, when you drive over Barton Bridge, and realize that you are nearly there, and that it’s the next turn, it’s an incredible feeling really.
I read Jamie Carragher’s book recently. He states that there are actually more similarities than differences between United and Liverpool. He speaks about the passion of the fans, the fact that both are working class areas, and the passion for music, but how much did you resent each other on the field?
We didn’t like each other at all. Absolutely not. He epitomized everything that Liverpool were, and I wanted to be the same from a Manchester United point of view. It’s quite a simple theory: If you are a Liverpool fan, you should never want Manchester United to win a football match. If you are a Manchester United fan, you should never want Liverpool to win a football match. Simple as that. Having said that, we obviously get over that when we are working together on television in order to do our jobs professionally. However, the reality of it is that if Liverpool lose a football match: that’s a good thing. And vice versa. I think that the rivalry was big, and we felt the clubs, as did a number of other players. When you think of Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler, and Steve McManaman, they understood what it meant. For us, it was Becks, Scholsey, me, Giggsy, Butty and Phil. We felt the club in our hearts, there was nothing going to come between us and our clubs, and it was the same for them. From our point of view, we were desperate, absolutely desperate to win. As they were: but it just happened that over a twenty year period, we were better, thankfully!
Have you mellowed a bit? How would you describe your working relationship now with Jamie Carragher?
Absolutely. When you are playing for United, you’re on an island. Nobody gets on that island, and you don’t give a shit about anybody else. That’s it, and anybody that comes near that island, if your names not down, you are not coming on! Nobody was getting in, and that was the siege mentality that Sir Alex Ferguson built; he built an island, and he built a culture, everyone looked after one another. Nobody else mattered.
When you finish your playing career, and leave the club, of course you mellow. I still support the club and I am still desperate for them to win but when you see me in a TV studio, you can see the relationship we have, it’s a healthy one. If theres a row to be had, we’ll have it, but we won’t force it. If we agree on something, we’ll agree. If not, we’ll have the row! If we can take the piss out of each other, then we will take the piss out of each other, and that is the relationship, we know where we stand. Over five or six years working with someone, you get to know them. I respect what he stood for, for his club, and he respects what I stood for, for Manchester United. It’s a healthy respect.
Obviously, you come from a sporting family. Yourself and Phil have represented England in football, and your sister Tracey has represented England in netball. Was there any sibling rivalry growing up?
There was a bit of rivalry growing up, but not to the point where you can actually influence each other’s success. The success of me and Phil was determined by our coach and by our manager. We just gave our all and did the very best that we possibly could. Ultimately, the manager is the one that picks the team and at times, me and Phil have been playing for the same position.
In terms of my sister, there wasn’t that direct rivalry but there was as youngsters playing at home. We might have played cricket, rounders, or hockey, and always had that competitive element.
I watched my daughter doing cross country last week, and in the last stretch, she was fighting up the hill to run, trying as hard as she could. You can already see that competitiveness in her, and I think a lot of children have that, they want to win. And I think that we had that as kids. You have a choice in life: try to win or just accept that you are taking part. For us, we always wanted to win.
I’d like to talk about 1986. The year you received the letter to join United’s school of excellence. What do you remember about that day??
I remember it well. I remember where I was, receiving the letter and the feeling when I opened it. I was so happy amazed, and a bit surprised. To be honest with you, you do realize at the time that it is a big moment in your life because you are so happy; that happiness is something that you don’t get all the time. There are significant moments in my life and that one is a game changer. Once I got in the doors in ’86, I didn’t leave the club until 2011. I was there. I was wearing that badge, every single week, for 25 years. I held onto that badge for 25 years; and I wouldn’t let it go. However, in the end, I had to. I started playing crap! My legs had gone!
That letter changed everything, and I have to say that Mr. Wright, my primary school teacher, had the faith and belief in me to write that letter to the scouts of Manchester United, and then I got the trial. It’s the best thing that has ever happened in my life because it transformed everything that I did in the future.
In terms of getting that initial taste for success, and getting a sense of what it takes to be a champion over a sustained period of time, how important was the Youth Cup win in 1992?
I mean, there are significant moments in my life and I can only speak for myself, but I know some of the other lads would say the same thing: the Youth Cup victory was huge. The letter that i got in ’86, the schoolboy letter that I got in ’89 that not only said I would get a schoolboy contract, it had a promise of a YTS. That meant that I was going to Manchester United full-time. That was the second big moment. The third big moment was when we started. We won the Milk Cup in the first year, and the Youth Cup in the first year. The Youth Cup win just gave us the confidence to win again.
