You played at United in the clubs most successful period, winning a whopping 16 trophies over a 13-year period. Can you describe the pride you felt in winning all those trophies with your boyhood club?
First of all, it’s a big deal making your debut. I’m often asked, what was your favourite moment, but it all comes back to my debut because that was all I ever wanted to achieve when I was a young kid dreaming of becoming a professional footballer.
To do it as quickly as he did is a credit to him and a credit to his directness. He hasn’t been stubborn but he’s been strong in the way he wants to implement his philosophy with the levels of energy in every game.
I came into the Man Utd squad in the ‘99 season, where we won the treble, so it was a great start to my career. As a youngster in that team, I actually thought that we would win the treble every year after the first full season, but it wasn’t as easy as that (laughs).
I was fortunate to come into a great United team with a fantastic manager. At United, coming up through the youth teams, the focus was always on winning trophies, and that was the same in the senior side.
When I was playing, I didn’t really think about the trophies. As a player, you just reset, carry on from season to season and my focus was on becoming a better footballer. We didn’t stop and celebrate our achievements at the time, we always wanted more, season after season. That was Sir Alex Ferguson’s mentality, try and win as much as possible.
You mentioned making your debut. Can you tell me a little bit about that? How were you told and how did you feel?
I was in and around the first team squad for six months before I made my debut, so all of the players knew me and treated me really well when the time came to make my first appearance for the club. Arsenal won the league in 97/98 and there were two games left of the season, a home match with Leeds and an away game at Burnley.
I remember at training on the Friday, Gary Pallister told me I would be starting against Leeds at Old Trafford. I couldn’t sleep the night before the match because I was excited and nervous, but the next day we had a team meeting and the Gaffer told me I wouldn’t be starting, so Palli (Gary Pallister) had a word with me and said, “I’m sorry, Wes, I was told you’d start” (laughs).
I was tired because I couldn’t sleep the night before and, when I came on for Gary Pallister around the sixtieth minute, the adrenaline took over. I had a really good thirty minutes and everyone congratulates you afterwards. I started the next game and the following season I was part of the first team squad playing lots of games.
Obviously, ‘99 was an incredible season for United. You’re coming into a team full of experienced winners as a youngster. How did Sir Alex Fegurson treat you?
He was brilliant. He didn’t put any of the younger players under any pressure and his message was always the same: keep training well and working hard. He kept it very simple.
There were a few younger players in the squad that season with Jonathan Greening, Mark Wilson and myself, which made it easier for me, but the Gaffer gave his younger players less detailed information than the experienced players; he just wanted the younger players to focus on our individual game and play without pressure.
To be so successful over such a sustained period of time is an incredible achievement. Can you explain how Sir Alex Ferguson was able to keep motivating his players during this period?
Everyone in the first team was hungry to succeed, so the motivation didn’t just come from the manager, the players played a massive part in ensuring standards were high.
The attitude and culture at United was always about winning. For the younger players, playing across United’s YTS (youth team squads), that winning mentality was drilled into us from a young age. Eric Harrison (United youth team coach) would always stress the importance of working hard and improving as individuals. We weren’t allowed to rest on our laurels, we were told that we needed to be better if we wanted to achieve anything in the game.
Naturally, the younger guys looked towards the Class of ‘92 and were inspired by that group of players. Seeing those guys make the breakthrough was a massive source of motivation and made us work even harder.
Sir Alex was also very good at changing his teams and mixing up the group. He would often add players, sometimes he would sign players who nobody expected, and most of the time he got it right. That kept all of the players on their toes because the competition for places was fierce.
He also mixed up his coaching team and that had a similar effect on the group. I think I had seven or eight different assistant managers during my time at the club, so training would change and that helped the players and gave the group a freshness, but the message from the manager was always the same: work hard and you’ll get your rewards.
We had the best possible captain in Roy Keane, who instilled the same attitude and demands as Sir Alex on the pitch. There wasn’t any messing around – we were there to do a job and we enjoyed doing it. When you start winning trophies, all you want to do is keep winning more.
Who do you look back on and reflect on as the best player you played with? Who was the player who could change a game in a second?
The player that has that ability to win you a game on his own was Cristiano Ronaldo. After his first season with the club, there were times in the 07/08 season where he would do something special that would make the difference – he had the ability to drag us over the line when the team wasn’t playing well.
My favourite player was always Ryan Giggs. He was a complete footballer, who I loved watching on the telly when I was watching United games at home as a kid. He was an out-and-out winger that was converted into a central midfielder as he got older, a completely different role for him, and he was magnificent.
