February 19, 2009

Players ask Sir Alex

16/02/2009 13:52, Report by Adam Bostock

Previously on ManUtd.com, Sir Alex Ferguson answered questions from celebrity fans. Now the agenda is set by United players, past and present...

What do you consider to be the turning point in the early part of your United career? Mickey Thomas

I think there were a few turning points. Obviously there was a big job to be done in terms of the restructuring of the club, from youth development right through. As I’d done in my early management at St Mirren and Aberdeen, I always felt having a youth programme was important. That was the foundation we built at this club. We held trials every week up at Albert Park in Salford on the floodlit Astroturf. We had meetings with the scouts to focus on exactly what their job was. I remember saying to them, “I don’t want the best boy in their street. I want the best boy in their town.”

So we worked really hard at the youth and you could start to see the fruits of that after a year and a half. I brought Les Kershaw in as chief scout, then I brought Brian Kidd in for youth development and local scouting, and we started to make ground. In those days, you could have trials all the time, in the way you can’t do now in the academy. We’d hold trials throughout the year - kids would come in for two or three weeks in August, two weeks in October, a week in December, two weeks in March.

Meanwhile, I felt the first team squad was too old to carry on challenging and we had to start changing that. In 1989, I brought in five players and we sold off about eight - Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Gordon Strachan, Jesper Olsen, Peter Davenport,

Chris Turner and Graeme Hogg. We gave a free transfer to Kevin Moran, Frank Stapleton and Mick Duxbury. We started to build a new team. But the biggest thing was the youth development, it was starting to progress.

When you retire from United, probably in another 20 years, would you accept the Scotland job if it was vacant? Denis Law

No, I won’t turn to international management. When I’ve finished here, I think I deserve a complete rest! I’ll be off to my wee butt ‘n’ ben (small holiday home). After here, I’m finished!

How did it feel losing 4-0 to Celtic in the 1969 Scottish Cup final - and why weren't you marking Billy McNeill for the corner? Paddy Crerand

Och, that was my worst ever moment in football as a player. Rangers against Celtic in the final and we lost 4-0. It was agony. That was my last game for Rangers really, in the first team anyway. I was given the job to man-mark Billy McNeill but our centre-half Ronnie McKinnon was supposed to attack the ball. Neither of us did our job and McNeill scored. It was the second minute of the match, so it was a killer. That was only miniscule in terms of what happened after that. The goals we lost were absolutely ridiculous, it was an absolute shambles. I’ve watched the video again and I certainly wasn’t the worst player on that pitch, that’s for sure. Rangers were shocking that day, right through the team. David Smith was the only Rangers player who played that day. We were absolutely thrashed.

What would you rather have - two more European Cups and three more league titles OR Scotland to win the World Cup? David May

I think I’ll settle for two more European Cups and three more titles… Scotland have got their own problems!

What has been the key ingredient for maintaining your success? Mickey Thomas

The ingredient is that I’m at the right club. I’m at a club where everybody understands that success is important. You know what your challenges are every year, you know what your targets are. Once we won that first league title in 1993, it opened the door for us and it’s been nothing but progress since. The progress hasn’t necessarily always been on the football field – there’s been a big development in the medical department, sports science, a new training ground… these have all been boosters to us. As you win a title, then the demand gets greater. We’ve not lost the hunger. That’s important. We’ve not lost the hunger to win. That permeates right through the club.