Assistant boss Mike Phelan recalls his time at Norwich and assesses United’s current crop in an exclusive interview with United Review, the official matchday programme.
What do you remember about the move from Burnley to Norwich?
To me, it seemed like a proper football club and when the offer came in it felt like it was a natural progression for me to go there. Leaving Burnley was not something that had ever crossed my mind. I was a local lad and they were my team, but Norwich were in a higher division and seemed like a progressive club. Despite the fact they’d just been relegated from the First Division, I liked their philosophy and they actively sought to keep hold of their better players, like Chris Woods, Dave Watson, Steve Bruce and John Deehan. I liked the stadium, the training facilities were good and [manager] Ken Brown and [coach] Mel Machin were a good combination.
Winning the Second Division title in your first season must have been very satisfying…
Yes, we steamed through the division that year. The decision they made not to sell players at the start of that season sent out a strong message to everyone at the club and so did the fact that the manager brought in a handful of new lads including myself, Kevin Drinkell and David Williams. Ian Culverhouse joined soon after and eventually so too did Mark Bowen and Ian Crook. So we had a really good blend in the squad.
Did your Norwich team-mate at the time, Steve Bruce, always seem destined for greater things?
Steve was a great professional and I think he and a couple of others could have moved on after the club were relegated but they stayed. That didn’t just help the club, I think it helped them progress as players, too.
When Steve left to join United, could you ever have imagined you’d be following soon after?
No, my aim was to just do well for Norwich. I was comfortable there. I liked the club, the football we played, the fans, the area and the general way of life. Moving on wasn’t something I really thought about until United came in for me.
When did you hear about United’s interest?
I knew my contract with Norwich was coming to an end but the club were just happy to let it run its course – there were no ‘Bosmans’ in those days – and then we’d sit down at the end of the season