I also wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be there as tourists. I didn’t want us to have our ‘day out’ and be on the end of a drubbing. If that was the only time the players were going to play at Old Trafford – if that was the only time I was ever going to manage there – then we wanted it to be something we could all be proud of afterwards.
We spoke about the idea that it could either be a Conference game or a Premier League game, and I knew which one we were more comfortable in. The question was: how long could we make it a Conference game for?
In truth, it was probably only about 20 minutes. After that, it became a Premier League game – one in which we knew we wouldn’t have the ball.
I thought it was a bit unfair when Sir Alex brought on Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes with half an hour to go. That wasn’t playing by the rules.
But we did okay. Actually, we did more than okay: the game ended 0-0, meaning we were taking them back to our place for a replay.
“I saw how the dynamic between the academy and the first team can change depending on who’s in charge”
Around 18 months later, I left the club to become the Under-18s manager at Tottenham.
Ultimately, to be successful I think you’ve got to enjoy watching your team play. I got to the stage where I didn’t necessarily feel that. Of course, you’re proud of the effort and feel great after wins, but it felt like I was starting to learn just through mistakes, which is a dangerous place to be.
I wanted to understand how you could play a different version of the game.
The problem was, I’d never played it – or even had someone coach it to me. So I didn’t know how to coach it to players. I had the theory – I’d read a million books, seen a million demonstrations and been on every course going – but I didn’t understand it.
At that point, I’d been offered a couple of jobs in the league, but I could just see where those jobs were going to end up. I didn’t think I would carry on being successful.
So, I chose the option to relearn.