Once you start, winning, you have a choice to make. You can start to think that you’ve made it or you try to carry on winning. I was lucky enough in one sense because the first-team had won the league in 1992/1993, for the first time in 26 years. Success happened at the club at the same time as we were joining the first team, which meant that we came into a winning team as youth graduates. Ultimately, we were built winning. We won the u-18 league, we won the reserve league, we won the double in our first full season. As a result, winning was all we knew, really. That was built from Sir Alex Ferguson, it was a vision that was built in 1986 when he arrived down from Aberdeen. He wanted to promote young players, for Utd’s youth players to come through the system and win the league. It all came together in the early 90’s. He wanted all these things and he wanted to knock Liverpool off their perch; and we did.
I can’t let this pass without asking about the treble winning team. What made that team so special?
I think the treble team had a spirit, a cohesion, a group of players that were all at their peak, and a midfield that was off the scale. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Roy Keane, it was off the scale. There will never be another midfield like it, there can’t be another midfield like it. It is the best midfield that we have and ever will see in English football. The team had dribblers, it had goals, the attackers, the passers, the crossers, an intelligence, determination, energy, stamina; it had everything. There were a lot of factors behind our success that year but to be honest with you, that midfield I have just mentioned was the real force. It was just so outstanding. It was amazing, absolutely amazing. That midfield comprised of probably the best three or four players that I have ever played with in my career!
The media reports that the club are uncomfortable with the influence of the Class of ’92, do you think this is true?
You’ll have to ask the club about that one. I have no reason to believe that. I can’t understand why they would feel uncomfortable about us, no. My point of view is that Nicky’s working in the club and Ryan, Paul and Phil have worked in the club since they have retired.
I think, to be fair, there has been that suggestion over the last number of years as I have worked in the media. Ryan, Paul and Phil have worked in the media too at times. I’ve worked on games where United haven’t played well. Take that Brighton game a few weeks ago for example, I was doing the commentary on that game. It was a really poor performance and I don’t really know what to say other than it was so bad. That could be seen as being critical, but the United fans themselves couldn’t stay until the end to watch it; it was that bad. I don’t really know what to say on TV when I am talking about a performance like that. We absolutely love the club. We want the club to do well and from that point of view, it is what it is. I don’t involved in the politics of things like that. You’ll have to ask Barney where he got that from!
How would Gary Neville the player react to criticism from Gary Neville the pundit?
Well, I didn’t like criticism! Having said that, one thing that I never did was answer to a critic or a pundit. I can’t believe it nowadays. What’s happening is that journalists are going into a press conference and they are not even thinking of their own questions! They are just quoting what some pundit has said, and basically, trying to create a divide, or a wedge between a pundit who has played for that club and the manager of that club. The managers are falling for it; hook, line and sinker. So are the players.
I mean, we had lots of criticism during our career from pundits. Never once, ever, did we think it was a good idea to take a pundit on. There are times, privately, that I spoke to the odd journalists and told them that I thought they were out of order; but never publically. Why would make a pundit on the television feel like they can impact your performance; why would you give them the time of day? Regularly now, managers are taking on pundits, Jurgen Klopp did it last week. All it does is help the pundits. It doesn’t help the managers or the players. If i was a player in the dressing room, I’d be thinking the manager is distracted if he taking on pundits.
It’s the society we live in now isn’t it? The modern world, and the power of social media.
To be fair, I just think everyone has become a bit too sensitive! The reality of it is this: they are just words? I’d be more concerned about what the fans are saying on social media than what the fans are saying in the studio.
Do you have any ambition to be part of Manchester United in the future? Be it in a coaching capacity, or a Football Director role?
I left the United at the age of 36 and I was offered a job. I was offered the job of ambassador the a year. I did that and then I left. Sir Alex wanted me to do some coaching with the youth team but I really felt that I needed to prove myself. It was nothing to do with the media at the time. It was more about the business side of things and I wanted to prove myself in a different line of work. I wanted to do different things. I knew that if i was in the club, a club that I love, I knew that I would be restricted for the rest of my life in terms of things that I could do externally. Also, I didn’t want to just hang off the club. The first year of my work as an ambassador for United was something I enjoyed. The players and the staff at United were wonderful. I was looked after but I just sensed that it wasn’t going to give me the satisfaction that I needed to be able to go and do what I wanted to do in my life. I wanted to make the next 25, 30 years of my life a success; but away from football. That was ambition and what I told myself at the end of my career. I wanted to try and prove myself in different areas, and do different things.
