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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Red News old interview with Arnold Muhren

RN: What are you currently doing?
AM: I’m working for Ajax as a trainer of the C- juniors - 13-14 year olds and also give individual training to kids of all ages, doing that 4 days a week.
RN: Do you miss not playing anymore?
AM: Absolutely, as there is nothing better than playing football, but unfortunately I had to retire due to hip-problems, a problem many players suffer during or after their careers.
RN: What were your thoughts when you initially moved to United and how did the transfer come about?
AM: As soon as United showed interest in me I was determined to go as, you must not forget, I was 32 at that stage and when a big club with such a tradition and charisma is willing to sign you, well, that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so no reason to hesitate.
RN: What were your thoughts on United on and off the pitch upon arriving?
AM: Well I knew I was going to a big club and was looking forward getting acquainted, but it wasn’t all new to me of course as I had been to O.T. before during my spell with Ipswich Town and the ground and its supporters were awesome, very impressive! So I was so happy and proud to be part of it.
RN: What were your best moments at Old Trafford?
AM: To be honest, for me every game was a big party but my absolute best moment was winning the FA Cup in 1983 against Brighton...and scoring!
RN: Any low moments?
AM: Yeah, well the fact that in my last year with United, I was more off than on the pitch. They bought Jesper Olsen and he became first choice and when you’re 35 you feel written off. But when you hear fellow players and supporters saying that you still should be in the squad it gives you a boost to continue.
RN: That side in the early 80s was a great one - the 83 Cup winning side and the team that beat Barca in ‘84 for example, why do you think we never stepped up a level to win the Championship?
AM: We had a good team but we missed two or three world class players. The squad those days wasn’t as big as it is nowadays and injuries to key players can be very decisive then. Liverpool was the team with more better, stronger players than we had and they just dominated the 80s like United did in the 90s.
RN: What was it like playing and scoring in the 83 Cup Final at Wembley (Sir Matt Busby’s birthday as well?)
AM: Wonderful, the absolute highlight of my career as I was the first Dutchman to play at Wembley and if you score as well, what more can you dream of. Every year on Cup Final day you get remembered by this when they stroll through the history of the Cup. Unforgettable!
RN: We only won 2 of our last 10 league games the next season when you picked up an injury in March, do you feel we may have won the title if you hadn’t have been injured?
AM: No, don’t think so. It’s all part of the game. These things happen all the time and besides it’s not a one man band, it’s a team performance. But like I said before, the squad wasn’t that big as it is now, so sometimes it was more difficult to find a replacement for certain players who got injured, but to say this concerned
RN: Was the pressure of ‘not winning the title for X years’ something that played its part on some players?
AM: Oh yes, the pressure was high but I felt different. I just did my utmost to play as good as possible and that’s all you can do. Maybe the ones who were playing at United for a longer period had some problems with it as they all wanted it so desperately for themselves and the supporters , but if you cannot cope with that pressure it goes at the cost of your performance.
RN: What are your thoughts on your departure from Old Trafford?
AM: Well, I knew I was going to leave a beautiful club although I had a contract for one more season, but as I was no longer first choice and having the feeling you still can play at the highest level, you have to make a decision. Johan Cruyff, manager with Ajax at that time, asked me to return to Ajax as he wanted an experienced player in his very young side. I played alongside Cruyff and knew him very well so was flattered he asked me to come back. Besides the kids were at a certain age that you start thinking what is the best thing to do for them in reference to school. etc. and I could go and live in my home town again. So after 7 years (seasons) in England we decided to go back to Holland. I always had a very good relationship with Martin Edwards so we had a few talks about it and although he did regret my decision he also respected it and gave me his full support to finalise my transfer.
RN: You played on, culminating in the 1988 European Championship success, do you wish you could have played on at Old Trafford?
AM: If I could have played every week... gladly, but it wasn’t to be. So if someone like Cruyff comes along and asks you to join Ajax..well it’s either sit on the bench or play for his team.
RN: With your class, style and finesse, would you have enjoyed playing in the current United side?
AM: Sure - who doesn’t? United is beloved among players and supporters, no question about that.
RN: Do you still keep in contact with any of your former colleagues at Old Trafford?
AM: No, not at all.
RN: Do you ever get to Old Trafford to watch games these days?
AM: Well the answer again is no, but I have been to Old Trafford in the last year. We were in England with a youth team to play a tournament, so I took the boys to Old Trafford where they treated us with a tour around the ground which made a big impression on all the boys and myself as things have changed so much since I left. What I really liked was that the players entrance was still the same and the fact that I was recognised by several people, not only from the staff but also outside by supporters who were hanging around O.T. There was even a mechanic from the garage where I used to go and he told me he repaired my car several times. These things eh....that makes you feel good and makes you realise what you meant to the supporters.
