How much football do you get to see nowadays?
I watch every Champions League game as part of my job for Danish TV, but consequently I now spend most of my time in Denmark so I haven’t been able to get to Old Trafford as much as I’d like. I still catch the highlights and, of course, I always watch my son Kasper play!
What have you made of United’s performances so far this season?
It feels like big times are coming again. I know we lost against Bolton but defeats give you a reality check and United have to keep working hard. Traditionally, United are a stronger team come the latter part of the season and I think things look good. My main concern is when the big players are absent. I don’t believe we can play without Wayne Rooney or Nemanja Vidic. They are too important for us.
Carlos Tevez is a great signing and one year down the line he and Wayne will be perfect together. However, I still believe we need another striker. For me, Vidic has been the key to the defence. And he’s made Rio [Ferdinand] into a top-class player. I thought Rio was a very good defender before, but since Vidic has arrived they’ve both formed a settled partnership and Rio has developed brilliantly, just like Vidic. I’m not sure the squad is as deep and as strong as the manager would like it to be. But it’s definitely in much better shape than it was last season.
Sir Alex has said that the current squad is the strongest he’s ever had. How does this squad compare to the great ones you’ve been in?
The club’s history is something you are always aware of when you’re a United player. That heritage and the expectation level makes you go that one step further than you would for any other club. When I joined, the history we had to deal with was the Busby Babes, 1968 and the fact that we hadn’t won the title for more than 20 years. The desperation to be champions was incredible and we all felt that.
The current squad did brilliantly to win the league last season and have a great chance to go on to big things. But the first-team players now have the events of 1999 to contend with, which is a hell of a task to live up to. So, of course, the manager has got to go out there and say they’re the best squad he’s ever had. He has to make the players believe and his statement was a good way of doing so. He’s said it in the past when I was there and after I left. What he’s saying is I’m happy with what I’ve got and I love to work with these players. That’s exactly what the squad and fans need to hear. If Sir Alex is happy, United will win matches which is the most important thing.
Is winning a second European Cup something that niggles Sir Alex?
Yes, definitely. There’s no reason why he couldn’t have won a second one, but once you get down to the last four like United did last season it becomes a lottery. And things just haven’t gone United’s way at the important times in the big games. The team have a great chance to win the Champions League every season and I’d love to see them do it this time round.
Most teams in Europe aren’t pushed as much as they are in England and the players are not under the same kind of pressure as here because their schedule is different. A big factor is the winter break which overseas teams benefit from. The introduction of a hiatus would have an enormously positive effect in this country.
Last season, three English sides made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League but the team that won the competition, AC Milan, was better equipped to do so because they had a break. It’s hard to maintain a high level of performance both mentally and physically over such a long per�iod of time with no respite. I believe this needs to be seriously looked at in terms of the schedule in English football because a winter break would benefit all the country’s teams in European tournaments.
Ferdinand and Vidic have been compared to Bruce and Pallister…
I definitely see similarities. I loved playing behind those two and Rio and Vidic are on a par with them. Brucey had a great heart and Pallister was superb on the ball and you see similar traits in Rio and Vidic. The game has changed a lot since I played – it’s much quicker nowadays and there are even more skilful players around. That’s why Rio and Vidic are so impressive.
What do you think of the progress Cristiano Ronaldo has made since he joined United?
He’s been outstanding. Ronaldo is up there as one of the five best players in the world. He’s learned that the game is not all about doing fancy tricks, you need to do them at the right time. Cristiano has found the balance of being hugely effective by scoring and creating goals, while still pulling off the skills that entertain the crowd. I believe Sir Alex is probably one of the few managers in the world who could handle a player like Ronaldo. Had Cristiano been anywhere else I think he would be a different player – I’ve no doubt about that.
Sir Alex is tough enough to put him in his place, but he’s also soft enough to encourage him as well. It’ll be interesting to see how he works with Nani in order to help him become a really productive player like Ronaldo is.
There’s an interesting battle developing between United and City at the top of the table…
It’s fantastic for Manchester to see the two teams so close to each other in the league. Obviously with Kasper being at City I want them to do well, but United are my team and I always want us to win. City have done brilliantly to stay up there for so long, but I can’t see them being there for the duration.
The problem they have is that despite doing well so far, they still lost 6-0 at Chelsea. It’s something that Sven [Goran-Eriksson] needs to work on and it can take years to do that. You have to be able to achieve results when you’re not playing well, not just in the winter, but in March and April, too.
City haven’t been contenders for the title in years and just because Sven has started well it doesn’t mean they can stay the distance. They need keep going through spring. In terms of the title race, it looks like it’ll be strongly contested by United and Arsenal, but I wouldn’t totally discount Chelsea. Liverpool have an outside chance, but I don’t believe they’re as strong as United and Arsenal.
This interview appeared first in Inside United magazine. To subscribe, click here