I was lucky to play with so many brilliant players at United. Rooney and Scholes deserve a mention too.
Who was the toughest opponent you ever faced both as a central defender and at right back?
There were different challenges for different positions. At centre back, it was more of a physical battle, dealing with bigger stronger players and then at right back it was about dealing with an opponent’s pace.
In one of my early games at centre back, I came up against John Hartson, who was playing for Coventry at the time. He was a big lad and he won most of his aerial battles. I was just an eighteen year-old kid trying to make my way in the game, so I learned a lot coming up against a player like him. It was a good learning experience and you realise that you need to adapt your game when playing against certain players. As a defender, you always need to assess your opponent and look at where their strengths lie and try to counter those.
Drogba, Henry and Shearer were probably the toughest opponents. They were so good, that if you weren’t playing at your best, they would punish you. Look at the number of goals those players have scored between them. I loved the challenge of playing against the best players in the bigger teams because it made you improve your own game.
What was the match you looked forward to the most when the fixtures were drawn at the start of the season?
It was always Liverpool and Manchester City. I’m a local lad, so they were always the games you wanted to go to as a fan and, naturally, they were the games that I looked forward to the most.
Who have you watched in the Premier League and been really impressed by so far this season?
Obviously, Marcus (Rashford) is doing brilliantly at the moment, but the one player that I think has been really impressive since he joined (Manchester United) is Lisandro Martinez. He came under a lot of pressure when he signed for the club, all the talk about his size and stature, but I think he has changed the mentality of the team and has dominated that defence since joining. He’s formed a great partnership with Varane and in every game he looks sharp. He loves winning his battles and he doesn’t give any of the strikers he faces any time on the ball.
He’s a class player. When I heard about our interest in him, I started watching his games at Ajax and you could tell that he would be a quality signing. All of the talk about his size was nonsense. The way that he goes about his game, what he offers on the ball, and his all-round ability as a defender.
How do you think Martinez and the United defence compares to other defenders and teams in the league?
You have to look at the teams that are above you of course, but I think he compares well with any of the defenders from Arsenal or Manchester City. As do United’s – I think United’s defence is really starting to gel now. It took a little bit of time for those players to find their rhythm, the best combinations, but over the last few months United have looked more secure.
Luke Shaw has been fantastic and has shown great versatility in his game recently playing at centre back. Wan-Bissaka has found some form again, Dalot has been playing, so competition is really healthy at the moment. You can see that ten Hag is looking for the best combinations and he isn’t afraid to rotate his defenders, which is a good sign of the faith he has in his players.
Luke Shaw is probably having the best season of his career. He has shown a versatility to his game that I didn’t think he had in him.
I think that Shaw’s playing so well because he knows he has the full confidence of the manager in either position. Lindelof played against Leicester, Magurie has also featured, so credit to ten Hag for shuffling his deck and giving players an opportunity, which they all seem to have taken. You can see that he has confidence in the entire defensive unit and he isn’t afraid to put players into the starting eleven.
I honestly do think that Lisandro Martinez has had a transformative effect on the entire United defence. Varane and Martinez complement each other brilliantly. There is confidence in the team at the back which gives United’s attacking players a greater sense of freedom. He has given the defence more confidence, they are playing higher now and engaging the opposition aggressively. He has been instrumental in setting the tempo at the back for United.
Which teams have you been surprised by this season?
Everton have surprised me. I don’t think they will go down with the players they have. Leicester should be doing better than they are.
There has been a lot of talk about Liverpool and Chelsea, who are having difficult seasons. United have been in similar situations before where we’ve had a little dip, but we would eventually recover.
Liverpool won the title with a lot of the same players, I just think there is something missing there at the moment – they need to find a little confidence boost. It looks like they’ve lost a little bit of their focus and they will need to get that back quickly.
I am surprised that Liverpool and Chelsea are not in the top four and challenging for the title. At the beginning of the season, everyone would have expected those two teams to be up there.
The race for the top four looks like being one of the tightest that we’ve seen for a very long time. Some big teams are going to miss out – which teams do you think will be in those places come the end of the season?
At the beginning of the season, I said United would finish in the top four with Liverpool, City and Chelsea – look how that has panned out! Liverpool and Chelsea are nowhere near there at the moment. You have to give credit to Arsenal, the way Arteta has got them playing. You can see they have that fighting spirit after the Villa result and everyone is trying to catch them.
