Exclusive: The Boot Room meets Jamie Jackson, author of 'A Season in the Red'

This week, The Boot Room had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Jackson, journalist and author of the excellent ‘A Season in the Red: Managing Man United in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson.’ In his debut publication he charts the disastrous team-month reign of David ‘The Chosen One’ Moyes before analysing the club’s first season under the Iron Tulip, Louis van Gaal.

 

Speaking to the site during our exclusive interview, here is what he had to say:

Hi Jamie. Congratulations on the early success of ‘A Season in the Red’, we think it’s excellent! To get us started, why did football journalism appeal so much to you as a career path? And what advice would you give to younger, aspiring writers looking to break into the industry? 

First of all thank you for your kind words about the book. Regarding football journalism, my long-term ambition is to be a writer of books: of novels, non-fiction, biography, short stories, and poetry. I took up journalism as a way in. I have a masters degree in the subject and it became clear I wanted to do sports hackery. From there, after many enjoyable years covering boxing, athletics, rugby, the Olympics, the first T20 cricket world cup, football and etcetera, the job to become the Manchester football correspondent came up and, really, it is the job so I grabbed the chance.

In terms of advice in how to break into the industry, mine is simple, but maybe difficult to actually grasp/believe. Don’t ever give up. Remember there is always a way into anything.

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Having previously worked for various news outlets, what made you decide to transgress from article-based journalism? 

Why did I write A Season in the Red? The reason is simple, as I mentioned above – to be able to author a book and do so in the novelistic, thriller style ASITR is penned in. I had and have no interest in writing a normal, journalistic-ilk account of Manchester United post-Ferguson. So style and aesthetic were as important as story in the decision. And, as they should be, each were intertwined: that is the story of United post-Ferguson DEMANDED a stylistic, thriller-esque approach as this is the nature of the yarn.

You refer to the Manchester United players having failed David Moyes, but were they ultimately to blame, or was it a case of the Scot failing to win/losing the dressing room? Did the so-called ‘credibility gap’ prevent him from charming and demanding the respect required of his players? 

The failure of Moyes was not solely his fault but he has to carry the can as that is the name of the managerial game. Players – especially the senior ones, of which there were legion – should not look back with too much pride. Some of them never fancied Moyes from the start despite being millionaires whose livelihood derived from being hyper-professional.

As the book states, Moyes was seriously snookered from the moment he accepted the job. A brighter manager, with that extra dimension possessed by a Ferguson or Mourinho would have found a way. Moyes could not.

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In your opinion do you feel David Moyes deserved longer in charge, or like many others, do you believe the lack of improvement during his tenure ultimately cost him his job? At one stage you suggest that the Scot’s failure to qualify for the Europa League – as an absolute minimum – was a major factor behind his sacking. Do you really believe he would have retained his job had he managed to do so? 

In a sense once he is given the six-year contract, despite not being United’s No1 choice (as Ferguson’s recent book clarifies), Moyes might have expected to at least have had the opening, say, third of a second season. Yet, really, the club waited too long before removing him. The manner of performances was the concern and these seemed to become poorer the longer Moyes was in the job.

Yes, I really believe that United would have found it difficult to sack him if Europa League football had been secured.

You also refer to the ‘New-age Manchester United 2.0’ – a more media savvy entity finally embracing the concept of digital globalisation following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson – but do you make of the club’s new approach? Has it represented a wider lack of discipline and a loss of secrecy that has somehow harmed the club’s fortunes over the past 24 months? 

I like the new approach. I think its bold, streetwise and charismatic. I’m not sure there’s been any loss of secrecy, just a more open ethos that makes the club welcoming to fans (and media) and which illustrates how hyper-slick and modern United have become since Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, became the most important figure there, rather than Ferguson.

The idea of widening the club to the United States is an interesting concept? Firstly, can you explain why Manchester United view Manchester City’s efforts in the States – namely the launch of their New York franchise team (NYFC) – as ‘weakening the brand’? On a side note, how far do you feel the Manchester United American dream will/can go? 

The “weakening the brand” thing is, I think, because of NYCFC wearing the same colours and kind of being like a City American brother/cousin. I’m not sure I agree with this view of United’s, but it is the prevailing one.

The United-American Dream has a potential that should excite fans – the club is only at the very start of realising this. There is a gold-rush on from European giants in the States and United have the clout and glamour to be the true winners.

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You refer to Ed Woodward as a relative ‘novice’ in the transfer market and describe the continual problems caused by David Moyes’ indecisiveness. We have seen a similar situation this summer, with the most recent Pedro debacle being the most memorable example. This makes us wonder, is Louis van Gaal proving just as much of a ditherer as the Scot? 

Given the David De Gea situation ended and how he’s now playing superbly for United again there seems a defining difference between LvG and Moyes but I take the point about Pedro. Again, though, Anthony Martial seems to have been the buy Pedro might have been and this is thus far proving shrewd business from Van Gaal.

