KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: Gabriel Heinze, former Argentina defender, has offered a remarkable insight into the care and attention to detail with their players which saw Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, dominate the Premier League era of modern English football.
Heinze, now 36, spent three years at Old Trafford between 2004 and 20o7, winning both league and League Cup, before moving on to more success with Real Madrid, Marseille and back home in Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys.
But he revealed, during the Aspire Global Summit**, how his comprehension of the depth of care a club owes its players in their mutual interest had been awakened by his move to United.
Heinze, nicknamed El Gringo for his fair hair, recalled:
When I arrived at Manchester United they said they were sending a private jet for me. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t take it in.
Then I went to the airport and I saw they really had sent a plane. Just for me.
I thought: ‘Wow, these people really are serious about what they do and how they do it.’
The way they looked after me was something entirely new. Remember, I was just a boy from the sticks. I had left Argentina when I had played only a few games for Newell’s, I had played at Valladolid in Spain and then at Paris Sant-Germain but in the ‘old days’ of the club, before the Qataris arrived.
At United they said to me: ‘What sort of a house do you want?’
How did I know? I didn’t know what to say.
So they said: ‘Draw it for us.’
So my wife took a paper and pencil and drew what we knew, which was a little house with four walls and a little garden.
They said to us: ‘Is that all?’
Afterthoughts . . .
So we thought some more and thought maybe we should have a barbecue in the back garden, because of course we’re Argentinian so we like our barbecues. Then my wife said we had better draw a garage for the car. So she drew a little garage.
The very next day they came to us and took us to see five houses just like the one we had drawn on the piece of paper. So we had only one day in the hotel. When we went into the kitchen and opened the door of the fridge there was milk, chicken, water, whatever you could want.
It was fantastic . . . but this also was an education. It taught me something important about our career.
To be a footballer, to be an athlete, is only a part of what you are, only a part of who you are. You have to learn how to cope with all of life.
A lot of the young kids we see in our clubs will not make it as footballers but at least maybe we can teach them life skills which will help them get a job and so on.
At United that is what it was about at a higher level: giving the players every possible support in their daily life so they could give their best for the club on the pitch and improve both themselves and the club and the team.
That mean not only in matches but also in training. And that was difficult too and new for me because it always seemed to be windy and raining.
Ferguson factor . . .
Sir Alex Ferguson was fantastic. He didn’t speak Spanish but he spoke a little French and, of course, I had just come from a French club so that was how we could communicate at first.
He took so much trouble over everybody. It was like I was his son. Both me and Cristiano Ronaldo who had just arrived. We were very raw. Everything was very new and difficult for us.
But every day he would call me to check that things were OK.
Of course I am also my own character and personality so, as time went on, sometimes I would say how I saw things which sometimes were different to his opinion. He was a very strong manager. You soon came to understand that he wanted everything done his way.
Looking back now, I think I was probably wrong in some of the things I said and the way I did them.
He was right almost all the time.
** Aspire Global Summit: Football Performance and Science at the Pavilion Cambon, Paris.