Pete Boyle interviewed Brian McClair for Red News Fanzine.
RN: So why are you leaving, right time? It wasn’t the ‘philosophy’ was it?!
BM: No, I’m not leaving, leaving is kind of a negative thing, I tend to look at it the other way, that I’m actually arriving somewhere else. It’s nothing to do with anything that has happened, it’s just something has come up and I feel it’s the right thing for me.
RN: Did you always think at one stage that you’d probably end up moving back to Scotland?
BM: I never did originally. If someone had told me and said to me at any point through the continuum that I would be in England for 20 odd years and 25 of those years I’d have been employed by Manchester United I’d have just laughed at them, out of the house, out of the room or pub or whatever. But I’m more than happy with the idea of what I’m going to be, well I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing but the sort of overview of what the job is.
RN: Would you have done this if the job offer had come in when Fergie was still here?
BM: No, I don’t think it’s anything (to do with) Fergie, I mean there’s a different thing, I would have had discussions with Alex Ferguson about it had it been in his tenure and I’ve always been comfortable with whatever advice that he’s been giving.
RN: Did he advise you on this, did you speak to him about it?
BM: I only spoke to him briefly, and he was good with what he said but it didn’t really influence my own decision.
RN: He’s quite persuasive… realises it’s a good opportunity, he’s giving advice to someone he likes. Not bad advice deliberately!
BM: If he’s ever sought (for) advice he’s always given a fair view, that’s what I’ve found.
RN: Was he always fair with you, when your time was up as a player?
BM: He’s always been fair, fair to everybody, but it’s not easy to accept but it’s just the way it is. I tend to look at it the other way round, that I had a fantastic time with him at the helm.
RN: When Robbo’s time was up, arguably one of the greatest players from my generation, many thought he deserved a title medal and he managed to get two in the end, but Fergie showed no sentiment where say Brendan Rodgers has played Gerrard when perhaps he’s well past his best but he still gave him more games than perhaps he should have done where Fergie left Robbo completely out of the squad for the ’94 Cup Final, some people might have thought that’s a nice way for Robbo to go, to get a swansong, do you think that’s the difference between someone like Fergie, a winner…
BM: I don’t know, all you can say is that it’s about being a manager, isn’t it? And that sentiment gets in the way. So I think you ask any good manager in any discipline they’ll tell you that they look at it from a factual point of view. I mean the manager told me once that all he’s trying to do is pick a team, not a squad, pick a team, that he thought would win the game on that day. And it turned out that he’s pretty good at it!
RN: How did your new job come about? Is your main aim to make Utd like the 70s with loads of Scottish players again like under Tommy Docherty, or is that bit of a dream nowadays?!
BM: I think there’s nothing wrong with dreaming! That’s all a big thing what I’ve said, there’s nothing wrong with having dreams and day dreaming. I’ve asked a number of people do they think I could make a difference and the answer I got back from everyone was ‘yes’, now I don’t know what the difference is going to be but I’m confident I will make some kind of a difference. Positive difference.
RN: What sort of timescale can you achieve that, a bit like when Fergie came, he had to do the youth system overhaul and you reap dividends so many years later, have you got a plan with the Scottish FA, a rough idea of how you’re going to start catching the youngsters?
BM: No. My view is that it’s a journey of discovery for the first period. I want to find out exactly how, what everything is, how it all fits together and look at reviewing all these parts I’m going to be responsible for with all the people who are in place. And then after the review, we’ll decide if everything is fine, we’ll plough along the same way, if it’s not quite the same thing we may have to tinker a bit or may have to look at other things but as I say I won’t be, one of the things I’ve learned from being here is that, not to be the kind of manager who makes unilateral decisions but to consult and consult people who probably know more about things than I do.
