Markus Neumayr is a name that might not eventually jump out at you but give it time – signed as a 17 year old in 2003, the German midfielder was dubbed the “next Beckham” in a talented side where he played alongside Jonny Evans, Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi to name just three. One of the more highly rated prospects, it was a surprise to some (and certainly a shame to most) that his potential was never quite fulfilled, and he left the club aged twenty in 2006.
Markus was kind enough to have a chat with 7Cantonas about his time at United, why he feels he didn’t make it, who he still keeps in touch with and where he is playing these days.
Growing up in Germany, what junior clubs did you play for? Were your dreams always of playing football?
I was playing for my local club Hösbach Bahnhof, after I moved to Viktoria Aschaffenburg with 10 years. At 13 years old I moved to Eintracht Frankfurt… And when I reached the age of 17 I moved to United. Of course, it has always been a dream to be a professional football player. But the first time I really realized that I could earn my money with playing football was at the age of 16.
Who was your idol growing up?
I had a few to be honest. One was Zinedine Zidane, because of his great technique. The other one was David Beckham, because of his great shooting technique.
Explain how you heard of United’s interest – who did you meet to discuss the move before signing?
A scout of United saw me when I was playing for Germany under sixsteen’s at the age of 15. After he scouted me for half a year before getting me a place for a trial. The first time I heard about the interest was when my mother told me that I could go for a trial to United.
United had signed Cristiano Ronaldo and obviously he inherited the number 7 vacated by David Beckham but coming into the youth side you seemed to get the majority of the “Beckham” comparisons, what with your position, playing style – not to mention boyband looks! Did you feel under any unfair pressure from the start?
For me that has never been a big issue. Of course people try to compare you with big players to identify your playing style. But I never saw me as a second David Beckham. I cannot control what people think, obviously, and I always tried to create my own image.
You say that you didn’t feel the comparisons to Beckham but that he was an idol of yours before you joined.. with that in mind, did you try and play like him? When you joined, did you feel like you might have to match his style?
No I didn’t feel as if I was trying to play like him. Obviously I tried to imitate his shooting techniques, but I guess it is a normal thing for a young footballer. You watch the great players and as a young footballer you try to make these special abilities a part of your own game. Like this, you start to develop your own style. When I signed at United I tried to create my own image or style which was always compared to David Beckham, but as I said I cannot influence what other people want to see.
No German player had (or still has for that matter) represented Manchester United; how did you adapt to living in England?
I adapted quite well. Of course my first year wasnt very easy because of the injury I had. I dislocated my collar bone ,which put me on the sidelines for over 6 months. But after I recovered, I felt very good and really comfortable in England.
In the youth team around the same time as you were the likes of Jonny Evans, Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi.. those three have gone on to become established European and International stars in their own rights but while you were alongside them I felt (as did many others) that you were one of the most intelligent players. The team also included names that people will recognise like David Jones, Danny Simpson, Darron Gibson and Frazier Campbell, all of who went on to play in the Premier League. Firstly; with such a multicultural youth team, did you all get along…
We all came along very well… Although we were all very different and had a different background we all had one thing in mind, and that was progressing day in and day out.
Secondly, how did you felt that you compared to them at the time?
It’s hard to say. But I think that we were more or less at the same level all together at that time.
Who were your friends at the club?
My best friends were Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi. They still are.
Many players don’t get the opportunity to move from the youth team to the reserves but the club kept faith in you; you then went on to play with many big names in the reserves; who were the best players you got the opportunity to play alongside?
I played with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Quinton Fortune, Tim Howard, Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and so on.. They were all players with some special qualities. It was a great experience to have played with every single one of them.
Everyone says Paul Scholes is the best person to watch in training; is that something you would agree with?
I say Paul Scholes as well. He was brillant. He seemed to have another pair of eyes in the back of his head. He knew what you were doing before you even knew it. I have never seen that before or after.
What was it like working with the youth coaches there? Paul McGuiness has helped develop some fantastic footballers; was it a good experience for you?
Yeah… he was a great coach and a real good human being to look up to. I learned a lot from him and Rene Meulensteen.
In the reserves you got more responsibility and after David Fox left you were given the captaincy; did you feel as if you were getting close to the first team?
Of course I felt getting closer to my dream playing for the first team. I was even lucky to train with them for one year.
It was “only” the reserves; but even so, you must have felt proud at being named captain in a team that had so many good players?
Even today I am still proud to have been captain of that team. We played exceptional football that year. We won everything.