City have had a little dip, but they are more than capable of winning all of their remaining games. United keep picking up wins. Those three clubs have pulled away a little from the rest of the challengers at the moment, so I think fourth is the spot that is really up for grabs with Tottenham, Newcastle, possibly even Brighton and Liverpool.
There are little competitions all over the table. Arsenal know that if they keep on winning games, the title is theirs, but I think there will be plenty of twists and turns yet, which will bring other teams into the mix. All of these teams need to focus on their own performances and will want to take as many points as possible until the end of the season. I think we’re in for a class finish.
The title race took another twist over the weekend. With 14 games to go, who do you think will end the season as Champions and, do you think United are in the race?
I think Manchester United are in the title race, but very quietly. They will need Arsenal and Manchester City to drop points, but if United can keep picking up points – I do think they would have to win pretty much all of their games now – they definitely have a slight chance.
I think Arsenal are the favourites. They have kept going and a lot of people, including myself, thought that City would overtake them with the experience that they have. That hasn’t happened yet and that has opened the door for United to join the race. For me, it’s Arsenal’s to lose and they have a massive game against City in April.
Aston Villa v Arsenal
A quick word on Arsenal who went back to the top of the table after beating Villa in dramatic circumstances. Have you been surprised by their development this season?
I wouldn’t say that I’ve been surprised by what Arsenal have done so far this season. I like Arteta, I like how he works. You could see that he has been trying to get a really good squad of players together with the signings that Arsenal have made over the last few windows. I’m a little bit surprised at how quickly he has got the team to gel – they’ve settled really quickly – and you can tell that the players love what he does and the style he wants them to play.
Arsenal have flown out of the traps since the first game of the season and you can see the togetherness in the team is higher than at most other clubs in the league. There is a willingness in the team, they work hard and never give up. Like everyone else, I thought that they were going to get beat and have a real blip, but they kept going and responded brilliantly against Aston Villa after losing to Manchester City.
You can see that Arteta and his staff are drilling that winning mentality in the team. The players know it’s close (winning the title), they just have to keep on going with the same spirit. It looks like he has a great bunch of lads there that are playing really good football.
Manchester United v Leicester
Another great result for United. Everything seems to be clicking at just the right time. What did you make of the performance?
It was a good performance from United against Leicester. I thought this was going to be a tricky game for United and, it looked like it was heading that way after the first ten minutes – De Gea kept United in the game.
Leicester had a couple of great opportunities and, if they put those away, it could have been a very different game, but after that, United started to dominate.
I thought that with Leicester playing such a high line, that was dangerous given the form that Marcus Rashford is in at the moment and also with the pace that Garnacho has. After United scored the first goal, which they had to work hard for, you could see the focus of the team changed. The defence was solid and the result never looked in doubt.
It was pleasing to see that performance with key players missing. United know that they will be playing every three days from now until the end of the season if they want to be successful, so the manager will be delighted with the performance of some of his squad players.
Up front, when you have Marcus (Rashford) in the form he’s in, when he goes one-against-one you know he isn’t going to miss. He wants to score as many goals as he can and is getting better and better with every game.
Bruno Fernandes looks to be back to his best. Rashford is firing on all cylinders. How much of a role do you think ten Hag has played in helping these players produce these types of performances?
I think Erik ten Hag deserves a lot of credit (for Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford’s improved performances). He is getting players like Bruno and Rashford to produce week-in, week-out and has given them so much confidence. You can see the way that United are playing at the moment, very attractive football, and the team spirit is back, players are working for each other.
At the beginning of the season, I can remember some of the players high-fiving each other for making tackles and defending, at the time we were letting in too many goals, it was as simple as that, so that desire to keep clean sheets and work on the defensive side of the game, winning your battles, that comes from the manager.
United have won games when they haven’t been at their best or when key players have been out, so the standards have improved and it looks like the players are responding to everything that ten Hag is asking of them at the moment.
It’s fair to say that United had a tricky start to the season. If I had said to you in September that come February, United would be three points behind Manchester City and in the title race, what would you have said?
I would have taken that (laughs). No, seriously, everyone associated with the club would have taken that. The signing of Martinez was under the microscope at the time, he was being criticised and all of the discussion in the press was about his size…everyone is entitled to have an opinion, but I wasn’t worried about him. I watched him before he joined and liked what I saw; an aggressive defender that wasn’t afraid to get in people’s faces. He’s an international player for Argentina, so it wasn’t like United signed a rookie that didn’t know what he was doing – he knew completely what he was doing.
