Phelan: We're in a really good place
Mick Phelan believes the current Manchester United squad is progressing in the right direction and feels ending the season with silverware would push the players on further to the next level.
Our assistant manager spoke to MUTV’s Stewart Gardner in Cologne this week ahead of Sunday’s Europa League semi-final against Sevilla.
Phelan, who won countless trophies as a player and a coach under Sir Alex Ferguson, believes the players are actually a little ahead of where Ole and his management team hoped we would be by now. But the former midfielder insists you always want to be able to show something for your efforts at the end of every season and going all the way in the Europa League is the main focus right now.
How have things been going in Cologne so far? You could be here for 12 days in total of course…
"From our point of view it’s a nice place to be for a start, as it means we’ve been reasonably successful along the way to get to this point. We’ve enjoyed the first part of it, now we’re really going into the serious stuff with the semi-final and hopefully we stay here for the long haul. Everyone has settled in pretty quickly, one thing that’s been a little bit different to back home has been the heat and the humidity, but I think after the game we had on Monday [against FC Copenhagen], the boys will benefit from training in this climate for five or six days."
We’re training at a third-division club’s side training ground which obviously isn’t the Aon Training Complex, but how has it been?
"It’s very nice. We were surprised. We got our documentation regarding where we would be based and what to expect and we were a little bit unsure as to how good the quality of the surface would be. But we’ve found that it’s extremely good and we’re really pleased to use this facility."
How important are training performances at this stage, when you’re looking to select the line-up for the game?
"They’re very important, to make sure the squad gels well together. We want them to have fun and enjoy what they’re doing, but it’s also about getting a feel of the tactical element because we know who our opponents are. So we can work on that in the time we have between the games and each day is relevant towards the semi-final now."
It’s quite rare to have this much time to work on that sort of thing, isn’t it?
"Yeah,it has a little feel of pre-season in a way, when you come in and you’re experimenting a little bit, but we’re at the back end of the season, albeit that seems strange in itself when we talk about it nearly being September. But we’re here to do what we hopefully want to do and that’s to qualify for the final and take it one step further than the other semis we’ve got to this season."
Quite a few youngsters are here in the squad – how big is this experience for them?
"It’s invaluable. They can’t replicate this back at Carrington. They’re with this group, a successful group, and it’s there for them to impress us, not only on the training ground but in and around the hotel, and show us their qualities and personalities. We’re really pleased to have them with us and all of them have joined in really well with the group."
From your experience at the club over the years, what do you make of the spirit among this group?
"I think it’s getting there. We’ve worked a lot – Ole, the coaches and the staff – in the background and we’ve all started to gel well together. Everybody now understands what we expect and how we go about our work and our play, and I think you can tell they communicate well with each other, there are no superstars, and they’re a good group."
Ole has said he’s glad to get to another semi-final but wants to go that extra step and get some silverware. How important is it for this group to do that and win a trophy?
"It’s very important to show, at the end of the season, all the hard work you’ve put into it and that is usually done with silverware. We feel as though as we’ve come a long way in a short space of time and I think everything is developing in the direction we want it to and that’s really good from our point of view. We felt as though we had a lot of work to do and the time we had to do it in, and we feel as though we’re in front of that a little bit. We know where we want to be. We’re not there yet, but I think getting to three semi-finals and finishing third [in the Premier League] was terrific, but it’s not the be all and end all. You need to show something, which is a trophy at the end of a season if you possibly can. But I think we’re on the right track."
It’s a proper European tie against Sevilla isn’t it?
"Yes, it sounds European! [Smiles] We know how Sevilla operate, they’re a very good outfit with very good technical players and great possession of the ball which they showed against Wolves in the last game. They’re a team to be reckoned with, both in their own domestic league and in Europe but particularly in this cup, they have some history in it. I think it’s two football teams going head-to-head in what could be a really good semi-final."
This will be the 61st game of this season – are you ready for more?!
"We should be! You’ve got to be looking every season at 60-plus games and if you’ve done that, you’ve had reasonable success because you’ve been in every competition, but obviously at the end of it you don’t want to come up short. I think if we’d have said at the start of the season we’d play 60-odd games we’d have been more than happy with that. We’re really in a good place and there’s still a lot to play for."