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Gary Pallister Exclusive: Player of the Year “shoo-in” Fernandes has had Cantona-like Impact

In the build-up to Manchester United’s highly anticipated clash with rivals Liverpool, former United defender Gary Pallister spoke exclusively with The ex-England international, who also played for Middlesbrough, hailed the impact Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes have had on the club both on and off the pitch, discussed a potential return to Old Trafford for Cristiano Ronaldo and his expectations for “real deal” Mason Greenwood over the next few years. Pallister also shared his thoughts on Anthony Martial’s “washout” season and tipped United to be interested in signing England captain Harry Kane.

DB: Did you catch the United game last night? You did always think that if Ole had to pick a weakened line up for one of these, it would be the Leicester game, but that’s the luxury you have after wrapping up second place with games to spare.

GP: I did. It was always going to be a tough evening once we saw the side. Not so much about the players, I just think you get what you expect because that side has never played together before. So you got what you expect really, an up and down kind of performance wasn’t it? I think it’s kind of a strange one because you look at it and you think the easiest three points on offer is the Leicester game. Whereas with the Liverpool game, you know what you’re going to get, it’s a derby, you’re playing for the fans especially after what happened lately, that game is a massive one so it’s probably going to be the most difficult. But in one of the games, he had to put out a weakened side and he chose that one, so you can’t argue with that. I was listening to TalkSport this morning, they were saying it was “criminal” and it was “against the spirit of the Premier League.” But what can you do? You can’t expect to play the same side on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. If you mix up that side with half and half, then you still get a disjointed performance anyway. So he got pushed into it and that’s the consequence of it. 

DB: Despite the loss, United are already four points ahead of last season’s tally of 66 points with three games to go. They’ve done it without many new additions to the squad – only Cavani has played a prominent role. Do you think a lot of their success can be credited to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

GP: Yeah absolutely. If I’m looking at the side, I don’t think we’re anywhere near Man City or Liverpool from last season. I still think that gap is quite large. But we’ve improved under the charge of Ole, so, yeah, it’s got to be down to him. As I said before, Ole’s understanding of what Manchester United fans want from the team, he gets that, he’s tried to play in the spirit of the sides I’ve played in, or that Alex Ferguson had over many years, that spirit of entertaining football. But I also think Cavani has played a big part, we’ve needed that sort of centre forward. I know he doesn’t play every game, but as a centre forward in and amongst that squad, he stands out as the only natural one. So I think he’s been a huge help. You also look at his impact in the dressing room, he looks like a real pro. When you’ve got young kids playing in that position, he’s ideal to have around to pass on that experience, his knowledge, seeing him everyday training, how he operates, how he works. Off the pitch as well as on the pitch, he’s been fantastic. 

DB: One player who seems to have turned things around this season is Paul Pogba. He’s said it took him a long time to recover from COVID-19 and that he ‘couldn’t run’ but seems to have bounced back now – do you think this has been his best spell at the club so far?

GP: Yeah, I wouldn’t argue with that. We’ve seen in fits and starts the quality that Paul possesses. It was about finding that most comfortable position for him. If you look at the way we set up, if he plays in a central midfield kind of role he doesn’t give you the protection other players do. He’s a player who needs to express himself, so you can’t play him in that disciplined central midfield role. We know he has the attributes to play in that position, but he’s just not defensively minded and that can cause you problems. He seems to prefer the left hand of a three, where he was probably at his most damaging with Juventus. He’s been playing there quite a bit. The thing is Martial likes playing out there, Rashford likes playing out there, Pogba likes playing out there, it’s just trying to squeeze them all in. I think we still need a naturally right-sided player. Mason’s played in there, James has played in there, Rashford’s played in there. I think it’s only Mason who seems most comfortable in that role, but eventually, he’s going to want to play through the middle. Paul has got world-class talent, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It’s just about finding that right position for him to be able to express himself and give more to the United side. Because I think he would feel that he’s underachieved in his time here, he’s not hit the height that we all expected him to. I mean he came as one of the best midfield players in the world, certainly in the top three or top five. You don’t talk about him like that anymore. There’s been much doubt about whether he’s going to stay, he had the public fall out with Mourinho too. So it’s not been a smooth ride for him. But at this moment in time, he looks the happiest he’s ever been in the United shirt. I think it just needs a decision to be made on whether he stays or goes to get the best out of Paul in the future. 

