Danny Higginbotham was part of the entourage as Manchester United travelled to America for pre-season. Working in his new role as a pundit for MUTV after retiring last season, Danny had a special role in being able to observe the mood around the camp and the initial effects of the Louis van Gaal era. He shared some of that insight with us in his column for TalkOfTheDevils.com.
Hi Danny, first of all, congratulations on a great trip with United and MUTV – how did you enjoy the experience of being with the club across the USA?
It was an amazing experience to see the new manager and how the players adapted and took everything on board especially with the new system in place. I always knew how big a club United are but now more than I ever I feel they are the biggest club in the world. The support that they were given from all around the states was amazing
This was your first pre-season as a pundit rather than a player. How did you find the change and did you get to see more as a tourist than what you have in the past?
It was my first time in twenty years without a pre-season and I have to say I didn’t miss it. I haven’t missed anything about the playing side since I retired. That’s probably because of the media side and how much I’m enjoying it. As far as seeing things, I got to see a few more things than I would as a player but there was a lot of preparation work and shows to be done whilst we were there so that took up most of my time.
Patrice Evra has now left the club after a great career… here’s a nice tough question for you – Patrice or Denis Irwin, who was better?
I had said earlier that it was only Patrice Evra that came anywhere near Denis Irwin in left full back terms at united but for me Denis Irwin was the better. The way he got forward was like Evra but I would say Irwin was a better defender and also could play left and right back. To think he is United’s best ever left back and he is right footed is unbelievable.
[su_quote cite=”Danny Higginbotham”]”I always knew how big a club United are but now more than I ever I feel they are the biggest club in the world”[/su_quote]
With all the change at the club, what was the mood like around the players?
Players always had a smile on their face. As a player at the end of every season you look back on how it’s been and there is no doubt that at the end of last season players will have questioned themselves and probably doubted themselves. Van Gaal has come in and seems to have given them their confidence back which is so important and they looked so comfortable on the pitch and nearly every player will have arrived back in Manchester after the tour more confident than when they set off.
Back home everyone was obviously going mad about transfers but the real story was arguably how the change in philosophy at the club and new methods put in place by Louis van Gaal were bringing a change in the players. Did you notice an enthusiasm from the players at all, responding to that challenge?
Yes. There is no doubt that van Gaal demands certain things from his players and all of them took it on board. It looks like he wants players to take responsibility on the pitch and carry out his orders. He wants no excuses from players and that’s the best way to be. I always thought that if I had a bad game during my career it was down to me not performing and no one else and I’m sure that is what the manager will want. The tempo of the training enabled the players to take it out onto the pitch and you could see that coming though in the games. The way the players have taken to the new system is full credit to them and the manager and coaching staff.
They were tough conditions to learn such a high tempo game plan. How impressed have you been by the way that the players adapted to it?
Incredibly. If you would have said that before the tour Ashley Young would be playing left wing back and be one of the stand out performers I don’t think many people would have taken you seriously. Everybody looked very comfortable on the pitch and the biggest thing for me was that United now have an identity again whereas last season I didn’t think they did. All successful teams have an identity.
The first half against Roma was a sign of that great football while the great win over Real Madrid will catch everyone’s eyes. What for you was the best game on the tour?
People would say the Madrid game where everything seemed to come together with the things they had done on training ground but I would say the Liverpool game because there is no doubt Liverpool were the better team in the first half and it was the first time United had been dominated. What was great to see was their response in the second half and how they moved up a gear and more importantly took the instructions from the manager at half time and implemented them.
The one black spot of the tour has been the number of penalties conceded. Would you put that down to, simply, young defenders learning a change in formation? I guess that further forward, with the interchanging and movement expected in today’s game, the 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 isn’t really noticeable, but at the back, it’s a huge change…
When you got to three at the back centre backs will always find themselves having to defend wider, and that’s usually where the quicker players are. It’s something they will get used to as the games come along and something they have to do because although they are centre backs at times they will have to play as full backs when the wing backs have been caught up field.
Louis van Gaal said that his clubs normally take 3 months to adapt to his game plan so not to expect fireworks early on. The fixture list looks fairly favourable for United… I suppose it’s difficult to tell in pre-season but the team look to have adapted fairly quickly. Do you think they might catch opponents out who are simply unprepared for their speed and style?
I think the new style that United will be playing is all about speed and tempo and switching the ball quickly. Football is all about winning the midfield and using the width best so with United having more numbers in midfield and attacking wing backs then I’m sure other clubs will find it difficult to play against.
Thanks to Danny for his time.
Danny’s autobiography is due for release early next year and he is asking supporters on his Twitter feed to come up with a title. The ‘winning’ title will be rewarded with a free signed copy of the book for whoever comes up with the name, as well as an acknowledgement inside the book.