Prevention is better than cure, then?
Exactly. When I was a kid I had a coach kid who would tell me that if my shorts weren't dirty at the end of the game then I'd not played well. In my mind, it's the opposite. Ideally, I want to come off the pitch with spotless shorts. I think sometimes you can judge how good a defender is by the colour of his shorts at the end of a game. Intercepting the ball is far more effective than tackling. It's not as flashy, though, so often it goes unnoticed. A lot of people are misguided in their views on Michael Carrick, for instance. He hardly ever launches into a slide tackle or gets involved in a physical battle in midfield. And that lands him some stick. But his stats for interceptions are off the chart.
Can you teach that, or is it all about instinct?
It's mainly instinct and experience. Some players just seem to have this knack of where to position themselves and the ball seems to be drawn to them like a magnet. In some ways you can learn about positioning, but a lot of it comes down to instinct and your reading of the game. And that's something that's hard to teach. It comes with experience. The best defenders can smell danger before it arrives. They position themselves in places that make it difficult for midfielders to play balls through gaps or they can step in front of a forward before a pass is even played so they can nick the ball off his toes.
It's not enough anymore to just be passionate and physical, is it?
I don't think so, no. That's not the way I defend and it's not the way the defenders I've admired down the years have played. I like to watch intelligent defenders, guys who can play a bit of football and play themselves out of trouble. My favourite defenders are Alessandro Nesta, Franco Baresi, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman... they were great with the ball and they could smell danger before it arrived so they were always one step ahead of their opponent. Don't get me wrong: sometimes it's great to see somebody who'll put their head through a brick wall to make a clearance but I think you need a balance in a defensive partnership. We've had that at Manchester United down the years with myself and Nemanja Vidic, although Vida can definitely play a bit as well. You have to be able to at a club like ours.
What happened to the old tactic of “letting the striker know you're there” in the early minutes?
You can't do that anymore! You have to be careful in the modern game – it's almost