RN: It isn’t just Scotland, when I was a kid there was loads of leagues playing Sunday football, and now there’s about two divisions at the most, kids don’t do as much exercise, there’s different distractions, when I was a kid Scotland qualified for World Cups, they had a great team from the 60s to the 90s, players from Liverpool, Leeds, United all had their backbone made from Scottish players…
BM: The game in the UK, the game in the world has changed. You’d never had imagined, for example my first World Cup memory was 1970 World Cup and that great Brazilian team, as you growing up through and going to watch your local team and English and Scottish football, you would never had imagined there’d be South American players playing in Britain, so it’s an amazing thing. It’s a worldwide game now. Very much the norm. The top teams are scouring for players all over the world.
RN: It feels like the end of an era with your time ending, old faces are going, United have got so much bigger in your time, it was obviously big when you came here but it always seemed to have a family atmosphere with certain members of staff here that Fergie created, now we’ve got completely new personnel coming in, we have to move with the times, do you still feel there is a family basis to it, not close knit anymore?
BM: Well I mean even the likes of Alex Ferguson recognised that when you go from the small operation at the Cliff through to what you’ve got here now, at this training centre, it’ll depend on what the view is gonna be from everybody at the football club. I’m delighted and blessed that I’ve been involved in I suppose that family for 25 years.
RN: Since you’ve been involved with the Academy, how much weight did you and your fellow coaches opinions have with Ferguson and have you had any input with Moyes and van Gaal?
BM: No, I’ve not had any influence over the first team under anybody.
RN: What about when players like Wilson come through, do they…
BM: Yeah but all you ever give is an opinion, ultimately the only opinion that counts is the one in charge of the first team.
RN: How do you look back at all your time at United?
BM: All of it?! All of it’s been brilliant. As I said, I feel amazed and wonderful to be part of, I mean it was like an adventure and huge journey you know, going from right through the whole idea, from daydreaming as a 15 year old to sitting here now, the daydreams were quite fantastic as most daydreams would be but this has gone well beyond them. I always thought I was going to be a footballer, I don’t really know if that was confidence or arrogance I just always felt that it was going to happen. Now I suppose when you look back, there was plenty of ups and downs along that but from the starting point to the finishing point was very high really
RN: The singer from Snow Patrol said when he fist got a deal, he thought they’d made it, and he was being a bit Jack Large and they hadn’t made it and they realised he had to go back on the road and when he eventually did get success he appreciated it more but when you were first at Aston Villa (when they won the league) as a youngster and went back to Scotland is that a good grounding in terms of realising?
BM: All the experiences were great. First of all you’re leaving school where there you’re quite protected to going straight into an adult environment and there was nobody there whether they were a senior player, or the manager or the coaching staff looked upon you as a 16 year old boy, you were a young adult and they were expecting you to understand what that was right away so that just over a year (there) was amazing in a sense of experiences I had. And even through that I’ve still got people, even though I only spent a period of time with them, that when I see them they seem quite happy to see me, Gordon Cowans for example who had an amazing, top career at Villa and England and he’s been coaching at Villa for a long time. We get on really well when we see each other. Dennis Mortimer whose boots I cleaned. So they remembered me, even though I was only there (for a short while) they did remember me which is a bit special I suppose. And Gary Shaw, some player.
RN: You took over from Les Kershaw at the Academy, did you have no hesitation taking over that job or did you think it was something you wanted to do? Were you told by anyone how they wanted you to develop it, any pressures?
BM: No, no. You just do the job the way I saw it was deemed necessary and that’s what I tried to do.
RN: How hard did it become with all the new rules about catchment areas and all that?
BM: They were already there. It’s just the rules change all the time. They change all the time the rules.
RN: You can’t get away from the Class of ’92, was it a bit of luck getting all those people coming through all together who could actually make it into the first team?
BM: There’s always fortune involved anyway. I could go back to the previous question, it just depends if someone fancies you or not. There was a load of circumstances that applied at the right time to them.
RN: What Fergie thinking he wanted Kanchelskis, Ince to go, Hughes at the end of his career at United, do you think that all fell into place in some ways? A gamble that paid off?
BM: Yeah. There is a gamble. Every transfer, every time you do something is a gamble whether it’s signing an 8 year old kid or buying somebody at £50m. You don’t know how it’s going to work out. You’re looking at those kids coming into a group of players who’d already showed that they were winners, ok a few of them had gone, but they didn’t do it on their own and they were guided as much by the senior players that were still there as they were by anybody else.
