Things were different at Bayern Munich. They had football people in charge there: people like Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who was already very high up in the club. They understood what was important to players and what players needed to be comfortable off the pitch and perform on it. I was really impressed with Munich and enjoyed playing there – if it had been any club other than United coming back in for me, I would almost certainly have stayed there.
By the time I returned, in the summer of 1988, Sir Alex Ferguson was manager. He picked me up, I think he took me to my medical, and we just drove and talked about football. I’d heard that he was a strong manager who suffered no fools – he was prepared to be a very strong presence in the dressing room, and I was okay with that. In fact, I was looking forward to it.
There was plenty of pressure around the club, of course. We had been in the shadow of Liverpool and their great teams of that period. We always felt that we were the greatest club, but we weren’t the greatest team. There was always that feeling that we weren’t where we needed to be or where we should be.
“The papers were telling everybody that Ferguson needed to win or he’d be sacked – as players, we never felt that”
Sir Alex was obviously strong-willed, but he understood exactly what was required. United had been allowed to drift, maybe, and the standards and behaviours of players and people around the club weren’t where they needed to be if the team was to be as successful as it should be. He understood that from the off, and was clearly going to do something about it.
He also had the total support of the chairman and board of directors; they knew he was the best man for the job, but also that it was going to take time. The question has often been asked as to whether he would have kept the job for so long in this day and age, given that we weren’t playing particularly well and it had been two or three years without any success. At a club like United, clearly he would have been under pressure a lot sooner.
I remember that FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest in 1990, when the papers were telling everybody that he needed to win or he was going to be sacked. As players, though, we never really felt that was the case – and the United fans were great on the day, coming out in their thousands and really backing him.
People from the outside might have been saying: “Fergie needs to go, his time’s up.” But the club held strong, and that was clearly a key moment.