Roy Keane of Manchester United FC.

How United used to train: The 1990s

Tuesday 26 May 2020 06:00

Manchester United's first team recently returned to the Aon Training Complex, and we've been speaking to five former United heroes to find out what training used to be like.

In the final instalment of this series, Brian McClair sheds light on the training regime of none other than Sir Alex Ferguson that took place during the 1990s. McClair, known favourably by the United faithful as Choccy, was a key part of our success in the early years of the Premier League, including winning the league and cup double in the 1993/94 season. 

“I was always at the back, dead last,” admits Choccy, with a halfsmile. “Maybe it was a mental thing with me. If a ball had been brought out then, I'd have run all day long. The manager would get on your case and try to cajole you into doing more work, but you have to judge what people are capable of achieving.

“Some players are excellent at long distance running, whereas others simply aren't. You've got to work out how they are, what position they play in, what their body shape is and what we're looking to get out of them. You're trying to pitch it so that everybody's getting the best things out of training that they can.

“Pre-season is always hard and extremely tiring, but really it's the most important time of the year because it's like you're laying down a foundation or a base that the rest of the season is going to be built upon. It's not easy. Nobody enjoys pre-season. Anybody who enjoys all that hard work is crazy. They're in the wrong business if they enjoy it.”

A former academy manager, Choccy was in a privileged position of being able to blow the whistle himself when pre-season training commenced.

Youngsters climbing up the United ranks can look forward to a more gradual introduction to the physical rigours of life at Carrington – a far cry from the initiation afforded the young McClair.

“When I was a kid, we ran up hills, cross-country and up and down sand dunes,” he recalled. “It worked in the sense you could run, but there was no basis for helping you as a footballer. It didn't help you trap the ball.

“Now we introduce the ball on day one, whereas previously you might not have seen one for a week or 10 days. It has changed in the sense that now we're more aware of the science of physiology. “As time goes on you get experience, certainly from what we're doing now with the younger lads. That's worked out very well.

“We now have fewer injury problems because we build up training intensity very, very gradually for the ones who come in at schoolboy level.

Choccy made 471 appearances for United between 1987 and 1998.

“I'm still a hard task-master. I'll ask them to do all the things I hated because I know it works.

“By the time they get to the Under-18s they're physically more mature and can cope with what's expected of them. It's nothing like back in my day, when you had a coach who was only happy when you were sick.”

More in this series: