You’re combining playing and coaching at Blackburn – how is that experience going so far?
Yeah, I think I’m good with the younger lads in general. I was there once myself. I’ve played four or five games with the under-23 side and I’ve been able to help them from playing in those games and seeing little things. The good thing is that the young lads at the club want to listen and learn.
More after the break
You’ve signed a deal until the end of the season - do you see yourself going into management once you’ve retired?
When I was younger I certainly didn’t think that I would but the older I get the more I see myself going down that avenue. I’ve worked with a number of different managers and know what it’s like to win and lose so I think I can pass on a lot of good experience as a manager.
As a player, which styles of management got the best out of you?
Whenever Sir Alex Ferguson gave me the hairdryer, it got the best out of me. I found I played better if he had a bit of a go at me. I remember one game against Leeds, we came in at half-time and he tore into me. He told me I was terrible, even though I didn’t think I was that bad. But I went out in the second half and played really well. After the game one of the lads who was on the bench said the gaffer had told one of the coaches he knew I’d play better after he’d had a go at me.
How have you found coaching players playing at a lower level to the one you've played at for most of your career?
I think it’s probably one of the hardest things. You’ve always got to maintain the standards that you want from them, I have certain expectations. The mental side of the game is very important - if you’ve got good players and they’re not doing something you know they're capable of, they have to have the mentality to be willing to work on it.
You played at centre-back and right-back – is versatility key for a young player?
Absolutely. I started at right wing and it was devastating when they put me at the back for the first time. At the time I was quick and I had a few tricks that got me out of trouble and I wanted to get forward. I slowly started enjoying being a defender and learnt to love getting a tackle in.
You’re a role model for a lot of the youngsters at the club – how important is it to watch and learn from senior professionals?
Very important. I used to watch Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister when they were at United and I was a youngster. They were completely different players, but they worked perfectly together and I took different things from both of them. Bruce was good in the air, strong, a bit more physical; Pally was fast and hard to get past.
What were some of the most important lessons you learned once you broke into the first team at Old Trafford?
It took me a while to realise that you can’t play against every striker the same way, it’s just not going to work. One day you might play some really small player, who isn’t necessarily fast, but he’s technically good, and then you try to play the same against Duncan Ferguson, it just doesn't work. As a young player I tried to do a little better and learn something new every day of the week – it was a slow process.
A lot of defenders now play out from the back – do you urge them to keep it simple at Championship level?
Yes. For the young lads, a lot of it is about getting the basics right, doing things right all the time – decision-making is massively important as a defender. A few players have said to me that defending is the easiest part of the game, and in a way it is, you just clear the ball and get it out of danger. But there’s a message in that – it’s important to consistently do the simple things well.
How important is confidence for young players?
I think it’s massive, I’ve had times where I have not been confident in certain parts of the season and it’s horrible, nothing goes for you, you give the ball away and someone will score. When you’re confident and everything is going right you can be a different player. It’s a big part of the game.
You’re 37 now, when did you feel you peaked as a player?
Probably when I was 27 or 28. As a centre-back you understand your skill level and you’ve got the mental experience to handle different situations. As you get older, unfortunately your legs don’t evolve, everything gets a bit slower, but you do improve in your head. Positionally I feel I’ve got better with age. I used to love a good clean tackle, just like strikers love scoring a goal, but I can’t get away with going to ground as much now as I’ll leave myself exposed.