I’d played in midfield for Salford Boys when I was 15 or 16, but never really much after that. So when I did eventually drop into midfield for Manchester United, it was a process. Getting the ball in the middle of the pitch, looking at the whole pitch, players running here, players running there.
And, at United, I had energy all around me. Wayne Rooney dropping in, Ji-sung Park on the left, Patrice Evra up and down, Michael Carrick (above, right) next to me.
I was lucky in that respect, but I was also lucky in that I had always been able to dribble. In midfield, that can be a great asset if there isn’t an obvious pass on. You remember someone like Paul Gascoigne, who could get on the ball in midfield and take players on, and I had that in my armoury too.
“Playing in midfield was like a game of chess – a matter of trying to find the right moves”
I had to develop my passing, though. We had an eye specialist at United, and she noticed that, when I moved into midfield, I wasn’t playing as many passes to the left as I was to the right. We did a lot of work on my peripheral vision, and discovered that my eyesight wasn’t as strong looking to that side – which, when you think about it, was perfectly natural.
I’d spent most of my career hugging the left touchline, so I’d always had that pass to my right – but she had noticed players making runs to my left that I was missing. So we did a lot of work on my eyesight looking that way, trying to strengthen the vision looking in that direction.
The more I came inside, the more I developed, but I also spoke a lot to my teammates – in particular Michael Carrick. He liked to get the ball off the back four, so I would stay out of his space and instead move into that half-position and look forward.