At the beginning of the season, I thought United would finish in the top four, but I didn’t expect them to be in the title race, so that shows how much progress the club has made under ten Hag.
There’s a lot to play for for United. Obviously, the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, still going strong in the Europa League and FA Cup, third in the Premier League…If this was a school report, how would you rate Erik ten Hag’s United’s season so far?
Excellent. Keep up the good work (laughs)! For him, it would have been difficult with the start he had, but he has kept believing in his principles and adopted the same methods that served him so well when he was managing Ajax.
I think he has given the players a greater sense of focus. All of the players understand what their role is in the team and there is a great sense of togetherness within the squad. The players have responded to that – you can see by how much they are enjoying their football – and they are getting results as a team.
When he rotates the team, all of the players have the same focus and attitude, which is something United have missed for quite a while.
Obviously, you played with Ronaldo and have spoken so highly about him in this interview, but it would be fair to say that since he departed the club, United’s form has improved. Would it be a lazy statement to point to Ronaldo’s departure as one of the main reasons for this improvement?
Ronaldo was there to play – he wanted to play in every game. He wasn’t playing week-in, week-out, and I wouldn’t know what the mood was like in the camp earlier in the season because I’m not behind-the-scenes at the club.
Ultimately, since he has left, we’ve done really well. Ronaldo will always be a legend to me. I was gutted that the relationship between the club and him ended how it did. I think United would have only benefited from having him passing on his advice and helping the squad along the way, coming off the bench and having an impact in that way, but it wasn’t meant to be.
We know how competitive Ronaldo is – that’s what made him such a special player – and his desire as a player was to play in every minute of every game, which he couldn’t do at United, so he moved on. Since he left, the reaction from the players has been great.
There’s no doubt that he would have been the main man at the club because of everything that he has achieved. Since he departed, do you think players like Rashford and Fernandes have taken on that responsibility of being the main man?
Yeah they are relishing being the main men. It gets to a point where players have to take responsibility and that’s definitely the case with Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford. When Bruno first joined the club, he did that and Marcus is doing that now.
Casemiro has taken on a massive role in the centre of the park and Martinez sets the standard at the back. Their ability and confidence in what they are doing has spread across the team – everyone has stepped up since Ronaldo left.
Casemiro has been highly praised since joining. It took him a little while to break into the team after he signed from Real Madrid, but he is now very much an established and important member of the team. How important is he to the team and the way that ten Hag plays?
It did look like he was finding his feet in his first two or three games for the club. If you were a player on that team, you’d be thinking to yourself, “Wow. I’m playing with Casemiro. Real Madrid legend. Serial trophy winner,” so his presence instantly makes players want to step up, especially the younger ones.
He had a tricky start, I think it took him a while to adjust to the pace of the Premier League and, in those early games, he was taking too much time on the ball, but since then he has been phenomenal. The way he positions himself on the pitch, his mobility, the way he tackles, his vision, he plays first time balls and the other players understand that, if they make runs, he will find them. I love his attitude and I think is a very clever player – he was brilliant against Barcelona in the Nou Camp last week. He’s a world-class player and everybody can see how much he helps the team. He is also a magnificent example for any young player at the club.
You made the breakthrough at United from the youth team. A player on a similar pathway is Garnacho – how pleased are you to see Ten Hag’s commitment to following in a United tradition and giving youth a chance and how far do you think he can go at Old Trafford?
Erik ten Hag wasn’t afraid to throw in younger players at Ajax and he hasn’t been afraid to do that at United – he comes from a tradition of giving youth a chance and he has embraced that at United.
I think that Garnacho has been excellent in the games that he has played in. United has that tradition of managers giving young players opportunities and trusting young players to deliver and Erik ten Hag has certainly done that. There are a few younger players in the team that he has turned to this season, but Garnacho is the player that has really shone. When he has come on as a sub, he has been electric and you can tell that he is the type of player that ten Hag really likes. He is brave on the ball, runs at opponents and has an end product as well.
He still has a lot to learn. I think ten Hag will be delighted that he is a player he can work with for a long time and is someone that can really develop under him. At the moment, I think he has more of an impact when he comes off the bench when defenders are tired, but he definitely has the ability and the attitude to play in the first team. He has shown that this season with the goals he has scored and the contribution he has made.
When you watch him play, he is exciting. His first thought when he gets the ball is to get at his defender and, as a defender, that is not the type of problem you want to be dealing with. He’s been really good and I’m sure he will have plenty more starts, but I like him off the bench and think he is a real threat in the latter half of games.
