Sir Alex Ferguson still 'the boss' for Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton
Published 28/10/2016 | 22:46
Tom Heaton has become a Premier League regular and an England international under Burnley manager Sean Dyche but admits Sir Alex Ferguson will always be "the boss".
Goalkeeper Heaton joined Manchester United as an 11-year-old and left on a free transfer 13 years later having never cracked the first XI - a decision that earned him a blast of Ferguson's 'hair dryer'.
Six years on he can comfortably say it was the right call, having made the most saves in the top flight this season and earned his England cap against Australia in May.
But as he prepares to return to his former club for the second time on Saturday - United were 3-1 winners over the Clarets last February - the 30-year-old is happy to reflect on his time at one of the most dominant teams of the era.
"I grew up there, learned my trade, but the feeling of wanting to play week in, week out never left me," he said.
"I got to the point where we were talking about a new contract but I'd just reached that point where I thought it was right to move on and go and earn my stripes and earn a career.
"It was a tough moment telling Sir Alex I wanted to leave, and he gave me short shrift at the time...pretty short.
"I understood, I'd been there 13 years and was leaving on a free, but three weeks down the line he had me back in and said he respected my decision and he was always there for me, which meant the world.
"I've come across him a couple of times since, he was at the training ground here and you stand up straighter and still call him the boss. It never leaves you.
"All the lads were giving me grief for days, but it's ingrained, y ou have such respect for him.
"Thankfully, going back there and playing in the Premier League sort of vindicates the decision."
Heaton, who spent a season at Bristol City before putting down roots at Turf Moor, was present when United won the Champions League in 2008.
But he was behind Edwin van der Saar and Thomas Kuszczak in the pecking order and watched the penalty shootout victory over Chelsea from the stands of Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
It was both a memorable moment and the start of the end for his United career.
"Moscow was a big moment, having not played a minute, I trained every day and travelled to every game that season, but didn't play a minute," he said.
"I didn't feel a fraud, but I wanted to be involved, almost the main man, that was the dream for me.
"I was in the 24-man party but I was one of the six in the stands. I got a Champions League ball...you had to be on the bench for a medal, but I took a lot home from that night."
"It was brilliant to see that winning mentality, how they went about preparing for it.
"But ultimately, I had to go and play. It still feels right."