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'Everyone felt important under Sir Alex' – Valencia offers first-hand insight into Man Utd's fall from grace

04:16 GMT 26/11/2019
Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United
The former Red Devils defender explained why none of the manager's successors have lived up to the standard set by the coaching legend

Antonio Valencia hailed Sir Alex Ferguson as a coaching "magician" while adding that the legendary manager's best trait was that he made every player feel like a vital part of the team.

The Ecuadorian joined Manchester United from Wigan in 2009, and went on to have a successful career at Old Trafford as a winger and, eventually, a fullback.

Valencia claimed two Premier League titles under Ferguson, who stepped away from the club in 2013.

Manchester United have not won a league title since Ferguson departed, having managed by the likes of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and, now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

And Valencia says there was a distinct difference between Ferguson and his successors, one that resonated with the players in the squad.

“That day, when he told us he was leaving, he was emotional. We were all emotional," Valencia told the Athletic.

"I was really sad. If he had stayed another year, I think we could have won the Champions League or another Premier League. You just knew at the start of a Ferguson season you were going to win something.”

He added: “It was different [when Moyes came in]. Ferguson, he had this way of making every player feel important. Then Moyes came and maybe only a certain group of players felt this importance.

"Chicharito did not have the same opportunities to play. Ferguson just had this way of managing the expectations of a player. ‘OK, you aren’t playing this one but I need you ready to score against this team in 10 days.’ This kept players happy. Then Moyes came and not everyone could be kept happy, partly because the pressure came very early. But the players have their own responsibility, too.

“But maybe it’s normal, after 26 years… Ferguson was excellent, a magician as a coach.”

Valencia added that Ferguson pushed him in several ways after he made the move to Manchester from Wigan. 

In addition to making him become fluent in English, Valencia says Ferguson pushed him in the same way he did with the club's other top stars as each and every player earned similar treatment.

“When I got to United, Ferguson told me, ‘Your English needs to get better quickly, it is important for the team.’ I understand everything now," he said.

"When I first joined Wigan, my translator Phil Dickinson sat next to me in the dressing room and then even came onto the training pitch in T-shirt and shorts. He was malissimo (terrible)! But a great guy. Everyone at Wigan helped me. Emile Heskey learned some Spanish words and wrote them down to help me out.

"At United, let’s be honest, I could tell when Sir Alex was grumpy because his face became much redder! But seriously, he knew exactly what to say, when we won and we lost.

"Take one FA Cup game against Chelsea. It’s half-time at Stamford Bridge. I will never forget, he pulls me, ‘You have 10 more minutes to do something and if you don’t, I’m taking you off.’ In front of everyone, of course. He was putting a lot of pressure on me and I responded. But inside, I was on edge, nervous, anxious but he provoked an improvement.

"He would often go for guys like Giggs and Rooney, so younger players would think, ‘If even they are getting it, then I definitely cannot rest on my laurels.’ The next day, after Chelsea, he called me into his office, told me I had his trust completely, to feel free on the pitch, to enjoy the game."

Manchester United currently sits ninth in the Premier League ahead of a Europa League match with Astana on Wednesday. 

Following that, the Red Devils will face Aston Villa at home on Sunday before taking on Tottenham three days later.