For me, I love Manchester United and I want them to win. However, my short and medium term future is absolutely set. I want to get Salford into the football league. We have got a development in Manchester which is important to the city and it’s also important to us. We have got a university and the first students come next September, I promised myself that I would give a platform to young people. The academy at Salford is very important to us. We want Salford in the football league and for the academy and the university to really kick on in the next 12 months. I am the one who leads on that front from an operational side of things. I am opening a hotel with Ryan in March so thats four or five big things that I want to do in the next few years. As well as that, there is the media work, my Sky contract runs for another three years. So, in terms of my short to medium term future, I have got no ambition other than what I am currently doing.
Lets conclude with on-field matters. Where do United go from here? What do they need to do to re-claim their position at the top of English football?
I was quite vocal a few weeks ago. It took a lot for me to be critical of Ed Woodward but I felt as though it was needed. I think that when you don’t support the manager in the transfer market – and it’s quite obvious that Jose Mourinho wasn’t supported – it’s a very dangerous road to go down. Jose Mourinho was given a new contract last January and when you offer a manager a new contract, you are giving them the message that they are part of the club for the next few years. My view is that if Manchester United were to challenge for the league this year, they needed to go and do what Liverpool did: spend £170m and improve the team. They needed to get two centre-backs. They needed to get a winger, another midfield player and potentially even a left-back if Luke Shaw wasn’t fit. There were four or five players that needed to be added that everybody could see; that Jose could certainly see. He gave the club a list and that list was ignored, or not delivered upon. So, for me, all they can do is that make sure in January that Manchester United do what they need to do in the transfer market: support the manager to win the league.
Manchester United football club have to win the league. They have to win the league. If Jose and the players can keep in touch, which they are capable of. If they can keep it to within a few points in January, and get one or two players in, there is a chance. They have to believe that there is a chance. We should never get away from the fact that Manchester United’s only acceptable aim is to win the league.
I read on Twitter most days that Jose Mourinho has lost the players, which I don’t believe for a second. I read he has lost the fans, which I don’t believe. But doesn’t Woodward’s failure to back him this Summer undermine his position as manager of Manchester United?
I used that word a few weeks ago, I thought he was undermined. What I will say is that he definitely hasn’t lost the changing room. You don’t play like you did in the first half against Tottenham and in the games against Burnley and Watford if you’ve lost the changing room. They are the types of places that if you have lost the dressing room, you will lose.
There is no way he has lost it. It is very clear that Jose has a good relationship with the players. That’s not to say it’s perfect with every single player, but he has the backing of the players. I think he has the backing of the fans too. I back Jose Mourinho. I think he is a great manager and I don’t go along with the crap that he is finished, or over the hill. If you have a 25 year career as a manager, there will be times when it doesn’t go so well; Alex Ferguson had them. My view is that this is maybe a small blip in Jose Mourinho’s career, but it’s not even that big a blip. He won two trophies 18 months ago! He won the league the year before that. For his high standards, maybe it’s a minor blip, and it’s not even that, really. Manchester United do need to be challenging for the league, but on one hand, we will say Manchester City produced one of the greatest ever teams in the Premier League. However, in the next breath, we will say that Manchester United disappointed, and I think actually that the two stories conflict.
Personally, I think the ‘he’s lost the changing room tag’ is just lazy journalism. Isn’t that the easy thing to write after a 3-0 home defeat?
Well, the Paul Pogba stuff doesn’t help, lets be clear. The comments of the agent are there, the Anthony Martial stuff, its real; and this is nothing to do with the media or pundits, by the way. They are there in quotes. That stuff isn’t helpful and it creates a problem.
My view, ultimately, is that Jose Mourinho has not lost the dressing room. To me, that is nonsense. It can happen in football but it is not happening with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thank you. This has been a pleasure as a lifelong fan of United.
No problem, Jimmy. Good to speak to you.
Morning Gary. What has changed since we last spoke? Three weeks ago, we came to the conclusion that Jose Mourinho has not lost the dressing room. Since then, we witnessed that pathetic display at West Ham. How would you sum up the madness?
Hi Jimmy. For me, the problem is at the moment you have got three forces, really. You’ve got Jose Mourinho who is a force of a man, and a man that as we know, doesn’t back down from confrontation. He wants complete support; as any manager does. Complete and utter support. Mourinho is bold. He has always been a bold manager. He’s always been somebody that, to be fair, has brought things to a head, and there is no doubt that he is bringing things to a head at the moment. Then, you have got Manchester United who are a huge club; one of the biggest football clubs in the world. On top of that, you have got the media, who to be honest with you, are probably being blamed by both sides for their part in this. However, the reality of it is that when there were major spats when I was playing at United, between major players and Sir Alex Ferguson, between Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, or throughout the takeover under the new owners, the media absolutely weighed in. Historically, when there has been a major public difference at Manchester United, the media would always plough in on it; because it’s gold dust. The media are not at fault for what is going on at the moment with respect to Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. This is a very public spat when you consider what’s gone on with Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Jose, the transfer market, Ed’s briefings and journalists pre-season writing about the transfers. They are playing out a soap-opera in public, and the media, basically, are thriving on it.