DB: It’s certainly been a good way to incorporate both him and Bruno into the team. This has meant Fred and McTominay have been United’s go-to central midfield pairing. Do you think they’re good enough to play week in week out if United are to make a stronger challenge for the title next season? 

GP: If they’re really going to be challenging, I don’t think they can afford to play two holding midfielders like that. I think they both do a great job, having the energy to get around those midfield areas and making us competitive and harder to beat. There’s a trade-off somewhere that if you’re going to compete with the likes of City and Liverpool and the very best, and Chelsea now too, then I think we have to expand. So that would probably mean not wanting to protect your back four as much as we do when Fred and McTominay play. So that is something that Ole is going to have to address in the future no doubt, and find a better balance because these teams play with a lot of freedom, a lot of attacking intent. I mean we have that, but if you want to make that next step then you need a little more imagination in the team. 

DB: James Garner may be a midfield option for Solskjaer next season. He’s been on loan this season at Watford and Nottingham Forest. He’s settled in well at Forest, grabbing four goals towards the end of the season. Do you think he’s ready to play a prominent role for United? 

GP: I’ve not seen any of the games that he’s played in so that would be a very difficult question for me to answer. That’s great experience for him, going to those sides and learning in the Championship. It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re playing under the spotlight for United. He’s a kid that’s already played in those first teams, the club has got a keen eye on and they have been watching his progress. When he gets the chance, he’s got to grab it with both hands.  Going back to Pogba, I remember Paul coming into the team as a young kid and playing games and he never really grabbed that opportunity. Yet he went on to be a star at Juventus. That is sometimes just about the pressure of being a Manchester United player. Listen, the lad’s got a chance, but you’re not playing at that level in the Championship. To come in and grab a game by the scruff of the neck or impose yourself on a game, that’s still down to them and it’s part of his growing process. He can only do what he’s already doing which is putting on performances for the clubs he’s on loan at. And when he comes back to the club, it’s about grabbing his opportunity with both hands because there’s a lot of competition.

DB: Another player out on loan is Jesse Lingard. Bruno Fernandes called him the league’s best player over the last 10 games. What do you make of his time out on loan and what do you think is the best move for his career this summer?

GP: I don’t really know, he’s gone there and he looks a lot happier. He was nowhere near the player he’d been before in a United shirt and an England shirt. He’s probably gone there and felt a lot of freedom – we’re watching the Jesse Lingard of old. So if Ole’s been watching, as I’m sure he has, he’ll be thinking ‘right, he’s re-energised, he’s got his mojo back, maybe there is a place for him.’ I keep talking about playing in a Man United shirt, the pressures that go along with that — maybe that’s something that helped with his West Ham move. But it’s great to see the lad back, with a smile on his face and hopefully, the problems he’s had off the pitch have gone away and we’re going to see the very best of him. With Ole, I can only imagine he’s got a decision to make about whether he brings a re-energised Jesse Lingard back into the squad, or he says that ship’s sailed and you move on. That’s a tricky one for Ole I guess. 

DB: With Van de Beek being a more attacking-minded midfielder, that leaves only Nemanja Matiç as an alternative option off the bench. It’s no surprise then, that the club is linked with central midfielders. One name that’s come up quite frequently is Brighton’s Yves Bissouma. Do you think that would be a good move for United this summer?

GP: Again, he’s a player that I’ve not seen an awful lot of, I couldn’t say too much specifically about the lad. But I do think we’ve got enough defence-minded midfield players already. Matiç is a different type of player to Fred and McTominay, he’s a very cool head and technically gifted player as well, so I think it’s important we target a midfielder with a lot more range, more creativity than what we have rather than worrying about a defensive-minded player.

DB: Another player that has been linked with United is Cristiano Ronaldo. With Juventus currently outside of the Champions League places, he may look to move on. Do you think he’d be a good fit in the current United squad? 

GP: Yes, I could see him coming back. He had a great time at Old Trafford, and coming back here would suit Cristiano with Juve struggling with Champions League qualification. He didn’t have issues here the first time round under the leadership of Sir Alex, and you can see that he still looks after himself and has that hunger. He still wants to compete at the top level and play Champions League football, and if he comes to United you have to find a place for Cristiano Ronaldo.

