Interview: Rob Smyth

Freelance journalist + United fan Rob Smyth, who writes for the Guardian, talks to ManUtd24

Why did you decide to go into sport journalism?

My first interest in journalism as a kid, absurdly, came because you earned indecent amounts of money if that was your job in the ‘Game of Life’. But as I grew older I realised I enjoyed spending my days passing off invariably erroneous opinions about sport, so that whittled the career options down to one.

You’re a lifelong Manchester United fan. How and why did you start following them?

It was genetic. I’ve no idea why, but I didn’t become a diabolical football nerd until relatively late: my first really vivid memory is a 2-1 win over Everton just after Christmas in 1987, when I was 11. I was following United for the glory, pretty much: Ralph Milne, consecutive finishes outside the top ten, uber-Sextonian football, Colin Gibson.

So, which United player have you been impressed with the most this year?

Patrice Evra. Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher have been frequently exceptional, but even Rooney had a dodgy spell just before Christmas. Evra is the only player who has been consistently excellent. In the context of a declining, injury-ravaged squad, he is a constant, the bit of the team you don’t give a second thought to because you know everything will be fine. There is so much to love about Evra off the field as well: he’s idiosyncratic, pathologically incapable of giving a dull interview, and one of the few players in the squad who clearly gives one about the shirt.

Moving on, how much are United missing Ronaldo and Tevez this season?

Of course they’re missing Ronaldo – that’s so obvious that it barely needs repeating – although I don’t think they’re missing Tevez as much as many people think. Tevez is a very good player, palpably superior to Michael Owen, but I think he needs a run of games to play well and he would not have got those at United. So there is no way he would have replicated his marvellous City form for United. Ronaldo is a phenomenon, of course, but I think United could have just about worn his impact had so much of the spine – Van der Sar, Ferdinand, Vidic and Carrick – not been injured, woefully out of form or both. That has been a huge and unexpected problem.

Man United’s financial situation looks perilous. What do you think about United’s future prospects and is there any reason to be optimistic?

Not really. The green and gold gives us hope, and the net is perceptibly closing around the Glazers, but if and when they go it is going to take a long, long time to clear up the debris.

Okay. Anyone you believe United should sign in the near future or do they need to bolster their team at all?

Well it’s all hypothetical, because United won’t be shopping outside TK Maxx for a while yet. Not that it matters: apart from a goalkeeper, a right-back, a centre-back or two, a left-winger, a playmaker and/or a goalscoring midfielder and another striker, they don’t need any new players.

Finally, who do you see as Sir Alex Ferguson’s future successor?

I think it will be Jose Mourinho. He puts a league title on the table every year, and that is all that will interest the Glazers. Until recently I thought he was not fit for United, in terms of his style of play and vainglorious nature, but United have been a cautious team in big games for nearly a decade now, so that would be nothing new. And, more than anything, it would be absolutely hilarious watching Mourinho drive the ABU nation into a state of apoplexy. In terms of maintaining the traditions of the club, Laurent Blanc is the outstanding candidate. But with the Glazers looking for the cheap option you never know. I won the double on Championship Manager 2000/01 with Gillingham and am quietly confident I could do a better job than Mike Phelan.

The Spirit of Cricket by Rob Smyth will be published by Elliott & Thompson in May

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