It has been interesting viewing the club’s reaction to missing out on reported targets. You cite the approach for Cesc Fabregas last summer, during which the club denied all interest, and we have witnessed a similar scenario with the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Pedro this time round. Would the fans be naïve in thinking this is genuinely the case, or are the club simply attempting to cloud their failings in the market?

A bit of both really. What was really interesting was the reaction from United supporters to my story on Twitter about Neymar being open to joining. Instead of a kind of bullish reaction, as in “Yes-why-not? We should be going for the top players”, there was derision as if he could never possibly wish to sign. Really? Why not? This is Manchester United. Where was the strut and the arrogance and the Masters of the Universe attitude from supporters of the 20-times champions? This seems an apt illustration of the continuing post-Ferguson aftershocks that A Season in the Red is all about.

It is easy to forget the pure number of injuries the club faced throughout the opening months of Louis van Gaal’s first few months and Old Trafford. Do you believe that this cost the Dutchman a shot at the Premier League title in his debut season, or was the club’s poor early form down to the transition phase the player’s were forced to endure as they adjusted to the new manager’s methods? 

I think the players grappled all season with the two Ps: Philosophy and Process. And I also think the squad was just not good enough. So the injuries were, really, a red herring.

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Obviously the theme of Van Gaal’s ‘philosophy’ – whatever that may be – runs throughout the course of the chapters you have dedicated to the Dutchman, but if you had to summarise his methods in the form of a hypothetical checklist – a list of all the traits a player must possess to satisfy his requirements – what would it consist of? 

  1. Listen to LvG.
  2. Possess a high talent.
  3. Continue to listen to LvG.
  4. Consistency of performance in training.
  5. Still listen to LvG.
  6. Consistency of performance on game-day.
  7. Ear remains cocked in LvG’s direction.
  8. Nothing else really as the rest of what VG calls The Philosophy is the normal stuff of management for all players. Keep the head down. Be polite. Represent the club well. And, of course, listen to the gaffer.

From our perspective, it seemed that Manchester United were still able to attract the biggest names even without the lure of Champions League football during their time outside of Europe. How long do you feel the club would have continued to attract the best without involvement in this major competition? Is it a lot to do with the reputation of the manager in charge? 

Yes, reputation helps. An illustration is found in Van Gaal stepping in to secure Memphis Depay towards the end of last season when Paris Saint-Germain were hovering. His relationship with the youngster when coaching him for Holland was key here. But, maybe, if United had not been returned to the CL by VG Depay would have ignored the intervention and signed for PSV and European Cup football. So this means that being in the CL is pretty important when it comes to attracting the best.

The fate of Ander Herrera continues to puzzle Manchester United fans. Despite showing great promise throughout the latter half of the previous campaign, he continues to be overlooked by Louis Van Gaal? Why do you think this is, and can you see him forcing his way back into the starting line-up this season?  

He is obviously now back in and you are correct, this is now the second time Herrera has had to prove himself to VG. I have to say that having observed AH close-up both on and off the field, he seems the epitome of a United player and a VG philosophy player as he is as smart and bright when speaking as he is when playing.

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Like Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw’s Manchester United move had been confirmed before Van Gaal’s arrival at Old Trafford. You highlight his early struggles for fitness and form under the Dutchman, but this term he already appears to have hit the ground running. Is he an LvG-kind-of-player, and will he live up to the expectation of being the Red Devils left back for the next decade? 

We’re obviously now speaking after LS’s awful injury which was a big shame as he had been, arguably, VG’s best footballer. Yes, he is a VG player, and yes I really think he will live up to the potential he possesses as Shaw is intelligent enough to analyse his game and what VG or any manager is saying and act upon it. As long as he retains his pace post the broken leg, Shaw could be the United and England left-back for the next decade or so.

You very astutely predict the sale of Robin van Persie and the departure of Radamel Falcao, before suggesting United would need to pay out for two new strikers. Is this still the case, even with Javier Hernandez back in the squad? Following this, what are your thoughts on Wayne Rooney’s ability to lead the line? 

Given his start, Martial may prove the game-changer and help Rooney. Who knows if AM can keep it up but the way he glides around the field and seems cold-eyed when he has a chance to score suggest VG was correct to allow RvP and JH to leave. Rooney’s best position is No10 so he’s also the winner if AM takes off.

To date, the club have witnessed the arrivals of Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian and free agent Sergio Romero this summer, but which player do you think will prove himself as the club’s best piece of business this season? 

Anthony Martial. A superstar who is starting to happen.

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You quote Ed Woodward, “The squad will be absolutely deep enough and ready to challenge on all fronts, all competitions next year.” Do you feel this is the case? Can the Red Devils for the Premier League, then Champions League and the FA Cup? What are your predictions for the outcome of the current season?

I do, actually. Not sure they’ll win any of CL and PL but United should be a force this term. If so, and a domestic pot is garnered that would be acceptable to Woodward.

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A Season in the Red by Jamie Jackson is published by Aurum Press (£18.99 Hardback). You can buy a copy here: http://www.quartoknows.com/books/9781781315125/A-Season-in-the-Red.html.

You can also follow Jamie on Twitter: @JamieJackson___

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