RN: What do you think the strengths and weaknesses of the Utd side you played in were?
AM: I think we had a good team overall but like I said earlier, we missed a few more world class players. If we had one for every line, we could have won more trophies. But it wasn’t to be like that. The team we had contained skillful players but also players who knew how to battle and even one who had it all, Bryan Robson.
RN: You mentioned in your book that you thought English football players were ‘unprofessional’ in their attitude to drinking and smoking, citing this as one of the reasons British players quit the top at 30-31-32 whereas you continued to play at the top level until you were 38 - do you think times have changed in the UK?
AM: Indeed, there was a drinking culture those days and I think (as it looks from the outside world) times have changed certainly at United under Ferguson. If you look after yourself properly you can continue playing for a longer period as you can rely on your technique and let the ball do most of the work. You cannot go on till you’re 37-38 purely on strength so a physical good condition is indispensable. And with the amount of games they have to play these days you just cannot afford these bad habits.
RN: What are our thoughts on the way English and Dutch football has changed since you left United?
AM: Club football changed a lot in England mainly caused by the influence of the legion of foreign players. If you see the amount of French, Italian and Dutch players in the league, they all bring something special to the game and you can see that both parties learn from each other. For Dutch football it means (for a longer period already) that all the talented players move on to Italy, Spain and England and the latter is the most popular one these days. The effect of this is that the big clubs in Europe are getting stronger all the time and the smaller clubs become in more danger to survive.
RN: The midfield combination of yourself, Ray Wilkins, Bryan Robson and Remi Moses was a strong one - do you think the departure of Ray Wilkins also affected our title chances?
AM: No, I don’t think so. I consider Ray as a very good skillful player but he had not the same impact on the team as Robson had as he was more an allround player and he had the ability to lift the team to a better performance which Ray wasn’t really able to do, although he was very good. You can compare the situation in the current side, Keane is the engine in midfield and he has some very good players around him but he makes the difference. They are the leaders.
RN: Would you have liked to have played under Sir Alex Ferguson and what do you think his strengths and weaknesses are?
AM: Oh yes, absolutely, as I think he’s a great manager, he must be otherwise they would have sacked him before. It is a rarity that a football club keeps its manager for such a long period so he must be good. As an outsider is difficult to speak about his strengths and weaknesses but I think he gets on very well with his players and by giving the youth players a chance you give them a lot of confidence.
RN: After a recent spell where things didn’t go to plan, Ajax seem to be making a real name for themselves again, how far can they progress?
AM: At this moment a lot of former players are working at Ajax, to name a few: Ruud Krol, Ronald Koeman, Marco van Basten, John van ët Schip, Sonny Silooy, and that is a good thing because they all played at the highest level and young players respect them and they can learn a lot from them. It takes a lot of time to get and keep them and the players together, but if Ajax is able to succeed in that, international success is possible again in the near future.
RN: How important is youth policy at a football club?
AM: Very important, it’s the heart and soul of a club and its nice to have players in your side that have grown up there because they are easy to fit in as they know the club thoroughly and supporters also like to see ‘local’ kids in the side. But it’s very difficult to keep them at the club even at this age as some of them already leave to play abroad even before they have managed to play regular first team football.
RN: How would you describe your footballing philosophy?
AM: Most important thing is to enjoy it, you must realise that you’re privileged to be in a situation like this because you earn a lot of money with your hobby. Besides that, you must live for it and get out of it as much as possible.
RN: United have promoted themselves globally - the biggest club in the world - are you at all surprised how things developed at United?
AM: No, not really. United has always been one of the most popular clubs in the world with a wide range of followers. It was just waiting for that breakthrough and it came in 1993 with winning the title. Ferguson managed to build a good side around him by buying some world class players and together with youth players it became a good balanced team. Well, if you’re so popular and have the right p.r. then you can make money with money and that’s what United did and became the richest club in the world. And if success continues it seems that the sky is the limit.
RN: What do you think of the United fans during your time at Old Trafford?
AM: The fans have always been good to me, they were fantastic, every game at O.T. was a party with all the scarfs, flags and the singing. But not only at O.T. also the away games where they followed us with thousands and thousands. It was like playing at home, unbelievable. I feel I have been a favoured man. I was a member of Manchester United and in this manner I would like to thank all of you! Wishing you all the best and many more success to come.
Red News: What a top man. Now there’s someone who realises what it means to play for Manchester United.