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Ron Atkinson Interview: All things football

Thursday 3rd November 2016
We recently interviewed former Manchester United manager and football pundit Ron Atkinson. We asked Ron about his new book, his time in management, the players he encountered, and the England national team.
Ron Atkinson has dedicated most of his life to football. It began as a player in 1956 at Aston Villa when he was just 17-years-old. Although he never made any appearances for the club, he went on to have a successful time playing for Oxford, where as captain he helped the club achieve promotion to the second division. When asked when he first realised he wanted a career in football, Ron replied: ‘At school, when the scouts came to watch, it then became a possibility.'

Ron spent a large amount of his time in football as a manager and he embarked on his managerial journey in 1971 with Kettering Town. Over the next 28-years, he managed nine different clubs, including Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Sheffield Wednesday and Villa. He had huge success in England. When questioned about the four major trophies he won as a manager, he quickly replied: ‘Well it's five if you count the Charity Shield.' So, after some discussion, we came to an agreement: Big Ron won five major trophies as a manager.

The new book

All of the big events throughout Ron's career appear in his new book: Ron Atkinson: The manager. The book was published in September and it's a detailed account of his career in football. From his playing days, to his three decades in management, to his opinions on former players and managers, along with his insight into the modern-day game - the book covers it all.

Ron explained that it was the publishers - deCoubertin Books Ltd, who contacted him about writing the book. He said he enjoyed going back over his time in the game and recording his memories. He previously had a book published in 1998, called ‘'Big Ron: A Different Ball Game'', and the time felt right to bring out another book, as in his own words, 'A lot has happened in the past 15 years.'

One of the biggest stories in Ron's life over the last 15 years occurred when he was working as a pundit for ITV. In 2004, he left his role after making a racist comment live on air. His career has since been blighted by this controversy; an act that he says he deeply regrets.

Time as a manager

During his managerial career, Ron suffered from the usual mix of emotions that came with the job, as he enjoyed times of great success, along with moments of bitter disappointment. So we asked him about his time in management.

What are your most memorable games?

The first one that comes to mind is the game when I was Aston Villa manager. We were playing Tranmere Rovers in the League Cup semi-final in 1994. We had lost the first leg 3-1 and the second leg was a topsy-turvy game. We scored late on to make it 3-1; 4-4 on aggregate. We came through it on penalties and met Manchester United in the final at Wembley, which we won 3-1.

The other game was when I was at Man United in 1984, and we were playing Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Cup winners Cup. We lost the first leg 2-0 away. The second leg at Old Trafford was special. Barcelona had a good team, with Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster in their side, but we came back to beat them. It was 3-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate.

What do you regard as your biggest achievements?

Beating Everton with Man United in the 1985 FA Cup final was a big moment. Everton were the champions that year and they were looking to do the double. Norman Whiteside scored the only goal of the game to win us the FA Cup.

Winning the League Cup with Sheffield Wednesday was another big achievement. This was in 1991 when we came up against Man United. John Sheridan scored the goal to give us a 1-0 win. John's a brilliant lad and he was a great player for me.

What was your biggest disappointment?

When I was relegated from the first division with Sheffield Wednesday in 1989-90. We got 43 points that season, which remains the record number of points to go down with, so that was a big disappointment. It was hard to take for us all.

Who were the three best players you managed?

Norman Whiteside and Gary McAllister would be up there. Gary was a real professional, but too good for Coventry at the time. But the best three? I would have Bryan Robson number one. He was skillful, competitive, and he could score a goal. He also usually gets in Man United's all-time XI.

Paul McGrath is number two. Paul was terrific for Villa, he was lightning quick, which not many people realised. He's the best centre-back to ever play in the Premier League. In third, I would have Paulo Futre, who I had at Atletico Madrid. He knew a lot about football, as did most of the foreign players.
Ron won two FA Cups in his managerial career, both with Man United - in 1983 and 1985. Two League Cups followed in the nineties - in 1991 with Wednesday and 1994 with Villa. He also witnessed first-hand the best players and managers in English football while working as a manager, then later as a television pundit. He was well-known for spotting talent on the pitch, and when asked what the main qualities he looked for in a player, Big Ron replied: ‘Ability is the obvious one. Also, a team player and commitment. But with ability - you can't define it, you see it.'

During his time in management, Ron came up against some of the all-time great managers, and he said, ‘there was great spirit and camaraderie between the managers in those days, which I think has gone now.' Big Ron pitted his wits against both Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. However, he was adamant about who was the best manager he ever faced: ‘Brian Clough. He won two European Cups with Nottingham Forest, so Cloughie was number one. A real character and a great manager.'

Choosing the best player he had ever watched was a much tougher task. When asked that question, Ron paused for a moment, before replying: ‘ That is a difficult one, you're asking me to pick the best player of all time - John Charles is up there, as is George Best. Obviously Pele. Although Pele scored over a thousand goals in Brazil, I would have liked to have seen him play in Europe. The best I saw was Johan Cruyff. He was the most skillful and he could change a game.'

Football has changed drastically since the days of Pele and Cruyff. Ron has lived through the transformation, and he gave his views on the biggest changes that have occurred in the game over the years: ‘The boom in money. The quality of the pitches. Also, the aggression has gone from the game, and English fans love the aggressive side.' The use of stats and computer analysis is another big change in modern-day football, Big Ron's opinion is: ‘Stats should only be used once a player has been recognised.'

The England team

The England national team has achieved little to shout about in recent years and they were once again sent home early from a major competition this summer in the European Championships. We finished by asking Ron about England, their failures in major competitions, and who should be the next manager. But first, he had this to say when asked what would be considered a success for England at the World Cup in 2018: ‘ Winning the blooming thing! I don't believe in all this let's get out of the group stuff.'

Do you regret never managing England?

Not really. I was asked a few times, but managing big clubs was just as good at the time, if not better. I think taking the England job was more for when you didn't want to manage from day-to-day.

Why do England continue to fail in major competitions?

We try to be too patient on the ball, but we're not good at it. Teams like Germany and Spain are far better at being patient. England need to play at a high-tempo, it suits our players more when we do. England also needs to have some players that can dribble, as we're lacking that at the moment. Ross Barkley would be a good option, but he isn't in good form at Everton. Jack Wilshere is another one who could help England; He's a terrific player and hopefully Bournemouth will be the making of him.

Who should be the next England manager?

First off, they have to be English. I wanted Sam Allardyce or Steve Bruce the last time around. Bruce has just gone to Aston Villa, but if he was Spanish, and he had played for Real Madrid and managed teams like Real Sociedad and Getafe, he would have been given the Spain job. But it's different in England: English managers don't get the same opportunities.

Eddie Howe has also been mentioned. I'm a fan of his, but he's too young and it's too soon for him. He has to make another step before he gets the England job. Gareth Southgate looks to be the favourite for the job now. I think he could do well.

Ron Atkinson: The Manager, is available to buy now.

Danny Glendenning

Passions include reading, sport, and nights out with friends. A football fanatic whose writing career began in May 2016. Now 30 years old, lives in South Yorkshire - local team is Doncaster Rovers, although heart lies with Arsenal. Contributing editor for It's Round And It's White. Current claim to fame is an interview with Ron Atkinson. Always looking for work, either editing or writing. Contact via email: Dannysg1988@outlook.com. Or Twitter: @DannySG1988.



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