With the reserves being used either as an opportunity for youngsters to get experience or experienced players to either keep up their fitness or come back from injury, how did you find playing with the more senior players? Did you find it a help, or more of a problem?
It helped a lot for us young players to play along with some players that have done what you want to achieve in your career. Moreover, it was a pleasure to help these players to find their form again and to get some match fitness.
The 2005/6 season was seen as a potential breakthrough for you; having developed through the first part of the season you then witnessed United suffer from injuries in the midfield in the first team – you were called into the squad but didn’t make the bench for the game against West Ham in March. Were you frustrated at not getting a chance when United were playing John O’Shea – by rights, a defender – in midfield?
Not frustrated… I was happy to be a part of the team for the first time. Unfortunately the gaffer didn’t have that confidence in me to give me a run out. But these are decisions in football you have to accept and move on.
One of the things that a few of us who watched you felt that although you were due a growth spurt you just didn’t get it while you were at United, and perhaps you weren’t as physically strong as you could have been (probably due to your size at the time). Is that something you agree with?
I don’t know if it has to do with the physical side. Sir Alex Ferguson told me after this year that he thought it would be very difficult for me to play in the following season. After Cristiano Ronaldo, Darren Fletcher and Chris Eagles I would have been number four on the right wing, so my chances were very limited. For this reason we agreed that it would be better for me to leave the club in order to progress. Because, the most important thing in football is match experience.
United supporters have patience in younger players so I’m sure we would have all been happy to wait to see you develop; however, did you feel as if you weren’t progressing as you would have liked?
No,I felt that my progress was going quite good. Of course there were times when I wasn’t happy with my performances but that is a normal thing in every players’ progress.
It was reported that you asked to leave and have your contract cancelled at the end of the 2006 season. Though from what you’ve said earlier, it was a mutual choice?
As I said before,me and Sir Alex had an honest conversation where he told me that he sees me and I told him what I expect the following year. He couldn’t guarantee me first team football which for me was the most important issue at that moment. Now, 6 years later, I can say that maybe it was a mistake to leave United.
You went on to develop. You now stand at over six feet tall – do you feel that perhaps you were too hasty in leaving the club – that you might have had more of a chance if you had stayed on, particularly given our long standing problems in midfield?
You never know what would have happened, so it doesn’t make sense to speculate about these things.
Even if you didn’t make it at United there were so many of us who still felt you would go on to play in the Premier League. You signed for Duisburg after you left us, but then went on to play for Zulte Waregem in Belgium, Rot-Weiss Essen, Wacker Burghausen, Swiss team FC Thun and you are currently at AC Bellinzona in Switzerland – why do you think you didn’t quite that top level career you were tipped for?
After leaving United I had a tough time because people expected me to be a “perfect” player. At that time this “shadow” of Manchester United was so hard for me that I was thinking of stopping football. It was a tough time after leaving United… Moreover I had an injury which kept me out of the game for over a year. For these reasons I had to stabilise and establish myself in lower leagues. The last two years have been good for me, as I have been able to play without having injuries. I am getting close to where I want me to be. And with 26 years of age I have still a lot of time to play, and I have many targets to achieve.
How are you enjoying your time in Bellinzona?
At the moment I feel really good here. Something special is progressing here and I think that it is the ideal club for me at the moment.
It sounds like you’re settled… but do you think you could play at a higher level?
Of course I have the ambition to play at a higher level in the years to come. That is my main intention and the thing I work for every day. But to be honest,the level here in Switzerland is quite good.
Do you still follow United? And do you keep in contact with anyone from the club?
Yeah, as I said before I am still in contact with Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi.I think that we are friends for life, as we had a very intense time together. United was my favourite team when I grew up, and United will always have a place in my heart..
You came to your own agreement but United also failed to hold on to Pique, who went home, while they let Rossi leave as there was just too much competition for him up front. How do you compare the reasons of you all leaving to the likes of Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba?
Everyone is different and so I cannot talk for anyone else. Every player has his reasons to stay or to leave a club.
Finally; do you have any regrets about the way things ended at the club?
After 6 years I can say that it might have been a mistake to leave United. But in life you have to move on and live with the decisions you have made. Even more in football!
Thanks to Markus for his time. You’ll be hearing more from him throughout the 2012/13 season, as he will regularly give his opinions on United through 7Cantonas.com, joining the list of former players to give supporters their views through the website.
We’ll follow his fortunes with Bellinzona too – Markus may have once been labelled the “new David Beckham” but even these days it looks like he could still get the comparisons – check out this goal he scored last week (around 20 seconds into the video)!