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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

‘Transferring love for cricket to football will make India a force’: Quinton Fortune

Starting with his time under Sir Alex Ferguson, the footballer spoke about the growing number of Manchester United academy graduates featuring in the first team, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a teammate and his recent selection as the permanent manager and his thoughts on Indian football.

gurgaon Updated: Apr 28, 2019 00:47 IST
Kartik Kumar
Kartik Kumar
Gurugram
Former South African and Manchester United footballer Quinton Fortune gives tips to students from Shiv Nadar School during a training session, in Gurugram.
Former South African and Manchester United footballer Quinton Fortune gives tips to students from Shiv Nadar School during a training session, in Gurugram.
         

Hindustan Times caught up with ex-Manchester United and South African international footballer Quinton Fortune during a training programme at Shiv Nadar School in DLF Phase 1. Starting with his time under Sir Alex Ferguson, the footballer spoke about the growing number of Manchester United academy graduates featuring in the first team, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a teammate and his recent selection as the permanent manager and his thoughts on Indian football.

How was Sir Alex Ferguson as a manager?

Sir Alex was perhaps the greatest manager I ever played under. He was amazing in terms of his man management. The boss knew all his players. He knew what to say to certain players. He used to talk to Dwight Yorke and other seniors in a certain way, while he approached Rooney and other younger players differently. An hour before the game, he used to give his team talk, which you want to run through a brick wall for him. He used to keep reminding all the players of the sacrifices their families made and to always be grateful to them.

How much has football evolved since your time?

In terms of physical aspect of the game, the players are more protected. Football pitches across the globe are immaculate, all year around. I remember my Old Trafford debut in December 1999 against Bradford, when the pitch was muddy. The current crop of players are quicker, stronger and their diet is more nutrition based. Players now have a psychologist, nutritionist and sports scientist. They have to focus on the game and nothing else. The money (salaries) of the players too have increased manifold. I wish I was playing now! A player now can play just one season or for a few players, just a month and say “thank you very much” and retire.

A lot of Manchester United academy players have started featuring in the first team over the last five years. What are your thoughts on the current structure of the club?

It has always been the club’s philosophy, going back to the Matt Busby days. It keeps reminding the academy players that if they have the right attitude, mentality, remain humble and are capable, they can make it to the first team. Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay (all academy graduates) have established themselves in the first team. There a few more in the waiting — the likes of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner and Mason Greenwood. Almost all of them featured in the first team squad against PSG. All of them were playing a champions league knock-out round — it left me speechless.

How was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a teammate and what do you think of his selection as the permanent manager of the club?

Ole was an amazing teammate. There is a reason he is called the baby-faced assassin. He was a joy to play with. You knew if you give him the ball in the box, he will find a way to score. Ole was like Ronaldo (Cristiano), it was all ‘practice, practice, practice’ every day. I was with him at Cardiff City, when he was the manager. He had the same determination and attention to detail. He has another side to him, where he can be tough and tell players what needs to be said. The energy in Manchester United has changed since his appointment. Ole knows that not everything can be changed all of a sudden. This is football during the difficult times — you need to be strong, brave, and fight. The supporters need to be calm and realise there is someone who understands the Manchester United culture of playing football. It takes time to change the mindset and apply your philosophy. Players need time to adapt. Ole needs to be here for many years to come. Plus, he always has Sir Alex to consult.

What do you think of the progress of Indian football?

India has started investing heavily in football now; a lot of foreign players have started playing in Indian leagues and foreign coaches have also started coming here. This will raise the level of competition. It is important there is a structure, right from the academy to senior team. Indian footballers playing in underage categories need to be exposed to big tournaments in Europe and hopefully, soon get a chance to represent the country in the Olympics. India is virtually untouchable in cricket. If that love for cricket is transferred to football, it will be a scary sight for all nations across the globe. India will become a force to be reckoned with.