What I said after the Brighton game was that I can’t believe the way the club is operating with regards to it’s principles and values. These things have got to be internal, there has to be some leadership shown within the club to grab control of this situation; someone needs to grab hold of the reigns of the horse so that it stays on track. Its varying from one track to another, its all over the place, and its messy. It’s damaging to the club and the club’s brand. It’s damaging to the club’s values and ultimately, they are probably the only people who can grab control of it.
With regards to the story that broke on Friday evening after the Brighton v West Ham game that I commentated on, it didn’t really matter if it was true or not. It’s just one thing after another at the moment and the club needs a period of peace and stability. I don’t believe that at this moment in time, the club have got control of this situation, and that is my point. There needs to be a change, they can’t allow this soap-opera to continue to play out in public.
I speak to Barney a lot and he, like me, believe that ultimately, all roads lead back to the Glazers. Is that something that you would agree with?
I own multiple businesses, and I always say that if there is a problem in the business, it has to be my problem. That is what I was saying on Friday night after the Brighton game I was commentating on. I appoint the guy underneath me, I appoint the person and individuals of the business; everything stems back to the top. However, what I would say is that the Glazer family have put their faith in the CEO, the vice-chairman, to operate the football club. At this moment in time, the club operates from a commercial and financial perspective very well. However, from a football perspective, football performance has to be at the very centre of the football club. That has to be the priority, and at the moment, the football side of the club is being mismanaged. From the recruitment, to the succession planning, the pin-ball of moving from one value of manager to another: from Moyes, to Van Gaal, and now Mourinho; there is no consistency of approach. So, my view is that it stems back to the owners. The football side of the club, I believe, now needs football leadership and somebody who is qualified to operate that side of things.
Following your passionate comments on Sky, the crowd sang in support of you and criticised the board in the Newcastle game. Do you think that the penny is starting to drop and people are realizing that perhaps Mourinho isn’t the root of the problem?
I don’t think the root of the problem is Jose Mourinho to be honest with you. I think that what you do as a football club board is to give the manager a platform to be successful. The club have supported him financially with lots of money. However, I believe the recruitment process, the strategy is not good enough. In any business, you need to be cute, you need to be wise and you need to know how to be able to play the market. There are other clubs that are more wise and astute at the moment. In addition, there are other clubs that are more understanding as to how to play the recruitment market, the scouting market and the academy market than Manchester United.
Can Jose Mourinho save his job? More to the point, will he get the chance?
You have got to remember that I was criticized by some Manchester United fans over my stance on David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. I didn’t believe that they should have sacked David Moyes. He was having a terrible time. The results were awful, as were the performances but, I genuinely think all this stems back to a lack of succession planning. You talk about succession planning post-Sir Alex Ferguson, the belief of Manchester United is to always give people a chance, and they sacked him after eight months.
My view is that the club is probably in the best shape that it’s been in since Ferguson left under Mourinho. United have actually had an upward trajectory in terms of performances. The club finished second last year. The previous years, they didn’t finish second. If United go and sack Jose Mourinho, where do they end up then? What does that then do? The new manager comes in and wants to get rid of another seven players, and spent another £300m. It just becomes a spiral of a mess for another two or three years. This could be a rot that sets in for many many years if the club keep bouncing about and don’t have a plan or a strategy. At the moment, the question is this: what is the plan? What is the strategy? What is the clear path that Manchester United are following as a football club?
I can tell you what Tottenham did. I can tell you what Manchester City and Liverpool did. I could actually even tell you what Arsenal did. As for Chelsea’s plan, whilst we don’t all agree with it – they do have a plan. They have changed manager every 18-months for two years. If you don’t bring success, you’re out. The sign players through a club structure. There is a plan, even if you do not agree with it. At the moment, with Manchester United, since Sir Alex left, they have bounced around from one strategy to another. There have been changing philosophies of managers, values and styles. They need to set out a plan that is consistent, and one that they believe in. We need to know what the manifesto is and they need to deliver on it. You saw David Moyes coming in, he plays one style of football. Louis Van Gaal came and played a different style of football. Now, you have got Mourinho; another style, and you have got Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini in the same team! That tells you everything you need to know. There are three screaming styles of play within the same squad. There has to be a consistent approach that you believe in, and it needs to be followed. At the moment, that is not the case.
