Gary Pallister Exclusive


On Man United

What went wrong this year for Manchester United?

I think Ten Hag is about to find out. I think everybody is at a loss for words as to why Manchester United went from second in the league to having a meltdown that they did, losing form, discontent in the dressing room. The position of manager was a tough one, they had Ralf Rangnick coming in and taking the team for the latter part of the season. Players not knowing if he was going to be staying or not as manager.

Changes upstairs, Ed Woodward leaving someone new coming in. It's just been a season of change, difficulty. But on the pitch, you're really at a loss for saying why they've gone from being second in the league, improving the squad, to putting in some really poor performances last year. I know it's a really difficult one to sort out for Ten Hag walking in, he's going to have a look at that dressing room, the characters in that dressing room and make some tough decisions.

There's been players targeted by the press and by fans, who aren't bad players, and I think that's been unfair. I think it's the way the team and club has been, I think it's got to a lot of players, probably to the fans as well. They've chosen change again and hopefully they've got the right guy coming in.


Benfica forward Darwin Nunez is being heavily linked with moves to Liverpool and Man United - if you were in his position - which club would you rather join?

It's a difficult one. Man United are one of the two top biggest clubs in the world, if you get a chance to sign for Manchester United, you'd snap their hands off, usually. Obviously players are going to look at United and the troubles they've had, a new manager going in, where they finished last year, not playing Champions League football, they have got European football which can be a bonus but it's not, it's not the top tier of European football.

I think if you're in a hurry, you're going to sign for Liverpool at the minute. They've got Champions League football, they're competing for the Premier League year in year out, they're in a really good place. The thing that United have in their favour is, you'd be joining one of the biggest clubs in the world without a shadow of a doubt. You could be part of that rollercoaster ride they're hopefully going to be on to try and get back to the top of the table.

You don't dismiss Man United but at this moment in time, you have to say Liverpool would possibly seem like a better destination for most players because they are playing Champions League and they are competitive, that's something that Manchester United are not at the moment.


Frenkie de Jong is another player believed to be on Erik ten Hag’s wishlist - would he be a good fit in the Premier League or is he too lightweight? 

He's been a fantastic player, Ten Hag knows him, he knows his qualities, he knows his character. There's a few conundrums for the new manager walking in. de Jong has proven himself at an elite level. The Premier League is different, there's no doubt about it, I think it is and has been for a long time, the toughest league in the world.

There's no gimmes in the Premier League, you're fighting for every point and it's physical, there's game after game after game and you've got to be prepared for that. It might be a bit of a shock to him but he's definitely got the ability to cope with it. You don't often see foreign players come over here and sort of excel in a different league. It's such a tough league to play in. I don't know his character but de Jong certainly has the ability to succeed.


Man United had been linked with Declan Rice, but appear to be turning their attention to De Jong, do you think they’ve been priced out of a move for Declan Rice?

He's been banded around Manchester United for the last two to three years. He looks as though he's really maturing as a player, takes on responsibility good use of the ball, breaks things up well, he's a work horse but he's got a bit of quality as well. He's a good fit.

You hear all these price tags, and I think that would probably scare a few sides off, which is what West Ham are trying to do but I don't think there's any doubt in his ability. We've seen him for England, we've seen him West Ham, I think he's got true quality and if he arrived at Manchester United this season, I think they'd be delighted with that because he's certainly got that type of character that Manchester United are looking for. 


Man United scouts watched Eriksen on international duty this week - on a free transfer and with Premier League experience, would he be a good fit at United?

I think he's a fantastic player. I know he can do it in the Premier League, I saw him at Tottenham, he was outstanding there and that's what got him the big move. After all the problems he's had, it's great to see him back playing football. If he was to arrive at Manchester United, there's no doubt about him, he's proven it in the Premier League already that he can handle it.

I think he's a little bit like Bruno Fernandes, I don't know if you'd be able to fit both of those players in the same team but it would be a nice combination to have I guess. He's got great quality, proven in the Premier League and on a free transfer, if you got him into your club, I'm sure every club in the world would be happy to have Eriksen in their side. It's one Ten Hag will maybe be looking at, it's not often that players of that class come up for free.


Are there any other players you’d like to see Man United try to sign this summer? What positions need strengthening next year?

Harry Kane. We've been linked with him over the years, last year he didn't arrive at Manchester City. I was watching him against Germany, I think Gareth Southgate hit the nail on the head. It's not just his goal scoring, his link up play was exceptional, I saw him at Middlesborough in the FA Cup, I think he's exceptional.

