Phelan confident in old guard

Former United assistant manager tipping old club for title success ahead of first Manchester derby without Ferguson.

    Phelan confident in old guard
    Phelan left the English champions in the summer following David Moyes' appointment as Ferguson’s successor [EPA]

    When Mike Phelan takes his seat in the Old Trafford press box on Sunday, he won't need reminding that this Manchester derby is different.

    Because for the first time in 27 years, English champions Manchester United face City without a certain Alex Ferguson at the helm.

    Phelan was there at Ferguson's side for the last 12 of those seasons, offering advice, relaying instructions and coaxing and cajoling a team of star players. This year he'll be high up in the stands though, commentating on the game for local radio.

    It will be a strange experience for the affable 50-year-old and emphasises the fact that he is perhaps one of the unluckiest men in English football, having lost his job despite winning two Premier League titles, the world club championship, two League Cups and reaching two Champions League finals in five years as Ferguson's assistant (he was first-team coach for seven years before that).

    When David Moyes came in, he decided he wanted his own staff alongside him and released Phelan, along with goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.

    Phelan isn't bitter though.

    "It's unusual to lose your job when someone retires - it's normally because they've been sacked, but I wasn't taken aback by it," the former England midfielder tells Al Jazeera English.

    It's unusual to lose your job when someone retires... but I wasn't taken aback by it. The new manager wants to work with people he feels comfortable with. It was David's [Moyes] prerogative to do what he thought was right and I'm fine about it

    Mike Phelan,

    "The new manager wants to work with people he feels comfortable with. It was David's prerogative to do what he thought was right and I'm fine about it."

    What does Phelan make of Manchester United under Moyes? They've had an unspectacular start to the season, winning two, drawing one and losing one.

    "David has done very well," argues Phelan.

    "He's still got the learner plates on in terms of finding out about the players.

    "But he is learning quickly about the magnitude of the club and coping alright. The team look solid.

    "I don't think there was much there to change. The players are all confident in their abilities. It was a case of the new management settling in more than anything else."

    Title favourites

    Burnley-born Phelan, who also won the Premier League as a player at United under Ferguson, still rates United as firm favourites for the title.

    They were widely criticised for a lack of activity in the summer transfer window - Marouane Fellani was their only major signing - but Phelan says they are still the team to beat.

    "They've only made one significant change and people say they are weaker, mainly because others did more work in the transfer window," he says.

    "But that's because the other clubs had to, whereas Manchester United didn't.

    "I have to say they are favourites for the Premier League. They won the league by 11 points last season and it could have been more. They are the champions and have been there before. They know how to win matches and trophies."

    And Phelan believes £27.5 million signing Fellaini will be a good addition to United's squad.

    "I don't buy into this theory that he's not a Manchester United player," he says.

    "He will bring something different. He has unusual height for a Manchester United midfield player and there are games where you need aerial ability and physicality."

    Keeping Rooney

    The former central midfielder says Fellaini wasn't United's best bit of summer transfer business though - that was actually keeping hold of Wayne Rooney.

    "I think it was imperative that they managed to keep hold of a player of that quality," Phelan says.

    "There just aren't many out there with his pedigree. Wayne has been doing it since he was a teenager. He's just scored his 200th competitive goal.

    "That doesn't happen to ordinary people. Wayne Rooney has never been an issue to anyone to my knowledge. He trains hard and is a team player."

    Having been involved in dozens of Manchester derbies - first as a player, then as first-team coach, and finally as assistant manager - Phelan is fully aware of the magnitude of Sunday's game.

    And he expects this latest installment to be as compelling as ever.

    "United are the champions and I think City have a better squad this season and also a bit of harmony now the new manager has come in, so it should be a terrific game," he says.

    "There have been some great games and the derby can bring something special out of a footballer that the fans will really remember.

    "They'll say, 'I remember that game because Wayne Rooney or Sergio Aguero or Robin van Persie did something unbelievable'."

    And what next for Phelan himself? He's been enjoying his media work and has watched plenty of games since leaving United, but he yearns to be back in the thick of things.

    "I definitely want to be a manager," he says.

    "I haven't had a job interview for 18 years, but I've got confidence in my ability."

    While it might be true he hasn't had the interviews, Phelan's CV certainly speaks for itself.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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