RN: Who was your biggest influence as a team-mate when you first came here?
BM: Well Gordon Strachan was really good to me when I came. Very good.
RN: So have you kept in touch before you got this role (with him) then?
BM: No! No, that’s just the way football is like, isn’t it? But again, even though it’s 20 years ago since we had any contact we still got on really well.
RN: What one abiding memory do you choose from playing, and one from your coaching?
BM: I can’t! I mean I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times and it’s great to be able to say I’ve had so many that I can’t choose one from either strand of employment. All of them are all different in different ways.
RN: Now you’re leaving the English game, surely you can tell us exactly what you think of Nigel Winterburn?! The build up was the penalty miss wasn’t it, he goaded you after the miss didn’t he?
BM: That’s bits I’ve got to save for my book! I can’t tell you anything! It’s for my book.
RN: Ok, what about Mark Bright then, you don’t seem to hold any malice about Mark Bright like I do?
BM: I don’t know what your malice is all about!
RN: It’s just because he comes across as this Saint Mark on tv and radio….
BM: Yeah but we can all do though that can’t we?
RN: Yeah, but when you scored at S.Wednesday in the 3-3 draw he stopped you getting the ball out of the net, he put his foot to kick you!
BM: Yeah but if you look at it, I’ve not seen the programme yet, hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with it, but I was involved with the programme that Vinny Jones was on on Sunday morning, now they are talking about his tackle and I think they showed a few incidents with me but if you want to win you’re never going to be a Saint. There’s not many Saints who are winners.
RN: Still at the gigs, what are you listening to these days?
BM: I suppose the fact that I’ve got a child who is making an effort to, I have been going to watch him more often than anything else.
RN: He supported Echo and the Bunnymen recently, that’s quite an achievement?
BM: He’s doing loads. He’s living in the kind of dream of mine ain’t he except I cannae play and can’t sing so I’ve not got any musical attributes whatsoever. He’s doing it on his own. It’s because he’s worked hard and practised and he’s got an imagination. And he’s willing to graft. And whatever it is he wants to do, whatever he wants to achieve then I hope that’s there for him. But at least he’s been able to have a go at it. He can mix it up, he’s writing his own songs and producing his own stuff.
RN: Miliband or Cameron?
BM: Nah, I can’t change, never, no matter what happens. I don’t think you can change. Well, you can’t. Socialist! Probably more of a Communist but socialist!
RN: Any final message to Utd fans as you sail off into the sunset? But you don’t think it’s the end really do you?
BM: I mean I was a United fan from the moment Denis Law backheeled the ball into the goal and walked off the pitch, that was like a ‘moment’ for me. It was like ‘wow’. And then I followed them obviously from afar through Scottish newspapers. There was that (Scottish players in the Utd team), yeah, but it was the way they played wasn’t it? It was the actual way they played. Two wingers, goalscoring midfield players, huge crowds at home and obviously the travelling support were incredible. And immense. Everywhere they went there was the big crowds. In the 2nd Division you’re looking at 59,000, phew! And it’s been so good to be involved. And we want to keep winning don’t we, we want to go back to winning ways. We’ve been spoiled haven’t we? We’ve been spoiled by the success of the last 25 years. We’re all well spoiled by it. The reflecting part of it, it showed you how well Sir Alex Ferguson managed that, the number of teams that he built and dismantled and still managed to maintain such a high level of success. It’s never going to be easy to follow that. But there’s no reason why Manchester United can’t be up there challenging for, if not winning trophies at the highest level of the game.
RN: Does that recent run of wins, city and Liverpool, almost put a marker down for the coming season?
BM: Well, really there’s in people’s minds, and I suppose in hearts, there’s a way that Manchester United should be playing. The thing is you’ve got to remember is that really we’re supposed to be in the entertainment business and people are paying an awful lot of money to watch football and the onus should be on everyone involved in it to try and make it as entertaining as possible.
Interview by his friend Pete Boyle (pics at Choccy’s leaving do). We wish Brian all the best back in Scotland.