Derek Brazil is a shining example of a player who didn’t quite make it at United before going on to have a good career elsewhere, a common occurrence during the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Derek signed for the club as a 17-year-old but admits that he came close to signing for Chelsea after being rejected by West Ham: “I was playing for an Ireland age group side against England at Elland Road and I was going to tell Chelsea after the game that I was signing for them. I played quite well and I think we drew 1-1, I came into the changing rooms after the game and someone told me that Eric Harrison was there with another chap and they said United were interested in signing me.
“Manchester City also asked me to sign for them so I went there for three days and then I went to United for three days. At this point I was still keen on Chelsea until I actually went to United and got talking to the likes of Frank Stapleton, Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside who told me all about the club.
“I played in a friendly which the club had arranged between the Irish under-18s and the first team. I was marking Frank Stapleton and he scored a hat-trick so I was quite disappointed but Ron Atkinson told me they wanted to sign me on a three and a half year deal and I couldn’t believe it. He told me I’d played really well because Frank could have scored ten but I’d made so many tackles.
“I was quite in awe of the place, my dad was a United fan and I made the decision there and then to sign, it just felt right. So I signed in March 1986, City offered me double what United had given me but I’d made my mind up.”
Derek progressed through the ranks over the next few years which also saw Alex Ferguson replace Ron Atkinson as manager and set about restructuring the club from top to bottom. One of his philosophies was to develop players using the club’s youth system and Derek was to be one of several young players given a chance in the first team.
He made his United debut as a substitute on 10th May 1989 in a 2-1 home defeat to Everton and here discusses his memories of that day: “It was at the end of the season, Sparky had scored and it was amazing just running out onto the pitch. I came on at right-back and it was just an unbelievable experience.
“I’d played a lot of games in the reserves and the attendances often weren’t great but to actually make my first team debut was brilliant. It was quite eerie but I got great support from the crowd because they love it when young players are given their debut.”
Of the man who gave him his chance in the first team, Derek always enjoyed a good relationship with manager Alex Ferguson: “Fergie was brilliant, I saw him again two years ago when United played against Cardiff City. I hadn’t seen him in so many years and he was in the director’s lounge so I went to see him.
“He asked me how I was and then asked how my mum and dad were and still knew their names, which really took me aback. I asked him why he sold me because I’d never really known and he said there were two reasons and they were Bruce and Pallister. He said that he had to move me on to give me a career.
“With me being from Dublin, he could sense if I was feeling a little bit homesick and he’d send me home for four or five days. I’d be wondering what I’d done wrong but he’d just say he was letting me go home for a few days to see the family. He was an amazing bloke.”
Derek made another appearance in February of the following season, again coming off the bench to help see out an important 2-1 win at Millwall: “I think we hadn’t won for ten games, I came on for Viv Anderson and we won 2-1. I think Danny Wallace scored. That game was a totally different experience to playing at Old Trafford, the Millwall fans were unbelievable, every time I got the ball or took a throw-in they were shouting abuse and everything else.
“Playing alongside the likes of Pallister and Micky Duxbury was great because they were fantastic players. Both my games for the first team were at right-back but I was more of a centre-half, to be honest though if you’re given a chance you’ll play anywhere. A couple of times after that I was on the bench against Newcastle in the FA Cup and a game against QPR but it got harder because of the amount of options the manager had in defence.”
Brazil eventually left United in the summer of 1992 in search of regular first team football which he found at Cardiff City: “I was 23 at the time and had been there for six years and made two appearances, I’d captained the reserves but it was time for me to move on.
“I’d gone on loan to Swansea and United wanted a quarter of a million for me but they couldn’t afford it. I went to Cardiff and in my first season there we won the league and got promoted, we also won the Welsh Cup and I got to play in Europe so it was great and I did really well playing at centre-half. There was talk of Liverpool being interested in me but I’d never have gone there.
“Fergie was brilliant with me, he was quite convincing about when the right time for you to go was. He told me that I was going to have a good career in football and that I was a good player who needed to be playing regularly.
“Eric Harrison always said that unless you made 100 appearances for a club then you were nothing in football and I made nearly 150 for Cardiff.”
Derek now uses what he learnt about sport and fitness in his playing days, teaching PE to kids in three different schools having done all his coaching badges: “After I left Cardiff I went part-time with football and took my coaching badges at 27. I had a few injuries so I had to stop playing full time, I worked with Cardiff City in the community as a coach for five years.
“I left about ten years ago to set up my own business, so now I work in schools doing PE classes. I run my own after-school clubs and work with the police and the disabled. I also work for Cardiff City on matchdays as an ambassador, they asked me two years ago to go back and they give me a suit and a microphone and let me do my stuff.”
Saturday’s game against Sheffield United will see Derek return to Old Trafford to watch his former side in the FA Cup. Looking back on his United career almost a quarter of a century since he left he is very proud of his time at the club: “I haven’t been back to Old Trafford to watch a game probably since I left but luckily I’ve managed to get tickets for the Sheffield United game this weekend.
“I’m very proud to say I played for Manchester United because they’re such a unique club. To have the experience of being managed by Ron Atkinson and Alex Ferguson and to play with players like Bryan Robson, Remi Moses, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister was fantastic. I loved it and I wish I could go back to those times.”