I think he is the full package, whether he thinks there's a project at Tottenham under Conte, I don't know, he certainly wanted to leave last year. If that kind of quality became available, he's a no brainer for any club, he's proved it in the Premier League, National level, Europe, he scores goals. You've got the Ronaldo conundrum, Cristiano can't go on forever, and Kane has at least four or five years left at the very top. If you can bring in someone like him, that would delight the fans as well.


After Ten Hag confirmed Ronaldo will be part of his plans next season...

What a player he's been over the years. I was looking at it last year thinking 'how is this going to plan out'. He still scored a bag full of goals for a team that was struggling. If he was playing for a better side, you wonder how many more goals he would have scored. He's just a machine when he comes to that.

I thought his best form was certainly towards the end of the season. I thought his general play was much better than the early part of the season. I thought he realised he was going to have to work a bit harder. He was prepared to help his teammates out and do what was necessary and he still scored the goals. there's no surprise Ten Hag wants him there, Christiano wants to be there, I think it's a good thing for the players around the club. Players of that elk.

As long as they're not a bad influence, as long as they're helping the young players come through. Who else is better to listen to than Ronaldo, one of the greatest players that has ever played the game. It's no surprise he wants him there, he's doing the business on the pitch, he looks after himself really well, he's a model professional so I'm not surprised Ten Hag wants him to sill be involved.


Reports have claimed Ronaldo could be given the captaincy - would you support that decision or does Maguire deserve to keep the armband?

I don't think anyone would quibble if that was the case. I feel for Harry Maguire. I've been in a position like him where he's taken a bit of stick off the media, fans. It happened to me when I first went into Manchester United, a record signing. You get that big feast upon your head and it puts the spotlight on you even more.

I think Harry has been victim of the problems that are at United. For two years, he's been terrific. He was the only choice for captain of United. Unfortunately his form, and I'm sure he'll be the first to admit, has been up and down the last season. He came off the back of a great Euros, and it's been a bit of a struggle. I feel sorry for a lot of the England lads, they're not getting any rest.

They came straight from the Euros, had a few weeks off then went straight into the season, they're away now playing in this Nations league, They're going to have a few more weeks off then the season starts, then the World Cup starts when we have the break. They need a proper break. I find it ludicrous. I don't think there's any care for international footballers. They need a rest, about six or seven weeks off. Just to get away from the pressures and physicality, recover from injuries you pick up during the season.

I think that's part of the reason for Harry as well. I have no qualms about him, hopefully he'll return to his best form next year. If he hasn't got the captaincy, I'm sure he's a big enough man to deal with that. He wants to be a success at Man United, he wants to win trophies there. It has been tough for him, but I wouldn't be thinking of leaving him out of the side.


Jurrien Timber, who played under Ten Hag at Ajax, is reportedly replacing Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back next season - has Wan-Bissaka been treated too harshly by United fans since joining?

It's a difficult one with Aaron. I think he's a fantastic defender. He's almost unbeatable. I think in this modern era, when it comes to your full backs, I think you're expected to do a little bit more in the final third. I don't think we've seen enough of that. If another player comes in, with Wan-Bissaka and Diallo already there, they've got to raise the game.

You wouldn't be surprised if they brought another right back in for competition there as well. Looking for a bit more of an attacking threat. The gamble is, whether these players that come from Dutch football or wherever and compete and deal with the Premier League and are comfortable there.

They've had some great players from Holland but also some failures. It's a position that has been looked at, will be looked at and Ten Hag will probably have that on his list of priorities.


James Garner played a pivotal role in Nottingham Forest’s promotion, do you see him getting a first-team chance at United next season or should he be loaned out again next season?

Unfortunately I didn't see an awful lot of him playing at Notts Forest. By all accounts he's done exceptionally well, they've gone into the Premier League. It might be that if he's going to play in the Premier League, it's going to be better experience for him. Whether he's ready to go into Man United's midfield at this present time, I'm not too sure.

I haven't see enough of him in the Championship. He's a player with ability, a player that the club think a lot of. He would possibly benefit for a season in the Premier League before he would get a chance to make it in Man United's team.

On Middlesbrough

Djed Spence had a terrific season on loan at Nottingham Forest and Spurs reportedly want to sign him from Middlesbrough, would that be a good signing for him?

I think he was linked with Bayern Munich as well. Notts Forest would probably like to keep him. I think Middlesbrough are in the box seat as to what they ask for him. His form with Forest was exceptional. We saw glimpses of it at Middlesbrough. I think he's suited to a back five, playing a wing back.