He’s a magnificent player and still has that hunger to prove himself as the best player that’s ever walked this planet. I think he’s on record as wanting to play until he’s 40 – sometimes when you’re bringing a player back to a club you worry about the hunger and desire if it’s something seen as more of a final payday. You see the way he talks and trains, he’s still keen and can be one of the best players in the world at United. 

DB: Looking at the last summer transfer window, the signing of Edinson Cavani has proved to be a huge success and he has signed a new deal. Do you think he should be United’s main man up top next season or do you see his role more off the bench?

GP: You’ve got to manage him, and I think Ole’s doing a great job with that. He’s 34 now, and I remember chatting to Sir Alex, he’d always used to say centre forward is one of the hardest positions to play, especially as a lone striker. The energy and hard work required, once you get to a certain age you have to watch the fitness of strikers carefully, so I think Ole’s been great in managing Cavani. At 34 he’s not going to be playing two games a week, I think that’d be asking too much. He’s the most natural centre forward in that squad, I think he’s been an incredible addition and I’m absolutely delighted he’s staying for another year. Because he’s only playing once a week you don’t see a lag in him, you see him performing and he’s top draw every time he’s on the pitch at the moment. But, if someone like Harry Kane becomes available, which he potentially could do this summer, if you’re Manchester United you’ve got one eye on the future and if he becomes available the club would be interested in bringing him in. But with Cavani’s signing, it’s not just what he’s doing on the pitch, you hear about what he’s doing behind the scenes and what a terrific pro he’s been. It’s like when Cantona came in – we hadn’t seen this type before, he was so professional in the way he was training, eating and looking after himself, it was a real eye-opener not just for the young kids at the club but the older pros as well. Back in our days, we weren’t as professional as the setups now with the health and wellbeing support they receive compared to the 90s. But the Cavani signing has been great, and when he plays in front of a full house at Old Trafford I think we’ll fall in love even more. 

DB: Whether he’s in the starting XI or not, Cavani can bring a lot to the squad with his experience, especially for a young striker like Mason Greenwood. He recently overtook Rooney to become United’s all-time top-scoring teenager. What are your expectations for him over the next few years?

GP: We don’t want to get too excited – we’ve seen it before with players at this club, one of the latest examples being Adnan Januzaj. He exploded onto the scene with great goals and performances, looking like a young Ryan Giggs in a lot of ways, his balance was incredible. And then it all seemed to go pear-shaped overnight, and he not long after moved away from the club and you’re sat there scratching your head as to how and why. I don’t think that’s going to happen with Mason, he’s been producing over a long period of time now and the main improvement we’ve seen with him this year has been his general play with his movement around the pitch, he looks stronger and has more nouse around him, he’s being more involved in the build-up which may have been a bit detrimental at the start of the season where he wasn’t scoring many goals, but I think that’s all part of the learning process. He looks the real deal and it’s always difficult for a defender when you’re against a two-footed player, a bit like Peter Beardsley where you can’t show him on a weaker foot which makes it twice as difficult for a defender. The world’s his oyster and he’s had a few wake-up calls in the media and issues, but he’s still only 18 and it’s a learning process. He’s got to learn that being in the spotlight his every move will be watched and he can’t afford to make too many mistakes. Hopefully, he’s learnt his lessons and he has all the potential in the world and a great manager in Ole. The potential is certainly there. 

DB: Manchester City have a young star of their own in Phil Foden, who has enjoyed a breakout season and will likely feature for England at the Euros. Who do you think is the more exciting talent and do you think Southgate should take Greenwood to the Euros?

GP: I think Greenwood should go. Foden is an absolute certainty to go. His balance on a football pitch, his ability to beat people, his football intelligence is a wow factor. We’ve got some terrific creative young players in Mount, Grealish, Maddison, but as a natural striker and someone who can poach a goal, Mason brings that to the squad. I’m not saying he starts the games, obviously, Harry Kane will play that role, but someone like Mason who can sniff out a goal would be good to have in the Euros and his form would warrant that. 

