‘Pogba always wanted to be the best but he keeps having stupid haircuts’
Wigan boss Warren Joyce tells James Ducker about guiding United's juniors ahead of his Cup return
It is easy to understand why Warren Joyce was unsympathetic to any youngster under his watch at Manchester United who might have been reluctant to go that extra yard.
As a teenager, he once broke his neck on a school rugby tour of Australia but played through excruciating pain for another 10 matches over a six-week period before returning home to discover the severity of the injury. "They told me later I could have paralysed myself," he says, almost matter of factly.
Joyce is a no-frills sort of guy: honest, plain-speaking, a football man to the core. You can see why Alex Ferguson entrusted him with guiding the futures of so many youngsters over two spells totalling 18 years at Old Trafford.
Joyce returns to his spiritual home tomorrow as manager of Wigan Athletic, when several of his protégés, notably Paul Pogba, will block the Championship club's path to the FA Cup fifth round.
Joyce is fiercely proud of his record of producing a litany of talents. At one point during an hour of illuminating conversation, he reels off a 25-man squad, in position order, of players plying their trade in the Premier League who emerged under his tutelage at United. He demanded dedication and recalled how midfielder Oliver Norwood, now with Brighton, "always had a problem with getting weight off" so "almost starved himself" after being told his body fat was double that of Paul Scholes. But it is those who have not fulfilled their potential who get him just as animated.
"The frustrating thing is seeing ones like Adnan Januzaj, James Wilson or Federico Macheda get up to that level and stop doing the work they did to get to that level," said the Oldham-born 52-year-old.
"Not play the games, not train as hard, sit in Jacuzzis and not do the same weights and sessions they did to get there. Those are the frustrating ones for me, because that could be avoided.
"If you can get up to that level when you're young, you need to continue to work hard. You hope they become intelligent enough that they're self-managing. Look at the Leicester team that won the league last season.
"There were five players that were in United's reserves. If you add Jeff Schlupp, who came on trial for three months, trained with us and says openly that it changed him around, that's a big group."
Another source of frustration is Ravel Morrison, the gifted midfielder who kept the wrong company, got into trouble with the authorities, was eventually sold by United and has just finished a short-lived trial at Wigan from Lazio after struggling to convince Joyce he was worth a punt for the remainder of the season. "There were times we took it in turns doing Ravel's community service with him," Joyce recalled. "I've shovelled horse s**t with him in an afternoon to try and help him through that."
Joyce used to drive what he called a "little old shed" of a car at United in protest at the so-called "baby Bentley" culture among young footballers that Roy Keane, the former United captain, derided. "If you're preaching those sorts of habits to players, you've got to have those habits yourself, haven't you?" Joyce said.
"I had the worst car at the club because they [United] were tight and didn't pay much [laughs] but also because there are too many kids nowadays who have got big flash cars and they've not done anything in the game. You either want to be in a boy band, or a footballer."
Joyce recalls how Ferguson once sold Nicky Butt's Porsche behind the player's back because he felt it was too flash. When Joyce arrived at Wigan, he was given a Mercedes ML 4x4. "I said, 'Get me a car that's not flash, we're bottom of the league'."
Talking of flash, Joyce has observed the commercial fanfare around Pogba, the fashion range, the Twitter emoji and the Old Trafford perimeter boards marketing the world's most expensive footballer, and hopes it does not damage the midfielder's focus. "He always wanted to be the best player in the world," Joyce said. "He set his standards to try and do that. I had a go at him a couple of times because he never tackled. But he's always had that inner drive to want to do that." Can he achieve it? "That depends on him, really," Joyce adds. "On whether he keeps having them stupid haircuts, and is involved in too many gimmicks off the field." Joyce chuckles briefly before his tone becomes serious again. "It's up to him, what he does. That's me being critical of him because you can't remember Scholes and Ryan Giggs doing very much of that."
United paid Juventus £89 million to bring Pogba back but Joyce implies that the player might never have left but for the influence of his agent, Mino Raiola. "There is a story there but you're better leaving it dead," Joyce said. "There was a lot written and it wasn't anywhere near the truth. There was me and him in a room and I can't tell you. All I do know is he played for us in the Manchester Senior Cup final on May 17 at the Etihad, four days after Manchester City had won the league [in 2012]. He was still desperate to play for United in a reserve final when, if he breaks his leg, he isn't going to Juventus."
Football was always Joyce's first love, though, and within a year of breaking his neck he was playing as a midfielder in Bolton Wanderers' first team. He rejected more than 10 offers to leave United during his second spell at the club. But it is often forgotten that Wigan is his third job in management.
In his first, Joyce performed a remarkable rescue act in 1999 at Hull City, who were 15 points adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier and staring non-League football in the face, and his second was at Royal Antwerp, United's old feeder club in Belgium.
Joyce's father, Walter, was an unused substitute for Burnley in the 1962 FA Cup final against Tottenham. They never spoke about it. But it was something his dad did say to him when he was 10 that would leave a lasting impression. "He told me, 'The fitter you are the more you can do, and the more you can do, the better you'll be'. That's stuck with me through life." There are plenty of young players who will testify to having had that message drilled into them by Joyce.
Manchester Utd v Wigan,
Live, BBC 1, tomorrow 4.0