Former Manchester United and Sydney FC star Dwight Yorke speaks exclusively to associate editor Michael Cockerill.
Dwight Yorke is the only player to have won a championship with both Manchester United and Sydney FC. The retired superstar is back in town to promote next year's glamour exhibition match between the Red Devils and a Hyundai A-League All-Stars side. Yorke speaks exclusively to associate editor, Michael Cockerill.
Q. Dwight, welcome back to Sydney. Good memories? A. Absolutely. Fond memories. There's not a bad word to say about Sydney. Very refreshing. I've made a number of friends over the years, and it feels like I've not been away. It's been a while.
Q. The last time Manchester United came here was in 1999. I believe the players were impressed with Sydney as a city? A. I'd had the opportunity to come before, but of course I was on that particular trip, and coming off the treble-winning year we were on a high coming to Australia. For everyone involved in Manchester United we were well looked after.
We played the game in Sydney, and a game in Melbourne. The turnout was fantastic. The people here are fanatical about the Premier League, and they were excited having the opportunity to see such a class team come out and play. I'm sure that will be the case again.
Q. You played the Australian national team on that occasion. You've since had first-hand experience of the Australian football culture. You don't tend to get 'friendly' games when you play against Australian teams, do you? A. No. You go back to the history between Australia and England, not just in football, but in rugby and cricket as well, and when these two countries come up against each other there's never going to be a friendly.
Both teams will definitely want to win, and hopefully they can put on a good show for the fans who don't (normally) have the opportunity to see Manchester United in person.
Q. So when Manchester United come out next year to play the All-Stars, they should expect a competitive game? A. Absolutely. I mean it's obviously preparation towards the pre-season, it's important for the players as well as everybody involved with Manchester United. When they come to play it's always about winning.
A lot of people might think it's just a fun game, it may seem that way, but the players will want to get a lot out of it. The includes the players here in Sydney, who don't often get the chance to play such a class team.
Q. You played for six clubs during your career. Does the time at Old Trafford stand out as the most enjoyable period? A. Yeah. I had the pleasure of playing for six clubs, including 10 fantastic years at (Aston) Villa, that was a big learning curve for me to develop my skills, and the know-how to play in the Premier League.
But when the opportunity came to play for such a great club as Manchester United, arguably the best club in the world, it was once-in-a-lifetime. I was delighted to make that transition, and the rest is pretty much history in terms of what we achieved.
Q. What you achieved in that first season was the treble (FA Cup, league and UEFA Champions League). Can you compare that squad, that team, to the current era? A. Yeah, I think you can. When you look at the frontline at present - (Wayne) Rooney, (Robin) Van Persie, Danny Wellbeck, Chicarito (Javier Hernandez). The you look at our front four - myself, (Andy) Coley, Teddy (Sheringham) and Ole (Gunnar-Solksjaer). Pretty much the same. The goalkeeper at the time was (Peter) Schmeichel, now it's (David) De Gea.
There's some sort of similarity. People are always going to try and compare, understandably so because that was the most successful year (1999). We had players covering every position, and you look around the present team there's also players, international players, covering every position so it's the same. But when you win the treble, I guess you're going to have the edge on every other team.
Q. Can you describe what it's like being a Manchester United player? Is it something different to every other club? A. It absolutely is. You don't understand it until you're there. You look from the outside and think 'what a fantastic club'. But until you're there you don't realise how enormous it is. The history hits you smack in the face as soon as you walk through the door.
Then you meet the manager himself, the way he presents himself, the aura he has as an individual, it's just enormous. That's throughout the club - from the secretary to commercial department, there is something special about the place.
Every player that leaves, it's a downward spiral, because it's so great being at Manchester United. You won't understand it until you're actually involved.
You know it's a big club, but until you see everything, travelling in Asia, seeing the support, you travel within the country (England), the way you have to carry yourself, the dress code, what is expected of you. All of those things come with the Manchester United code of conduct.
Q. Did you see any players who were intimidated by that culture, and couldn't handle it? A. Well, yeah, just look throughout the history of Manchester United. I came with a free spirit, had I probably known about the expectation I could have been one of those players as well.
Lucky enough for me, I didn't really look at the history, but you hear so many stories about players actually going to the club and not really fulfilling their potential. That's the danger of the beast. Going to Manchester United, you have to confront it full-on.
You either go on from there, or you go the other way. It can happen for you, or go against you. As players, you have to relish that opportunity, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Q. How big an impact has Sir Alex Ferguson had on Manchester United? Is the club almost in his image now? A. You can see that, his record speaks for itself. To do what he has done over 26 years is incredible. Obviously he's been honoured with his statue, that's not just the players and the fans, but the club in general which holds him in such high esteem.
Deservedly so, because he's done such a tremendous job. He's turned Manchester United into a global football team.
Q. So you don't envy the person who will eventually replace him? A. They're some big boots to follow. Sir Alex has to hang up his boots, like everyone does, and the person who comes in and takes the reins will have to try and do things his way. But it's going to be hard because he's always going to compare (with Sir Alex).
Q. Does the next man have to be a ready-made manager? You mentioned Ole-Gunnar Solksjaer, who's doing very well as a manager in Norway (FC Molde have recently claimed back-to-back titles). Is it too big a job for a young coach like him, does it have to be someone quite senior? A. I don't believe that. There's people out there who probably think it needs someone with a wealth of experience to manage big, big, players, the big crowd and the big expectation.
But if a manager comes in - and obviously Manchested United get the best players - and you get them believing in the Manchester United way of playing, I don't think it's a massive, massive, difference in terms of who takes over.
That decision is obviously based on who the board thinks fits the image of the club, what the club represents, the Alex Ferguson legacy, and then trusting that individual to take the club forward.
Q. Being back here in Sydney, what are your memories of your time with the Sky Blues? Good ones? A. Absolutely. Probably one of the best times of my life. I was on a real down when I came to Sydney, I found my love for the game again, the people here made me feel special.
They made it all happen, and I'm grateful for that. I enjoyed playing football again, and the culture here. The guys I played with, it was fantastic, a great experience for me.
Q. A lot of people still talk about your time at Sydney FC. Are you proud of the contribution you made to the start of the Hyundai A-League? A. A lot was expected of me when I came. People had doubts for different reasons. I knew once I got playing again I could produce the goods. It's good that people remember those times.
The players obviously played an important part in launching the A-League. At Sydney we had a belief we could win it. My experience was important, so I was delighted we went on to do that. Everything about Sydney - the weather, the food, the people - was fantastic. There's no regrets, I've got nothing but admiration for Sydney.
Q. Have you taken much notice of how the Hyundai A-League has developed since you left? A. I've got to be totally honest. I've sort of lost touch, because I've got lots going on at the moment. But Sydney FC are always going to be part of me, I'll support them if I ever come back.
It's a pity there's no (home) game this week because I would have gone along and watched. I wish them well, and hope they can continue the good work we started.
Q. Finally, you've started out on your coaching career. Can we hope to see you back here as a coach one day? A. You never know. I'm not going to say no to anything. Football has been a big part of my life, I've now got the opportunity to work with Manchester United (as an assistant coach with the reserves), which I love. I'm open to any options. With my contribution to the A-League, who knows? Maybe I will come back one day.
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