DB: Last time we spoke, it looked like everything had finally clicked for Anthony Martial. He scored 17 league goals last season, and looked really sharp during project restart, scoring six and setting up three. This season he’s got just four goals in 22 appearances. How do you assess his season?

GP: It’s been a washout for Anthony. After project restart, he was banging in goals and you’re finally thinking that he’s arrived. He was looking mature after being at United for enough time and it felt like a pivotal moment where he’d kicked on and removed some of his inconsistencies. I had him up there challenging Bruno as United’s best player for that period of time. It’s the best football we’ve seen from Anthony Martial. And then he comes into the start of this season and it’s back to the same Martial as before. We see the potential at times, but then others it’s just not happening with him. I’m not sure you can reserve a place for him in the side when he’s being non-existent on too many occasions. As a player, he has all the tools to frighten the life out of defenders, but he’s too inconsistent at this point in time and how much longer can that carry on? 

DB: He’s previously looked most comfortable coming inside from the left, but it looks like Rashford has that spot nailed down. Mason Greenwood has recently said he sees himself as a number nine long-term. All things considered, what do you think his future at the club looks like?

GP: If I was Anthony Martial I’d be concerned. When he was banging in goals, we all thought he’d arrived and he was settled and would kick on from there, but he hasn’t. He’ll be looking at the situation thinking Rashford and Greenwood are part of the future, Cavani is here another year, and if Harry Kane is available I’m sure the club would be interested because he guarantees you goals. Pogba is out on the left with Rashford drifting over there as well, which is predominantly where Martial was before going back into the central striker role. If Kane or another striker doesn’t come in, is Martial now understudy to Cavani? Cavani won’t play every week so there may be an opportunity there, but United will have eyes on the summer and if Harry Kane becomes available every top side in Europe will be after him, so a lot of Martial’s future depends on United’s summer activity. 

DB: One person who’s certainly a huge part of United’s long-term future is Bruno Fernandes. He doesn’t talk to the media much outside of post-match interviews but he recently sat down with FourFourTwo. He spoke about his mentality saying “My mood is really bad the day after we lose. The team wanted a winning mentality and needed one”. Do you think that’s something the club was lacking and would you say Fernandes has had a transformative effect in that regard?

GP: Yeah, I’m not the only former player that looked at the side and thought ‘how many leaders have you got in the team?’ I think Harry Maguire is a bit of a talker, but he’s not blood and thunder. With the likes of Paul Ince, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce, we had some unbelievable leaders in our side. I think that’s gradually gone out of the side. I remember seeing the first game that Bruno played at Old Trafford and he was screaming at everybody and this is a lad that’s new to the team. He had no fear of doing that and that tells you something about the lad. He’s telling people where to go, shouting if he doesn’t get the ball at the right time and I’m thinking wow, forget about the performances, that’s something that stood out to me as different, in that game. He had that real desire – he wouldn’t be shouting and screaming if he wasn’t looking to get a reaction from his teammates. You don’t particularly like that as a teammate but I think that’s something that you look back on later in your career and think ‘yeah I needed that’. I remember having battles with Robbo, Keane, Ince and Bruce on the pitch because they’re demanding more of you. If you make a mistake they’re kind of digging you out, and they’ll get a reaction – ’that won’t happen again ‘cause I don’t want him getting up in my ear’.

I think Bruno has that and sometimes he overplays it with moaning at the referees. That’s something he’s got to be careful about, picking up a lot of bookings and getting on the wrong side of referees. He goes down a little bit too easy, maybe. But I love that drive in him, the fact that he’s not just a shouter, he backs it up with the way that he plays. He’s got a desire to work without the ball, he’s got that sixth sense to be able to find the right pass and he’s been the biggest influence on that team. It’s probably the best bit of business Ole’s done in his time at Old Trafford. 

DB: Thinking back to United’s first Premier League win in 1992/93, some of your ex-teammates like Mike Phelan and Bryan Robson have previously spoken about the effect Eric Cantona’s arrival had on the club both on and off the pitch. Do you think Bruno can have a comparable impact over the next few years?

GP: Yeah, because of his demands. I’m sure he’s the same in training as he is on a match day. Eric was like that. It was a form of professionalism that we probably hadn’t seen. I can only imagine Bruno is like that, I haven’t seen him in training, I’m only guessing. But the type of character he is, he would demand the same in training. If he’s not getting the ball when he wants, he’ll be telling people.

