Giuliano Maiorana: You’re just a number; football is a business now

The story of Giuliano Maiorana is a remarkable one. Having been plucked from Histon in the 10th-tier of English football, ‘Jules’ signed for Manchester United after impressing in a trial game at the clubs Cliff training ground in November 1988. ‘I didn’t think I had a chance in hell at making it at Manchester United to be honest’, he tells Red Devil Talk, speaking about his chances ahead of the trial game. However, he was offered a four-year deal with Sir Alex Ferguson dubbing his performance, “one of the best displays I have ever seen from a trialist”. He made his senior debut for United in 1989 against Millwall but it was against Arsenal – his first start for Utd – in a game televised live on ITV where Maiorana really came to the fore.

Unfortunately, Jules would only start one more game for the Reds following a serious knee injury picked up in a Reserve game in the 93/94 campaign. His story is a cruel one: a man with all the tools to forge a successful career at the highest levels of English football, but ultimately robbed of his chance due to an unlucky twist of fate. As I sit here, I think of others who had their career ripped away from them in the blink of an eye, Maiorana, Ben Thornley, Adrian Doherty. Who knows how far those men could have gone in the game, and more importantly, at Manchester United. In a brutally honest and matter-of-fact manner, Jules opens up to me on his story. He speaks about the highs of joining Manchester United and that game live on ITV against The Gunners. In contrast, he speaks about his subsequent difficult times post-Old Trafford and his inability to be associated with anything football related. In spite of that, Jules is content with life now and I was delighted when I reached out to him that he was more than obliging to speak with me. Enjoy.



Hi Jules. Tell me about your childhood. How did your interest in football come about?

Hello Jimmy. As a young child, I was just like most kids, really! My dad loved football and he played football so when I was a young lad, I would kick a ball around with my dad. Me and my brother, Salvatori, basically grew up with a ball under our arm.

My sporting influences growing up would have been the Italian teams. For example, the team that won the World Cup in 1982. I was 13 when they won it and they were a big influence on me. Also, the Juventus teams of that era. I didn’t really support a team but I would follow any Italian team that were in the old European Cup.

Your story is quite remarkable. For our readers who are not familiar with your story, tell me about how your move to Manchester United came about?

I was working in an Italian boutique shop called Julio’s and I didn’t even play Saturday football until I was 17. I wasn’t really interested before that. We were playing a five-a-side; me, my brother and a few other Italian lads and we were a pretty decent team. Alan Doyle, who was manager of Histon at the time, said to a friend who was watching, ‘who are those two lads playing there?’ He was referring to me and my brother. He came over and asked us to join Histon for pre-season in 1987/88. I played a season in the Reserves and I played about 17 games for Histon’s first team. After a while, I heard about the interest from Manchester United. The rest is history!

I was playing for Histon one Wednesday night and the chairman of the club told me that there was a United scout who had been watching me. To be honest, I thought it was bullshit! Then, on the Saturday, I was told that they wanted me to come for a weeks trial. I didn’t really think I chance but I played on the Tuesday in Ian Handysides’ charity game. They took me off at half-time and signed me. It took about six days from me hearing of their interest to actually signing for the club. It was a rollercoaster ride to be honest, Jimmy.  When I gave up, I brushed it all under the carpet because I didn’t want anything to do with football but now I can talk more about it. I do look back and it is some story if I do say so myself! Six weeks down the line, I was playing for the first team. I was used to playing in front of 50 or 60 people at Histon and then I was playing in front of 35,000 people.

What was your first impression of Sir Alex Ferguson?

He seemed all right at first. However, we didn’t see eye to eye in the end. That’s life though isn’t it?

What happened between you and Ferguson that you didn’t see eye to eye?

At the time, my idols were the Italian teams with long hair. I had longish hair – not overly long I have to say – and a little bit of stubble. However, Ferguson didn’t like that. Then, when I left, he signed Poborksy!

Has there been any contact between you and Ferguson since you left the club?

No not really. I went to the funeral of Ray Medwell and we spoke. Ray was the scout who brought me to United. Sadly, he passed away about six or seven years ago. Ferguson was there and to be fair to him, he went out of his way to come over and say hello to me. We had a chat for a few minutes but other than that, not really.

Lets jump to your debut: 1989 v Millwall. What are your memories of that day?

