RoM: What do you think the best moment of the past 10 years has been for United?
Oliver Holt: Probably John Terry missing that penalty in Moscow in 2008. That third European Cup was a big moment for United as a club and for Sir Alex Ferguson as a manager. Despite all the domestic honours, it would have felt a little as if United had under-achieved if they had only won the biggest prize once in all Fergie’s years in charge. That victory legitimised him and provided the best moment of their club careers to date for men like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
RoM: Are there any games that stand out to you that you’ve reported on over the past 10 years?
OH: The away leg of the Bayern Munich tie under Moyes stands out, partly because Bayern had banned The Daily Mirror, who I was working for at the time, from the Allianz Arena. We had run a headline about Schweinsteiger after the first leg which tested the German sense of humour – it may have tested the English sense of humour, too – and Bayern said we were not allowed in. So I got a ticket off a mate and sat with the United fans. It was a while since I had sat with United supporters at a game rather than in the press box and it was great to be back amongst it. The atmosphere when Evra scored a thunderbolt of a goal was magnificent even though the let down came fairly quickly after that. It was a little challenging filing copy but it worked fine in the end. Great night.
RoM: When Abramovich and Mourinho came to Chelsea, did you think there was much chance of United still being the dominant team in England?
OH: I don’t think I appreciated the magnitude of what was happening for a little while after Abramovich arrived. And even after those first two Chelsea titles, I never really expected United to be anything other than the dominant force in the game. I still struggle with the idea that they have slipped from the pedestal now. When you get used to one team being so good for so long, it’s hard to get your head round the idea that things have changed and that they are not the side they used to be. I think I only finally realised that when I saw United against Southampton at Old Trafford a few weeks ago and saw just what a timid side they had become and how their mentality had changed.
RoM: What have the biggest changes been behind the scenes between Fergie, Moyes and Van Gaal?
OH: I don’t see behind the scenes as much as the lads who cover the Manchester beat so I’m not the best person to ask on this. My impression, though, is that not enough has changed since Ferguson left. It seems to me that United have struggled to move on from Sir Alex in many ways. The press operation is still amateur night compared to the ones run by every one of the other big teams in the Premier League and the academy seems to have been allowed to stagnate since Ferguson left. United still seem to be wedded to the idea of one man as complete ruler, in Ferguson’s image. Ferguson was a great moderniser and innovator in many ways but things have stood still since he went.
RoM: Any particularly memorable moments at a United press conference/interview over the past 10 years?
OH: I’m going to cheat with the time-frame by a couple of months here and mention the press conference before United played Benfica in December 2005. It wasn’t a great time for United or Fergie and at the pre-match press conference, I asked Fergie if his own position would come under pressure if United were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage. It wasn’t a particularly brave question because it was a great big hall and I was sitting a long way back with a microphone but Fergie was not impressed. He muttered something to Carlos Queiroz, who was sitting alongside him on the dais and then said ‘next question’. I tried a feeble comeback and he just said ‘next question’ again. We spoke to a couple of the MUTV boys afterwards and they were laughing. They said their mics had picked up what Fergie had said to Queiroz after my question. ‘We’ve got some right fucking pricks in here today,’ Fergie had said as he stared at me. Many would say he had it absolutely right, I’m sure.