United have produced so many brilliant players, if you’re a United fan that is one of the things you want to see – it is a core principle of the club along with playing attacking football. Erik ten Hag is doing both of those things. What is the connection like between the fans and the team and do you think the good times are coming back to Old Trafford?
I think the fans are really enjoying their football again. All you need to do is look at United’s league position and also see that we’re still challenging for all of the other competitions the team is in. You can’t kid the United fans, they know what they are watching and have watched, so they’ve seen the improvement in the team since the beginning of the season and they can see the attitude, the hard work and desire that the players are showing, which all stems from the manager and his staff.
When you enjoy your football, results always improve. United are scoring goals and defending well. We’re keeping more clean sheets and there is wholesale improvement across the board, which every fan sees, especially after the last three or four years where we haven’t been competing for the biggest prizes.
Recently, ten Hag has used Weghorst as his main striker, who holds the ball up nicely and brings other players into play. He has frequently been subbed around the sixty minute mark and Rashford goes through the middle. For me, this transforms the way United play and with three quicker players up there, they look even more dangerous. Given that Weghorst is at the club on a short-term basis, do you think that going forward, the blueprint for United is to play Rashford in that number nine role?
United needed to add a striker to the team in January, it was as simple as that. Weghorst joined on loan and he has been playing there. I think Marcus Rashford can play in any of the front three positions. He likes playing off the left, where he can go in behind or can get the ball to feet and go one-against-one with a defender.
Rashford has the ability to play anywhere. If he played through the middle, he would score goals, but he brings United a lot of playing form that left side because he draws defenders towards him which opens up a lot of space for other players to exploit.
I think if you asked Marcus, he would say that he would play anywhere he was asked. All he wants is to score goals and play well, which is what he is doing. His form is so good, you could put him in any of the attacking positions and he would deliver.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Rashford is doing this season. He has faced plenty of criticism and had a bit of a bad period last season where it didn’t look like he was enjoying his football, but he looks like a totally different player at the moment. As a United fan and someone that made that breakthrough from the youth team to the senior side, no doubt dealing with criticism along the way, how pleased are you to see what he’s doing this year and how much credit does he deserve?
Every footballer goes through bad periods and criticism helps make you stronger, while building that resolve and mentality that you need to be a world-class player. Since Marcus made his debut for United, we knew he was going to be a great player.
He’s done amazing things off the pitch. It’s different for this generation of players to how it was in my day; social media has given these players even more of a platform and there is a greater desire from these players to use their influence for good.
I think it’s taken him a little while to find his form. Sometimes as a player, you need to mute the background noise, forget what everyone is saying about you and do your job. Marcus’ job is to score goals and that is what he is doing, it’s what he was born to do.
Away from the pitch, he would do anything to help anyone. On the pitch, his performances are reminding everyone that he is completely focussed – I play for Manchester United and I’m here to score goals. It’s as simple as that.
He’s been absolutely phenomenal. Based on form, I think he is probably the most lethal attacker in Europe at the moment. Every time he steps onto the pitch, he looks like he is going to make the difference. His reputation is growing – defenders are absolutely terrified of him.
Defenders are absolutely terrified of Marcus at the moment. Defenders are dropping off, they are scared to mark him tightly, which gives him even more room to operate in. At this moment in time, I don’t think there is a better striker in the world.
We know how good Haaland can be, but his form has taken a little dip recently. Mbappe is there, but Rashford is getting the business done.
If you were playing against him at right back, Wes, how would you deal with him?
I’d be asking for help (laughs)! Listen, he’s someone that will run past you – you need to be quick to have any chance of stopping him. His confidence is so high, it doesn’t matter if teams double up on him – he is more than capable of beating them and that is something United have missed in the last couple of seasons.
Rashford’s contract expires next summer. How important is securing his future for the next owner of United and do you expect him to sign?
I’m 100% confident that he will sign a new contract with the club. He’s a Manchester lad, loves the club and if the contract is right, I’m sure he will sign it. That is something that the club will have to get done. I don’t think Marcus will want to go elsewhere and, even if he did, he’s not allowed too (laughs)! I’m sure it will get sorted (Rashford’s contract) and that will surely be one of the major priorities for whoever is running the club in the summer.
I mentioned the new owner there. We know that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and a bid from Qatar has come in. What do you think is the most important quality the new owners should bring to the club?
There’s a lot to do. If you listen to the talk about redeveloping Old Trafford, strengthening the squad etc. I think the most important thing is that there is complete alignment between the potential new owners and the manager.