Can he have the same impact as Eric Cantona? I think he’s already proven that he’s had probably just as much. There’s no doubt about it, the team’s performance and win ratio has picked up since he’s been in the side. That’s been since day one, he hasn’t taken time to adjust or find his feet. He’s acclimatised to a new country, coming in and hitting the heights right from the get-go. I can’t see that desire he’s got waning. I see him being a driving force in the Manchester United side for quite a few years to come. 

DB: Staying with Fernandes, he’s the bookies’ favourite for player of the season, but he’ll have to beat Ruben Dias and Harry Kane – do you think he’ll claim the award?

GP: I do and it’s well deserved. He’s been terrific with his goals and assists, the way he’s revitalised the club. Listen, I think Dias has been terrific for City in a problem area for them. After the loss of Kompany, it was difficult to find somebody that fits the bill [at centre back]. He’s won the Premier League, so he’s got a good chance. Harry Kane, you know he’s going to score goals. I think the problem with Harry is that there’s a lot of negativity around Tottenham – I don’t know if that will impact the final decision, but they’ve won nothing and if you’re not really involved in the big games, does that have a detrimental effect on your chances?

I just think Bruno with his stats and the effect he’s had on United is a shoo-in.

DB: We mentioned Kane as someone who’s had a great season individually, but at a club level, it’s been a poor season for Spurs. Some of the Premier League’s top clubs have been linked with moves for strikers this summer and he’s made it clear that winning trophies is a priority – do you think he’ll move to a rival club?

GP: I think any of the top six would potentially be a good fit for Harry Kane. He ticks all the boxes for a centre forward. He can hold the ball up, he’s decent in the air, decent pace and the end game is, he guarantees you plenty of goals. I think he gets into any of the top six teams. I was reading yesterday that Daniel Levy would be reluctant to let him go to another Premier League club. I think Harry Kane has been loyal to Tottenham. He’s said he wants to win things and he’s coming up to the stage of his career where he’s in his prime and Tottenham at this moment in time is in limbo. They’ve just lost their manager, probably won’t qualify for the Champions League. I think they’ve got to be very fair with Kane now. He wanted them to be successful, wanted to play in a successful Tottenham team. But if I’m Harry Kane now, sitting on a beach on holiday and thinking about my future, I’d think ‘I’m not going to win anything at Tottenham’. I don’t think they can bring in a manager that can guarantee them trophies at this moment in time, so I think the club have got to be fair with him as he’s been fair with them. If he wants to leave, I think they should play ball with him – he’s given them his all for the last few years.

DB: It’s hard to imagine him leaving the league, especially as he’s the most likely candidate to have a shot at breaking Shearer’s record

GP: I don’t think he would want to leave the Premier League, but you understand Daniel Levy not wanting him to go. He’s nailed his colours to the mast with Tottenham, he’s said ‘I want to win things with Tottenham’. He’s signed a contract with the belief that under Pochettino they could challenge for the big honours. They got to a Champions League final, they came close to winning the Premier League. He’s thinking ‘as long as I’m involved in that, as long as I feel like I’ve got a chance of winning trophies, then I’m happy to stay’. This is a club now that you can’t see getting anywhere near the Premier League title in the near future. By that time, he’ll probably be past the best years of his career. If he’s still without a trophy, he’ll be devastated. A player like Harry Kane needs to be winning trophies and he’s only had a little sniff of that. He wants more of that. He wants to play in the Champions League every year, where someone of his talent should be playing.

As much as Daniel Levy won’t want him to go to a Premier League club, he’s got to be fair with Harry Kane. He loves playing for Tottenham, but as a professional footballer, you want to win things in your life, you want to be remembered for winning Premier League titles, lifting FA Cups, getting into the Champions League every year, playing at the highest level. I think Harry Kane would think that’s not going to happen here [at Spurs].

DB: Now that second place is wrapped up, looking ahead to next season, with Chelsea and City looking like contenders and Liverpool looking to bounce back, do you think United can build on this season and go one step further next season?

