Meeting Paul Scholes back in January, it was interesting to hear the former Manchester United midfielder talk about how he would “almost feel welcome there again” following the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager. Despite over 20 years of distinguished service as a player at United, the underlying message was that Scholes did not exactly feel welcome under Jose Mourinho, of whom he was a strident critic, and preferred to stay away.
They were sentiments very much shared by Scholes’s former United team-mate, Rio Ferdinand, who was back at United’s Carrington training ground for the second time in a fortnight yesterday and still revelling in the positivity that has gripped the place since Mourinho was ousted and Solskjaer drafted in.
Ferdinand was at Carrington as part of the BT Sport and Premier League Disability Programme, to see first hand how that initiative has benefited the club’s disability and inclusion work to thrive through the Manchester United Foundation.
Everywhere he turned, there were warm smiles and welcomes. Old coaches stopped to chat and talk, staff greeted him with hugs and the popular long-standing receptionist, Kath Phipps, joked that she would give Rio a whack if he did not come over and say hello, which of course he did.
Ferdinand and his former team-mates still talk – he and Scholes were both colleagues at BT Sport until the former midfielder recently vacated the pundit’s chair to move into management with Oldham Athletic – and, according to Ferdinand, “they all say the same thing”. Principally, that is that United is a place you want to be around again. Ferdinand even made the point that Solskjaer’s impact has been so significant, not least in terms of the way he has embraced youth, hammered home a positive message and given United their attacking identity back, that it could end the drain of talent to neighbours Manchester City, who have been hoovering up much of the best talent over the past six years while their rivals floundered.
“A lot of us are pundits now and the mistake some clubs make – not just Man United, I hear it from other players about other clubs as well – is ‘Ah, I don’t feel like they want me here any more’,” Ferdinand said.
“This is the second time I’ve been in here in two weeks and the vibe is different. Before then, I came here a handful of times over the past six years and I didn’t feel as welcome, I didn’t feel the place being as joyful and as happy as it is now. It was in a depressive state before.”
As Ferdinand was leaving Carrington, another former team-mate, Phil Neville, the England women’s team manager, was waiting by the entrance barrier. The pair stopped to chat briefly out of the windows of their cars.
Neville was there to pick up his son, Harvey, who has previously been with Manchester City and Valencia’s academies but is now at United trying to make it where his father and uncle, Gary, did previously. It was a nice scene that summed up the complete change of mood and outlook that Ferdinand had been talking about.