There’s the football side and the wider club development, but ensuring that the manager is supported and the owners trust the direction the club is heading in is vital.
Of course, you know what it’s like to win the biggest prizes with United. When you look at the United squad, is there an area of the team that you would like to see strengthened? What are United missing to turn into serious contenders?
I think that United’s overall defence is starting to look really strong. There is competition for places and, when ten Hag has rotated his players over the last couple of months, nobody has let him down – all of them are producing for him. I don’t think we need much there. Players like Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Lindelof, Dalot, they deserve a lot of credit.
I think United could look at adding a midfielder and a striker. The striker situation is always a bit tricky, it’s tricky for every club. You want a player that can step-in if your main man gets injured – you need that quality in depth, very much like United have at the moment if you were to look at the centre back position.
When Martial is fit and playing, we know he can be a threat. He’s been injured, so you do need cover in that position – if we didn’t have Weghorst, United would have to play Marcus upfront so you want to be able to have different options and you need to have different options if you want to challenge for major trophies.
You mentioned you watched Lisandro Martinez before he signed. Is there a player or two out there that you like the look of and would love United to bring in during the summer?
I think United should just raid PSG and sign Mbappe (laughs)! It’s a tough one, you know, it’s a tough one. We always look at the best players outside of the Premier League, but if you were to cast your eye closer to home, then I think the best striker that we could get from a team in the Premier League would be Harry Kane.
Kane is getting a little bit older, but when he gets into those positions, there aren’t many players better than him. I think he would be an excellent signing for United and would score a lot of goals. He would be a great addition for us. Realistically, if United were looking to add a player with Premier League experience, he would be the one to turn to.
The League Cup Final
Wes, you won this trophy three times with United. There are only a handful of players in this United squad that have won medals with the club – the League Cup and the Europa League in 2017 – were won by De Gea, Rashford and Shaw. Obviously there are players in the squad that have won lots of different things, but not with United. How important is it for the squad to experience winning a trophy at United in order to get that winning feeling / mentality within the club?
It’s so important to win your first trophy as a group of players. I think that’s why we’re in for a great game on Sunday because Newcastle haven’t won a trophy in a very long time. It’s going to be a really competitive, exciting game.
Both of these clubs need to win this trophy. United haven’t won anything in six years and Newcastle, who are a really good team, are at the beginning of a journey which should see the club consistently starting to compete for trophies.
For United, in the past, the League Cup was probably a trophy that wasn’t the highest priority. We would normally prioritise other titles and look at getting youngsters into the team in that competition, but United are in a different position at the moment – we accept where we are as a club – and this is a trophy that everyone will want to win. It’s an important step in creating that winning mentality back at the club.
Ten Hag wants to win every competition. There were times where I thought he would rotate the team a little bit during this run to the final, but even in the second leg against Forest (where United had a three nil aggregate lead) he kept a full strength team.
It’s important for United and it will be our first trophy in six years. They’ll be no messing about because this is something that ten Hag has wanted to win since the first game the club has played in it.
Newcastle go into this game off the back of a home defeat to Liverpool and without their first choice goalkeeper Nick Pope – who has been magnificent this season – do you think that hands United an advantage and how much of a boost is it for your former team that the England international will be watching from the stands?
I don’t think United will be boosted by the fact that Nick Pope is suspended for this game for Newcastle. We know that they have to play their third or fourth choice keeper, which is an advantage and I think the United players will want to test whoever is in the team quite quickly in the game to see if they can exploit a weakness there.
Whoever plays, because they don’t play week-in, week-out, could be a little bit nervous, so it gives United a small advantage but I don’t think it is the huge issue it has been made out in the media.
The thought will be in the players mind to get a few shots off early to see how the keeper handles that, but at the end of the day, professional players whether third or fourth choice are playing for Newcastle because they have the ability to do so. Newcastle will be disappointed that Pope isn’t there, but these things happen in football and that is why you have a big squad to deal with absences.
What’s your prediction for the match and are you looking forward to it?
I’m going to the game on Sunday, so I’m looking forward to it. I think United will win two nil. I think it will be a tighter game than most people anticipate, but ultimately, I think United’s quality will shine through and we should have enough to win it.
I think this is a great opportunity for United to win their first trophy under ten Hag and to create that winning feeling in the club. Ten Hag will know how important that could be for the future and he will remind the players that playing for United is all about winning trophies, which is what the players will want to achieve. They will be completely focussed on lifting that first piece of silverware on Sunday.
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