As a wing back, I don't think defensively as a back four he's really proven himself in that position as of yet. He's a talent, there's no doubt about it. He's been exceptional for Notts Forest, played a big part of getting them in the Premier League and I think we saw glimpses at Middlesbrough. I remember thinking wow, in other games he's be daydreaming or he'd lack concentration, and you were left scratching your head with him at times.

It suited everybody that he went out on loan. He's had a pop at Neil Warnock after promotion. That was a little exchange of words on social media. Neil Warnock made a call when he was at Middlesbrough and ultimately it's worked out well for the lad.

That's what you want to see, you want to see talent like his, he grasped the nettle and produced the performances that have got big clubs looking at him. I think it's a win win for all sides.


What did you make of his social media post calling out Neil Warnock after he was promoted with Forest?

I get it. You don't like being told. I think Neil said he could be a Premiership player one day and a non-league player the next. He said he had to decide what he wanted to be and I kind of get that. He reached certain levels for Middlesbrough then the next week, he was no where near that level. It's got to be frustrating for a manager.

One saying you're not good enough, then replying well I am, I just got in the Premier League, I've been a big reason why Notts Forest have done this and done that, yous didn't go up. That's football. You make these decisions and you live and die by them. I don't think Neil Warnock would be too bothered about what was said.

I think he had a little bit of a pop back about him smoking his cigar. It's fine, it didn't step over the mark, it was a bit of banter, that's just football.


What’s the aim for Middlesbrough next season under Chris Wilder? Can they win the Championship?

I think they've got a great manager in Chris Wilder. He really made an impact on the club when he got in there, changed the way they played, changed the feel around the club, went on a great run then ultimately imploded towards the end of the season which was a bit disappointing.

They thought they were going to get into the play offs but it didn't quite happen. I think give him time, give him a bit of money, full pre season to work with the players, get his ideas across even more, and I think that's one of the best managers in the championship.

If he can bring the players in that he wants to, I think they'll certainly be up there in that top six next season where they go up automatically is very difficult with the teams with parachute payments and experience of Premier League, they're going to be hard to beat, but I certainly feel like Middlesbrough under his leadership can get into the play offs.

On England

Are there any players that you think are unlucky to miss out on this England squad?

Not really. The thing I like about Gareth Southgate is that he's not swayed by who people are, the big names. If you aren't playing well for your club, you are not involved in the England squad. We've seen that with Marcus Rashford. He's done well in an England shirt, he's not playing well for Manchester United at the moment and they've left him out.

He's not afraid to make big decisions, he's not like 'right, you've done this before, you've got that reputation, you're going to be part of the squad' if you're not performing for your club, he's not picking you. People might say about Harry Maguire, he's never let England down, he's playing week in week out, still for United, he's going to pick him, he was in the European Championship team of the tournament at the end of the Euros.

There's still for players to play themselves into the squad, the ones who aren't in there feel as though they are disappointed, there's still time, still another five or so months before the World Cup kicks off. If you perform for your club and you're English, Gareth is going to give you a chance. It's all to play for for the lads who want to play and be involved in the World Cup.


Harry Maguire is nearing 50 England caps, what do you think is his best moment in an England shirt?

Probably being a player in the team of the tournament for the Euros. He started off injured, didn't play the first couple of games, and then came back into the fold and looked as if he'd never been away.

That's when you look at Maguire for being a captain at Manchester United because I thought he was outstanding for England and that's putting it at an elite level. I kind of feel for him when he's put under the spotlight like he is at the moment. I think the highlight of Harry's England and United career are hopefully to come.


Is the pressure is on for Southgate?

You'd think so. You get beat 1-0 by Hungary, and all of a sudden the world has caved in. I think he's done a terrific job with England. They've got to a final and a semi final, why should Gareth Southgate be under pressure. I guess you could say the England manager is always under pressure. It's always been the case.

We make it a very difficult job for people at times. I don't think everybody enjoys being England manager, a couple of defeats and people are looking for your head on a block.

I think Gareth has been a breath of fresh air, he's had some breaks in tournaments with the draws and things like that but he's got to a final and a semi final so in recent form with him in charge, they've done really well. I don't think he's under pressure from the FA.

He'll always be under pressure from media and the likes. I think he's done enough to earn a lot of respect with what he's done with England.

England Italy Prediction:

It'll be interesting to see what side he plays. I'm sure there'll be changes, it's been a long season for the players. I think we're seeing tired performances from the players.

It's a really difficult one to judge, Italy have had some crazy results since they won the Euros, didn't qualify for the World Cup. They're rebuilding I guess. I really don't know, I think England are capable of beating anybody so I'm going to plum for an England win against Italy.


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