Thats right. I didn’t know any of the dates until people reminded me! I think it was January the 14th 1989; nearly 30 years ago. I don’t remember much of the day as I was in a bit of a daze. What I do remember is running on the pitch. I had the ball and i was running down the wing. I was breathing quite heavily and my ears kept blocking and unblocking. I remember all that I could hear in the background was the fans: UNITED, UNITED. I did a 360 and looked at the people at the game. It was ridiculous.

How did you did with the pressure of playing for Manchester United?

I must have been one of the lucky ones Jimmy because as mad as it may sound, it didn’t affect me. Obviously, For instance, I remember when Ferguson read out the team sheet for the Arsenal game which was live on ITV. He said number 11 and he said my name. I was starting. Obviously, at that point, I was really nervous but once you are out on the pitch, you are there to play football. I don’t know why but it never affected me out on the pitch. It was a big jump to go from Histon to Manchester United but I didn’t really suffer with nerves.

As a young man, you are probably fearless and just take it in your stride?

Yeah, I’d imagine so. But I can’t really explain it. it was just how I felt. There were some players in training who would do really well; doing all these skills. I used to say to them I want you to do that in a game: but some of them couldn’t do it. The thing is I hadn’t been moulded into a footballer whereas all the other lads had. Some were at the club as schoolboys. Others had been in the school of excellence since they were 14 or 15. I just got plucked from nowhere to Manchester United so maybe that’s why I didn’t ever feel the pressure. Who knows?

You touched on something there and you used the word ‘moulded’. You said that Ferguson didn’t like your hair and facial hair. Do you think he tried to mould you into something you weren’t?

Yeah. I think so. My outlook on life is this: if you are good enough, you don’t have to lick arse. That’s the way I look at it. I thought that but then I got injured and it was game over. Maybe I should have done things different but I don’t have any regrets. You can’t live life looking back: you can’t change things. I went through enough shit when I retired.

I am eager to move to those tough times you are referring to shortly. However, firstly, I’d like to talk about the treatment of the younger players during your time at the club. Would you say it was a harsher environment?

The older players used to do things to the younger players but I never used to get involved. I remember when I first moved up I lived in digs. It was like two semi-detached houses smashed into one house! There was 12 of us there and I was the oldest. They were lovely lads. Really, good lads. They used to play a few tricks but I never got involved in that. I used to tell them to just leave it out and they listened to me.

I would like to talk about your knee injury if that’s okay; a moment that changed your life. Did you have any idea at the time it was going to be so severe?

I’m surprised I didn’t get injured before that because I used to get kicked all over the pitch. I never had a bad injury in my life and I didn’t really know that much about ligaments. When they took me off and brought me to the hospital, they told me I would have been better off breaking my leg. It then hit me that it was serious but I always had the outlook that I would be back and stronger. It didn’t really affect me that much because I was still confident that I would be able to play football. I was very positive.

In contrast to the euphoria you felt when you joined Utd, can you put into words how you felt when you had to then leave the club?

It wasn’t just the heartbreak of leaving the club, to be honest. The biggest heartbreak was having to retire. Obviously, leaving Manchester Utd is a big thing but leaving United and having to retire is a double whammy. That made is much harder. It would be a different story if I could have tried to resurrect my career elsewhere. Unfortunately, I couldn’t and that hurt me more than leaving United.

That must have been a severe shock to the system. 

Without a doubt. I struggled for years. I was working for my Dad’s family business when I was 16. They say life is a vicious circle and nine years later, I was back there; doing what I had been previously doing. When I left Utd, I was down and I had no motivation in life. I wondered was it actually worth my time playing for them.

Do you think clubs do enough to maintain the mental well-being of players that leave the club?

No. You are just a piece of meat. I can vouch for that. When you’re doing well in the first-team, everything is great and everybody is patting you on the back: ‘Brilliant son, brilliant son.’ However, as soon as you have a bad injury and you start going down the pecking order, you fall into obscurity.

You’re just a number really, aren’t you?

Yeah, that’s it. You’re just a number. When I look at football now, it’s even worse with all the money. It’s not a sport anymore, it’s a business. Once money like that gets involved in everything, it spoils it.

You openly talked about your battle with depression with Wayne Barton. I listened to the podcast and I thought it was sad in parts but very enjoyable too. Do you think sometimes that we, as fans, forget the impact of this multi-billion pound business on the individual?

