Talking Football With......Sammy McIlroy

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He made 342 appearances for Manchester United and represented Northern Ireland on 88 occasions. As Sir Alex Ferguson is set to manage his last match at Old Trafford, today on the blog Arsenal TV's Adrian Clarke talks with Manchester United great Sammy McIlroy.

OldTrafford

Manchester United is a club very close to your heart. Would you say that Sir Alex Ferguson has been the greatest manager of all-time?

You can’t take away the phenomenal number of trophies he’s won at Old Trafford, and even before that with Aberdeen, where he broke the Celtic/Rangers monopoly by winning the title and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. His record is unbelievable! Sir Alex’s passion and work ethic are something special it’s crazy to think how successful he’s been.

Is he the best ever? Possibly so; he has to be right up there with anyone in the world. I wish whoever takes over from him all the best. They might need it.

What’s Fergie’s secret?

I wish I knew! What I would say is that he’s moved with the times, effortlessly. The game has altered dramatically from when he turned up in Manchester in 1986 but his philosophies and tactics have always remained fresh and modern.

His enthusiasm and hunger to win also rubs off on the players. He’s grilled such a winning mentality into his players over the years, that the fear of losing is a major factor that’s engrained within the club. At 71 he still kicks and heads every ball in the dug-out, and that obvious will to succeed, unquestionably transmits to the team.

David Moyes is hot favourite to be named as his successor. What do you make of that?

He’s done a brilliant job at Everton, no question. However, my one reservation with him is that Man United is a club that places an awful lot of importance on the Champions League these days, and his experience in the competition is minimal.

I thought they’d go for someone with more pedigree in Europe, but if it’s Moyes who gets the nod, then I’m sure he will do well. It’s a logical choice in many ways.

Sammy, you’ve managed Northwich Victoria, Macclesfield Town, Northern Ireland, Stockport County and Morecambe. What kind of gaffer are you?

Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I was a bit like Sir Alex in terms of my desire to win. I set very high standards for my players, and expected them to get me results. I guess I was the kind of boss who kicked every ball when I was younger, and that energy hopefully helped the players too. I wanted them fit, to work hard and to play good football.

Managing in non-league football was the best thing I ever did. Dealing with players who’d just finished a 12-hour shift, and managing all the different types of characters who play semi-pro was the best learning curve I could have wished for. That’s why man-management is the area I would probably say I’m strongest in.

Would you fancy a return to management?

Never say never Adrian. I’m fine doing what I’m doing in the media and with MUTV, but if a chairman approached me with the right challenge and it interested me, I wouldn’t rule it out.

The satisfaction of winning trophies is a very appealing thing, so I’d never turn my back on the chance to do it again if an appropriate job was offered to me. If it never happens, so be it.

Which gave you the best feeling; winning the 1977 FA Cup Final with United, or taking Macclesfield and Morecambe into the Football League?

Ooh good question. Look, winning the FA Cup was brilliant, especially as it was against Liverpool in the Jubilee year of 1977. It was a fantastic day.

On the other hand, when you’re successful as a manager you really have earned it because you work so hard to achieve things. It was probably more satisfying to take Macclesfield up as Conference champions, and after being denied promotion once before because of our stadium, it was extra special. That was the highlight, but overall playing is the best part of football. It’s impossible to beat playing, you know that yourself.

Do you still kick a ball around?

Yes I still have the odd run-out for the Man United Vets team and I love it, even if the youngsters give me the odd kick or two. I’m 58, so it takes me at least a week to ten days to recover, but it’s always worth it. We play a lot of charity games, and we open a few stadiums, and it’s still good fun.

In my mind I’m still an attacking midfielder but my body doesn’t always allow me to be that these days. I’m more of a give and go player now.

Looking back at the Premier League season, which ingredient most contributed to Man United easy title success?

It was all about consistency. I watch a lot of United’s games and I’ve seen the team play a lot better in other seasons without getting the results. This time, there was a real never say die spirit, and the boys just knew how to grind out results.

Mind you, the Premier League wasn’t as strong this season. I thought Man City and Chelsea under-performed big time.

Who is your favourite current United player?

Now you’re asking! I’ve always loved watching Scholesy play, but this season he’s not been involved. I’m a big supporter of fellow Northern Irishman Jonny Evans, and he’s come on leaps and bounds (and then some) this season! He’s proved that he belongs at the club this term. I like Carrick, and the way he’s won over the doubters. The boy’s a real players’ player.

But if you’re pushing me for a favourite I’d say Wayne Rooney. He’s been under such pressure since he was a young kid but his standards are still incredibly high. He’s some player.

If you had a blank cheque, and could sign any footballer in the world except for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who would you pick and why?

Sergio Aguero. I wouldn’t hesitate to sign that boy up, he’s a class act. When I watch him, I’m so impressed with his movement, he has a superb turn of pace, and some of the goals he scores are ridiculous. For a little lad, Aguero has it all. With and without the ball he’s different class. If I were managing a top club I’d target him.

Given the choice, would you rather play nowadays than back in the 70s and early 80s when you were in your prime?

Forget about the money because you just can’t compare it, and with that detached from the decision I’d say it was an easy decision. In that era, when I played in three cup finals, with and against some sensationally good players, it was so much fun. At the top and bottom of the league there were big characters everywhere you looked, and the atmosphere inside the stadiums was a lot better back then too.

I’m pretty happy with my lot. I’m delighted to have enjoyed the career I had, and when I had it.

 

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Follow Adrian on Twitter: @adrianjclarke

And check him out on Arsenal TV's The Breakdown.

Former Arsenal, Southend, Stevenage, Margate and Welling winger. A sports journalist these days, writing and talking football. Host The Breakdown on Arsenal TV.