Formerly serving as Sir Alex Ferguson’s second-in-command, Mike Phelan (pictured, left) is hitting back at his old club.
Manchester United is suffocating under a severe wave of injuries, with seven players currently on the shelf and most places reporting 43 individual injuries suffered this season.
And not everyone is willing to buy that it’s a fluke.
“What’s happened is a continuation of the same players getting injured all the time, so you have to look to the reasons why,” said Phelan, now a top assistant at Norwich City in the Championship. “I think Manchester United changed their thoughts on the fitness regime, they looked at it a little bit differently.
Phelan believes the personnel who were in place during his time at Old Trafford were the right men for the job, but things are different now.
“Tony Strudwick, who was operating as head of sports science, was involved day to day with the first-team. He understood the ins and outs of how to keep players fit, how to keep them ready for competition. Then suddenly they moved him sideways and did something completely different. That may have had an effect. That one area has changed.”
Strudwick was the head of fitness at Manchester United since 2007, all the way until after the World Cup this summer when Louis van Gaal appointed him “head of athletic development” and now oversees mostly youth training and fitness. Van Gaal brought in fellow Dutchman Jos van Dijk to succeed Strudwick at his former position.
“They’ve brought in new people with a different way of doing things. The intensity of training may be one thing – it may be too intense, or not intense enough – but obviously slight changes have been made with the present way of doing things.”
Chris Smalling was the most recent player to suffer a concern, going off in the 18th minute of their close 2-1 win over Southampton this past weekend, replaced by Jonny Evans who himself was just returning from an injury problem that has kept him out most of the season.
And Phelan isn’t convinced that the club did enough to strengthen the team during the summer to prevent this kind of thing from happening, instead focusing on big-money buys.
“I would have thought [the squad] is big enough at Manchester United, because they can go out and get players in, but obviously they keep breaking down and they don’t seem to be getting any better. They seem to get one back and lose another two.”
The injuries have forced a number of young products into duty a little earlier than the Red Devils would probably have liked, including defenders Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett. While Blackett has impressed a couple of times, McNair was withdrawn minutes before halftime on a puzzling tactical change that Louis van Gaal said was caused by a lack of confidence by McNair.
It’s gotten so bad that Evans, following the win over Southampton said bench players are “expecting someone to get injured.” That’s no bueno.