Thursday 22 February 2018

Phelan rebuilding career with Hull's unlikely lads after United axing

Phelan: "It became a little bit turbulent (at United) in the last two or three years, looking from the outside in, of course. They seem to be correcting that now and moving on.” Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Phelan: “I feel great, really good, and proud of those players on the football field.” Photo: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.

Jason Burt

"I'm sure there are some things that David (Moyes) would do differently if he had the opportunity to relive his time at Old Trafford, such as keeping Mick Phelan" - Alex Ferguson, in his book 'Leading'

It is early at Hull City's training ground - another kind of Fergie time for those used to Alex Ferguson's pre-match briefings - but it is his former assistant Mike Phelan who is speaking from the manager's chair.

Now at Hull - caretaker manager, still, he stresses, with his car occupying the familiar assistant's space - Phelan is set to take charge of a team against Manchester United, the club he was closely aligned with but who sacked him as assistant manager when Ferguson retired three years ago and David Moyes wanted his own coaching staff .

"I feel great, really good, and proud of those players on the football field," Phelan says, before adding: "But I will also feel a little bit proud for some of those on the other side, who I have worked with and helped along their journey at United."

Phelan can be forgiven that sentimental addition, especially as Hull face United with six points from their opening two matches - plus a third victory, in the EFL Cup - on their return to the Premier League. But that does not tell half of the extraordinary story.

With just 13 fit players, with manager Steve Bruce - who brought Phelan to Hull and helped him rebuild his career as it drifted - having walked out in frustration, with not a single player having been signed for just five days shy of a year, and with the ownership of the club about to finally change from the unpopular Allam family to Chinese investors, these have been difficult times.

"There are three things to solve at this club," Phelan explains. "Which are: Who's in charge of the club? Is a takeover on or off? The manager's situation - and then what players are coming into the club, if any. We have to address those three things soon enough."

The transfer window closes next Wednesday. Phelan believes it would be "a little bit delusional" to think that Hull could carry on without any new players, and bids are in. But the attitude of other Premier League clubs, who may resist selling to them, is brutally clear.

"I would think, right now, they're thinking, 'There's one club that we don't have to worry about, and there's only two relegation places to avoid'. So, we are probably in that situation."

Except that Hull have those points and are one of only four top-flight clubs with a 100 pc record, the others being Manchester City, Chelsea and today's opponents, United.

Inevitably, Phelan knows he has to deal with his departure from United, for whom he played and coached in a 19-year association over two spells, and while he chooses his words with customary care, there is still a clear sense of the rawness of it all.

"Hindsight is a funny thing. You expect that changes were going to be made. It wasn't my decision not to stay. I was told that new people would be coming in with the new manager, and from that moment on you just set your own stall out to try and do something else.

"There's obviously a disappointment because you know what you are leaving behind. And there is an uncertainty that comes with that when someone new comes in because you don't know which way it is going to go.

"But having said that, it became a little bit turbulent (at United) in the last two or three years, looking from the outside in, of course. They seem to be correcting that now and moving on."

"Turbulent" is a typical Phelan understatement. The inference, given Ferguson's words and the job he is performing at Hull, is that if Phelan had stayed at United, it might not have been so volatile.

Phelan himself may be affected by the tag of being the trusted assistant - Hull attempted to attract Wales manager Chris Coleman to succeed Bruce, while Phelan was not even considered for the United job when Ferguson retired - and it is something he accepts, even if he is attempting to step out of the shadows.

"It is a cut-throat environment and I felt all along that I was working at a club (United) that was massively successful," Phelan says by way of explaining why it has taken him until now to manage, with the expectation that he will be confirmed as Hull's new manager in the coming days.

"And when you get into that successful stream of things, why do you want to step outside of that? You are working with some of the best-quality football players that are out there, you've got a magnificent stadium and facilities to work in, with supporters who are turning up in their thousands every week, and you think, 'This is the life to live'. You are in it - why do you want to step outside of that?

"At the head of it all was one of the greatest managers that's ever been. And also, there's an industry at Manchester United that has to be seen. For me, to do my job was imperative, and I took on that responsibility. After that you learn a few things and get a little bit of your own identity about what you'd like to do.

"I've reached that point now. I'm 53 and it's coming to the point where I want to try and put myself out there. It's been great to do that here."

Certainly his reputation has quickly been enhanced.

"I've not felt any pressure because I shouldn't feel any pressure with the circumstances of this club," Phelan says. "It's a hard job, and people realise how hard it is. But it's something that I've really enjoyed doing. Why would I not want to be a little bit more deeper involved in that going forward? I've not changed my mind on that."

The Hull team were assembled for around £40 million - close to a 10th of United's starting XI, or less than half a Paul Pogba, who was at the club first time round under Phelan's coaching.

"He saw himself as a first-team regular but the competition was massive around that time," Phelan explains. "Talent is talent, it stares you in the face, but at the end of the day the player decided he didn't want to show that talent at that moment in time because he wasn't quite at the level of the players in front of him."

It was Jose Mourinho who brought Pogba back - and who will face Phelan today.

"I have met him a few times, when he was at Chelsea and Madrid," Phelan says. "He's a tremendous guy, full of enthusiasm, and he probably now finds himself at a club that he has probably always had a deep desire for. He is the right man at the right time. I am sure United have chosen wisely, but it's up to him now, he has to deliver."

That sounded suspiciously like an attempt at one of those Fergie mind games. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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