Mike Phelan comes across as a good lad, shorts and all. He’s been with the club for donkeys and knows how things should work behind the scenes. I assume he has a good relationship with the players and is clearly a man who Sir Alex Ferguson trusts.
However, after losing Carlos Queiroz, whose tactics transformed United in Europe, enabling to put in solid performances against the likes of Roma and Barcelona, playing in a way we’d never seen United successfully pull off before, I was hoping for an assistant from a similar mold. Someone who understood the European game, who had a good knowledge about talent abroad, and who could get Sir Alex to think with his head rather than his heart (for example, stopping the Scot from subbing on John O’Shea in the closing minutes of the Champions League final against Chelsea in preference for penalty taker Anderson!).
It appears as though the club were thinking in the same way, approaching the up-and-coming manager and former Inter boss, Roberto Mancini.
”I really believe that next year he will return to coaching a big club,” said his agent yesterday. ”I think that everyone aspires to have someone like him, he has showed on the pitch how well he knows how to make his teams play and that he knows how to win. Where will he go? He would want to go abroad. A little while ago there was contact with United but they were offering him only the role of Ferguson’s assistant. And that didn’t suit him.”
Of course, after managing one of the top clubs in Italy, we were pushing our luck a little to think he would take the step down to assistant, with the confident manager clearly preferring to go a year jobless than go backwards, but this was the right direction to take.
I’m not slagging Phelan off or saying he’s doing a bad job because truth be told, we have no idea what kind of job he’s doing. I imagine he’s carrying on in the way he was before, United through and through, great in training, good for a laugh, helpful with the league, but will offer us little on the continent. Is Phelan going to be able to mastermind results against the likes of Barcelona? I won’t hold my breath.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Ferguson leaves, which may be sooner rather than later according to his son, in terms of possibly preferring the more regimental Queiroz and Mancini types, over the more sentimental Ferguson and Phelan characters. Time will tell I suppose…