GP: I think they can build and be a better team next season, I don’t know whether that’s good enough to compete with City and Liverpool if they get back to their pomp. Liverpool and City have raised the bar over the last few years. I scratch my head as to where it’s all gone wrong at Liverpool. Last year they looked untouchable, even considering Manchester City who were there or thereabouts. You can’t see Liverpool being anywhere near as bad next season, they’ll have van Dijk back, his absence is a big reason why they struggled this season. He’s almost a one-man defence, he’s played that well in the last few seasons. If he comes back at the peak of his powers, that solves a lot of problems for Liverpool.

Looking at United, I think they can kick on and get better. You look at problem areas for United and it’s that slow start – how many times have United been behind after a poor first-half performance? What is the mentality behind that? Does it take a half-time rollicking from Ole? Why has it taken them so long to really compete in most of these games? We’ve struggled in a lot of first halves and that’s something that needs addressing. Under Ole, the club is moving forward. It’s the first side in a long time the fans can recognise as a Manchester United team. The imagination that Bruno has brought to the side has helped an awful lot. He’s galvanised the side as soon as he’s walked in. There are still areas to improve and I think the gap is still quite big between us and Manchester City. If Liverpool hit the heights that they did the year before, then I don’t think we’re near those heights either. It’ll be intriguing to see what Ole does in the summer. I’m sure Ole has got his eye on a few players who can come in and make us even better and bridge that gap between us and City and Liverpool. 

DB: It’ll certainly be a tough ask to top City, they’ve looked a different side with how solid they’ve been at the back this season.

GP: I think they struggled to replace Vincent Kompany. He was a little bit like Virgil van Dijk, a one-man defence and an incredible player. Not just on the pitch, but I think he was pivotal behind the scenes as captain of the club. I don’t think City are quite as strong as they were four or five years ago, that’s just my own personal opinion. They’re a terrific side but I think the sides they had previously were better than the one they’ve got right now. I think it’s been made easier for them this year by Liverpool’s demise, United not being quite at the level to compete with them. I think it’s been an easier Premier League win this year for Manchester City than we’ve had in previous years.

Stones has grasped the nettle as well. He’s come out of the wilderness and looks like the player we thought he was going to be when Manchester City paid all that money for him. He had to reassess his career, his future. There were times at Manchester City where he wasn’t involved, it was almost as if Pep had given up on him. He’s obviously worked hard behind the scenes and cemented his place as the number one partner for Dias. You’ve got to give him a pat on the back. I’m pleased for the kid, he took a lot of flak.

I was chatting with my old friend Tony Mowbray today and I was talking about when people watched me and him at Middlesbrough, people spoke about me being a young Alan Hansen, a ball-playing centre half, and I thought ‘oh wow, really am I?’ Then you feel like you’ve got to prove it. Then, instead of taking the safe option, you try to take the clever option because you’re supposed to be that kind of player. I think a lot of that probably happened with Stones. He got himself into situations where he couldn’t play his way out of them, he took unnecessary risks and he got punished. I think that’s why Guardiola and the media turned against him. In a way, I’ve been on that journey, you realise you’re trying to prove to everybody that you are a Hansen, and you get yourself into a lot of trouble. He’s bounced back from that and his mental strength to do so has been terrific. He’s learned his lessons and he’s probably put himself into a shout for a place at the Euros.  

DB: Stones definitely deserves a lot of credit for reclaiming a spot in the City side. I think most people so far have credited City’s solid defence to the arrival of Ruben Dias. His leadership at the back has lead to comparisons with the impact Virgil van Dijk had at Liverpool. Maguire has had a solid season after previously receiving a lot of criticism, do you think he’s a leader of the same ilk?

GP: I don’t think he’s a Vincent Kompany or a Virgil van Dijk, but he’s a voice in that Manchester United side. You look at Bruno, then you look at Harry being the next biggest influence in that dressing room – he’s the captain and a big-money signing. He’s had people doubting his ability to be a Manchester United centre half, but I think he’s been terrific.

There’s a lot of chat about another centre half coming in. If you’ve got a dominant centre half coming in, I don’t think anybody within the club would be against doing that, but Victor [Lindelof] has done well this season. Bailly, if you can get him fit, is a good centre half. But I think if somebody like Vincent Kompany, Tony Adams or van Dijk was up for sale then you’d be very interested as a United manager. But I have no worries about Harry Maguire, I think at times he’s been an easy target and I think he’s a target because of the sum that was paid for him – people expect miracles. I came in as a British transfer record [for a defender] in 1989 when we were struggling and I seemed to take most of the negativity because as a record signing you’re expected to do everything. You’ve just got to go out there and play to the best of your ability and that’s what Harry’s done; I think he’s been terrific. 

