Continuing with our contributing writer section, Rich, of Penguin United takes his hat off to Phelan and Meulensteen.
When Carlos Queiroz left last season to take over the Portuguese national team, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the damage it might do to our prospects. I was certainly worried, given that the seasons in the past when Fergie didn’t have a proper assistant had hardly gone well. In 2001-02, after Steve McLaren left and before CQ arrived, we came a shocking 3rd in the Premiership and won no cups. In 2003-04, the season where CQ left to manage Real Madrid, we managed an FA Cup win against Millwall but were never in the hunt for the league (and we won’t mention Porto).
When we were doing poorly at the start of the season, I remember Mike Phelan coming in for vast amounts of criticism on various blogs (but never in the mainstream press). It seemed he was basically being held responsible for United’s slump in form. I wasn’t sure that this was entirely fair – we had a horrible run of injuries, and about half our team seemed to be playing whilst half-fit or clinically exhausted – but it did worry me too.
Fast forward to May, and we have won the League, the World Club Cup and the Carling Cup, with a Champions’ League final in the bank. The (entirely justified) plaudits ring out for Fergie, Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, Fletcher, Rio, Vida and the rest of the lads – but nowhere do I see any praise for Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen. Certainly nothing from any fans to say “we were a bit hasty in September, fair play to you”. But they were an integral part of the much-lauded squad, as this extract from the Sunday Times’ interview with Fergie shows:
He [Fergie] leaves the organising and supervising of the players’ work sessions at Carrington to his assistant manager, Mike Phelan, and his first-team coach, Rene Meulensteen, relishing the freedom a measure of detachment grants him to assess the progress being made. He values the input of Phelan and Meulensteen to discussions of team selection and tactics but, naturally, his judgment is decisive…“I’m not interested in how Mike and Rene plan the training,” he said. “I’m interested in what I see. I want to see quality, intensity, what players are bringing to it. What they do on the training ground comes out on the pitch and I want to see if there is improvement in them.”
So these guys have been solely responsible for planning the training of the best squad in the world? And have played a hand in keeping our golden oldies fresh and firing (including re-inventing Giggsy as a central midfielder), whilst integrated the next generation into our first team squad? And they don’t get a look in?
And as an dose of reality for those who thought that CQ’s departure would have catastrophic effects, there has been no sign of our Portuguese / South American contingent being unsettled – quite the reverse, with Rafael and Fabio settling in very well and the signing of another talented young Brazilian, Dodi, on the cards.
We should be taking our hats off to Mike and Rene – I know I am.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.