The thing is football has changed so much now. I actually feel sorry for these six and eight year-old lads who are up against thousands of others. Out of all those thousands, the clubs are just looking for one magical player. When you turn 16, it’s basically a case of, ‘sorry, we don’t want you anymore.’ Then, they stop playing football because they are so disillusioned with it. Me and Nobby Stiles used to talk about it and we both disagreed with the academies because every game they play is like a trial game. They aren’t playing with there friends and there is too much pressure from a young age. I don’t think it’s good for the kids or for football.

From your own point of view, do you think that the transition from playing to retirement would have been easier if you hadn’t been so talented?

To be honest, yes. I have been saying that for years. It would have been much easier if I didn’t get an injury and United had said, ‘thank you very much, Jules. You’re not good enough. See you later’. At least that way, I could have got on with the rest of my life. The worst thing for people who suffer with what I have suffered from is that you walk around with a question mark over your head. For the rest of your life, there is a big ‘what if?’. Would I have got far? If so, how far would I have got? Generally, in life, when things go wrong, you can work them out and correct them. With something like this, though, you can’t change it. That is what frustrates me the most; it’s really hard to cope with.

Of course, famously. Bryan Robson compared one of your performances to Diego Maradona. Do you hold such comments with any admiration or have you pushed it to the back of your mind?

Yes. It was after a game. He said my performance was a mix of Maradona and Euseibio. Similarly, Viv Anderson used to say to me, ‘Jules, you are like Hoodini. When you’ve got the ball, I can’t see you. You come out with the ball no matter how many defenders are around you.’ I have loads of other stories Jimmy and that is what made it so difficult when I had to retire; but it is what it is.

When I retired in 1994, my friends used to say to each other, whatever you do, don’t talk about Manchester United to Jules. I swept everything under the carpet. Everything. I didn’t want anything to do with football. I did try to push all that to the back of my head and like I have said before, if I had a chip back then that I could take out of my brain which meant I would have no recollection or memory of United, I would have gladly taken it out. Obviously, that is a long time ago and they say time heals. It does heal over time and now I can look back with some feelings of pride.

How long was it before you started watching football again?

It was about seven or eight years. It hurt.

Did you feel an element of resentment towards Manchester United? Obviously, they had quite a bit of success in the nineties. Did you resent their success in a way and feel you should have been part of it?

In a way. Of course, I was really really happy for the players that I knew. Without a doubt, I was happy for those players. The club: not really. I didn’t really feel that I should have been part of it, to be fair. I was just disgusted at how United treated me, to be honest.  What pains me is that the Manchester United fans who remember me – which is probably not a lot anyway – and the ones I talk to, we have great chats. It does pain me how much I disliked United but it’s just how it was.

You mentioned how Utd treated you there. Can you shed any light on that? 

I could have you here all night, Jimmy. I will just tell you one story very quickly. For instance, I was asking other players at the club in my last season, ‘has the boss had you in about a new contract?’. Some said to me, ‘yeah, yeah. He had me in three months ago.’ They were told they weren’t getting a new contract but they would be given as many games as possible in the Reserves to put them in the shop window. With me, I had to go knock on his door three weeks before the end of the season. Only then was I told that I wasn’t getting another contract. I asked ‘why did you not tell me like you told everyone else?’. Ferguson starting blabbering on saying, ‘oh, your knee is not good enough’. People may now understand why I was so bitter when I left. I was at United for nearly six years and I ruined my career with them. They didn’t help me at all.

We have spoke about the tough times at Utd but what would you say was your best moment?

I can’t look back and say I had a great career but obviously those six weeks playing for the first-team were great. In particular, that game against Arsenal which was live on ITV at the time. That is probably my best moment, to be honest.

In terms of young footballers who are coming through now, what advice would you give them to deal with the pressure of the modern game?

The thing is now that there is so much money involved in the game and there are people that haven’t played a game for the first-team but are on 30k or 40k a week. That is not going to do them any good so it doesn’t really matter what I say. The old cliché is put your head down and give 110%. However, the money involved now means that they players are made for life before they have even played a game. When I was at the club, I was on £200 a week but I think that is why we were grounded. When I went to United, there were great players. Really great players. However, the thing is they were all decent and humble human beings. Not like the pre-Madonnas nowadays!

In contrast, do you have any advice for those who don’t quite make it in the game?

I just hope they don’t go through what I went through. What advice is there? What I would say is while you are at a club, make sure you study and make sure you have got a plan B. I didn’t have a plan B and maybe that was stupid of me. When things are going well, you don’t think anything is going to go wrong. I think that is what I would say to a young footballer. To be honest, there are some people who do think outside the box but I bet that % is pretty low. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.


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