DB: Do you think Maguire has his ideal partner at United already and if not, is there anyone you think United should look at getting in to play alongside him?

GP: There have been players that have performed in the Champions League and you think, could they play at United? I think it’s a position that Ole will look at but it’s not the only position. United are what, three or four players away from closing that gap with Manchester City? That’s the beauty of being a manager at the club the size of Manchester United – you can keep more players happy because they’re at Manchester United and you get a better chance to utilise your squad.

DB: Yeah, I think it’ll be good not only for Ole, but also the players competing for those positions. You look at the signing of Alex Telles and many thought he may come in and take Luke Shaw’s place, but Shaw has responded well and had his best season for United.

GP: Yeah and that’s the great thing about it [competition]. Under Sir Alex [Ferguson], when I was there, we had Mal Donaghy, Brucey [Steve Bruce], Viv Anderson was playing centre half. So they brought me in and I thought ‘right, they’re either going to play me alongside Brucey or Donaghy’. Then, six months later he brings in Paul Parker and you think ‘is he going to take my place?’. He was slotted in at right-back. Then a few years later, Henning Berg came in, David May came in. It keeps you on your toes, you need that competitiveness in the side. If you sit there and think ‘this shirt is mine, this place is mine’ and you’re not quite at it every game, there’ll be someone readily available to take your place. I can imagine it’s hard to manage when you’ve got to leave good players out, but it gives the dressing room a lift when you bring these players in, knowing that if their performances aren’t up to a certain level every week, someone will take my place.

DB: Pep Guardiola has been at City for five years now. By the end of this season, he’ll have won three Premier League titles and perhaps even a Champions League title to add to the silverware he’s racked up in Spain and Germany. Do you think he’s building a legacy that can rival Fergie’s? 

GP: I don’t think he’ll stay at a club long enough to build a legacy at a single club like Fergie’s. If we’re talking about all-time great managers, you have to put Pep up there. But does Pep go into a club like Aberdeen, where Fergie went in and broke the back of the Old Firm in Scotland? That’s what first really brought Sir Alex into everybody’s mind, what he did with a small, small club to go up against the big guns, and back when they were proper big guns, was incredible. It’s not just Old Trafford that’s part of his legacy. Pep’s worked at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, where he’s had the funds to go and acquire the players he wants for his system. Sir Alex went into a club [Manchester United] that hadn’t won the title for around 20 years and ok it took a little while for him to turn things around there, but he did and then he went on an incredible run. It’d be interesting to see Pep at a club like Aberdeen, or a Brighton or maybe even a team like West Ham and see how he performs with slightly less luxury. But I think the way Pep’s teams have been over the years has been terrific. You can’t help but watch and admire the kind of football they play, and I think he deserves to be up there. It is the most entertaining brand of football I’ve ever seen. That Barcelona side is the best side I think I’ve ever seen in the flesh. I mean they talk about the young Brazil teams with Pele and others, but that Barcelona side when they were in their pomp, their football was exquisite, and he’s got to take credit for that. He’s built a legacy, but I still think he has a way to go to beat Sir Alex. 

DB: It’ll be interesting to see if they win the Champions League with a tough match-up against Chelsea. 

GP: Yeah, we’ve just watched Chelsea outplay them really on their own patch when they could’ve clinched the title themselves. This guy at Chelsea is doing wonders. He looks as though he’s a bit of a disciplinarian, if people aren’t performing he’s not afraid to take them out of the side regardless of their name. He looks like a manager who gets the message across quite bluntly. He’s had a reaction. If I’m a Chelsea player now, I’m thinking ‘bring it on’. I think Chelsea will be confident heading into this game, even against the Champions and favourites. I think they’ve got enough belief in themselves to go and win this Champions League final. I’m looking forward to it. I think Pep Guardiola’s got more questions to answer at the moment than Tuchel. If was a Chelsea fan I’d be confident they would give this a right good go. 

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