It seems to me that there are business men making football decisions. We spoke about it three weeks ago but, how can you give a manager a new contract and then not back him in the transfer window?
You cannot undermine your manager. As I have said, who is qualified at that club to tell Jose Mourinho if he needs another centre-half or not? The commercial side of the club, as I have eluded to, is operating brilliantly. In fact, you could argue that Ed Woodward has overseen a groundbreaking programme over the last ten years which has delivered significant value to Manchester United. He is a very talented business-man, as are the other board members.
In spite of that, what they do not get is the football side of it. They have got to employ the best person underneath them in terms of the football. They have to, and actually, they could look very clever all round then.
Given our previous chat, do you think that Jose Mourinho has now lost the dressing room?
Against West Ham, the United players looked completely disinterested. So, after that game, you start to think that maybe he has actually lost the dressing room. Then, you look at the Newcastle performance, I was there. For an hour, it looked like they were gone. All of a sudden, for 25 minutes, you look at them and think, if he has lost the dressing room, they could have pushed him over the edge. They didn’t. They fought like crazy for that last half an hour and they played brilliantly. I was adamant three weeks ago that he hadn’t lost the dressing room after the performances at Burnley Watford, Young Boys; all away from home. Then I watched them at West Ham, and thought, ‘Wow. What was that?’
I watched the Valencia performance and it was mundane. It was dull. At home to Newcastle, it was dull for 60 minutes and brilliant for 30. There is no doubt that all this noise is impacting the players. Jose looked fed up before the Newcastle game in his press conference. The only people that can show some leadership and provide some stability to settle the situation down are the executives. They are the only people that can say, ‘look, we believe in Jose Mourinho. He is going to be here for another 18 months and we are going to support him in the January transfer window and the Summer window next year. We are going to believe in the plan.’ They are the only people that can do that.
In the three weeks since we spoke, Paul Pogba has come out with more nonsense comments. He continues to undermine Jose Mourinho. That surely can’t be helping?
To be fair, when I saw Paul Pogba’s comments on the attacking side of things, I am always careful to appreciate the interpretation, particularly when you are on foreign soil, may not be correct. I think the intent of what he was trying to say was different to how it was interpreted. That has happened a couple of times with Pogba.
However, on the other hand, there are certainly some issues there with him. I didn’t interpret it as a dig at Jose Mourinho, though. There has been manipulation of certain words by people to suit the media agenda. I do believe that that has happened at times.
It was reported the other day that all this uncertainty has led to David De Gea becoming unsettled. Losing him is unthinkable; how much of a loss would he be?
I saw yesterday a list of players that are out of contract at the end of season; there were about 12 of them. David De Gea was one of them, but I was under the impression that he had another year and a half left.
At the end of the day, if he runs his contract down, he runs his contract down. What I would say is that the club are paying fantastic amounts of money, and United are one of the biggest clubs in the world. If players want to leave: go. I don’t care. I understand sometimes that players use it as a contract negotiation point and that’s fine. People want to do the best they can for themselves and their family. That happens in life. However, if players genuinely want to leave and do not want to be at the club, that is completely different. If somebody doesn’t want to wear the shirt, just go. That is not in relation to De Gea or Pogba, or anyone. That is just me, and my view on every player.
What I would say is that David De Gea has been a brilliant servant to Manchester United. He has been brilliant and I would hope that he signs a new contract.
Finally, and thank you once again for getting in touch to follow up on the original piece. What do you think will happen in the coming months with Jose Mourinho?
I honestly don’t know what is going to happen in the next four to five weeks. There is definitely a game going on that is being played in public. It is an arm wrestle; no doubt about that. Honestly, in the next month or so, I hope it settles down and the club can regain some control and a sense of peace.
I hope that for the next 18 months, Jose is supported in the transfer market. Everybody should be focusing on one thing: catching Manchester City, and catching Liverpool. It is the only thing that everybody involved with that football club should be thinking. Whilst this arm wrestle is going on in the media and in public, it is distracting from the major task in hand.
Manchester United’s two biggest rivals, along with Chelsea, are vying for the Premier League title. That is all that matters. I have no clue if there will be a stalemate in this arm wrestle, or if one of the sides will give in, but I would prefer if they turned it into a handshake. Stop playing it out in public and build the football club towards being a Premier League title winner in the next 18 months. That is my view and Jose Mourinho is at the heart of that.