Hull City v Manchester United: Locked at the top but still worlds apart

RELAXED APPROACH: Hull caretaker manager Mike Phelan before the League Cup midweek match at Exeter. Picture: Simon Galloway/PA
RELAXED APPROACH: Hull caretaker manager Mike Phelan before the League Cup midweek match at Exeter. Picture: Simon Galloway/PA
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IF he was asked to offer his take on the summer transfer manoeuvrings at his current club in comparison with his former one, chances are that Mike Phelan might offer a wry smile.

The two clubs in question, Hull City and Manchester United, collide at the KCOM Stadium this tea-time and it is to Phelan’s immense credit that the pair have the same number of points two games in – even accounting for the vast chasm between them in terms of market strategies.

Mike Phelan pictured in his days as assistant to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).

Mike Phelan pictured in his days as assistant to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).

While FA Cup holders United have flexed their considerable muscle in some powerhouse dealings, headlined by the staggering £90m acquisition of Paul Pogba, Hull are yet to make a ripple in the water.

During his long stint at Old Trafford alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, Phelan was accustomed to seeing a conveyor belt of big-money captures ushered in, tout de suite.

Those days must seem an eternity ago for Phelan, who is entrusted with somehow plotting the downfall of his former club tonight with barely enough senior players to field a side.

Caretaker manager Phelan is just about clinging onto the hope that the closeness of Wednesday’s transfer deadline may somehow stimulate some transfer activity.

But he will not be holding his breath, given that Hull – whose mooted takeover by a group of Chinese consortia is in the hands of the Premier League with no sign of a quick resolution – have not signed a player for 361 days.

It is a case of make do and mend, with the Lancastrian’s phlegmatic attitude pretty admirable in the circumstances.

Phelan, who has bids in for “two or three players”, but with plenty of work still to do to get them over the line, said: “It would be wrong to say I have not been frustrated. There are times when it has been more frustrating, but from a football sense on the training ground with the players, that is not frustrating.

“People sometimes deliver details to you that make you wonder what is going on, but my job right now is to prepare this club for a match against one of the best teams in the league. It does not come any better than that.

“Wednesday will be here quickly and is fast approaching us and we have made no secret that we are trying to get players into the club. Business might be late, but business does get done late and we are in that situation now.”

On the reasons for Hull’s transfer imbroglio, he added: “I don’t know. You will have to ask the people who run the football club.

“Everybody, including myself, the coaches, the scouts, have all tried to play their part in the recruitment process. We can only do that as far as we possibly can because, when it comes down to the deals, it is up to the people who own this football club and I think they are trying. But we need to, probably, try a bit harder.”

As the old saying goes, what does not kill you makes you stronger, but it was certainly a lot more straightforward during Phelan’s time at Old Trafford, having previously also represented the club as a player.

If circumstances had been difficult, Phelan could have still been in the United dug-out today, having been part of the fixtures and fittings at the club under Ferguson’s masterful tenure before being controversially jettisoned by David Moyes.

After time out to recharge his batteries, Phelan – after a short stint at Norwich – found himself back in alongside his ex-team- mate Steve Bruce and he has now been afforded the chance to strike out on his own at 53.

As one would expect, he remains thoroughly grateful for serving the ultimate apprenticeship under Ferguson, even if that happy time was cut short by the Scot’s retirement.

Phelan said: “There is an industry at Manchester United that has to be seen. At the head of it all was one of the greatest managers that has ever been. For me to do my job was imperative and I took on that responsibility.

“After that, you learn a few things and get a little bit of your own identity about what you would like to do.

“I have reached that point now. I am 53 and it is coming to the point where I want to try and put myself out there. It has been great to do that here.

“I have not felt any pressure because I should not feel any with the circumstances of this football club. Everyone knows where we are at. I have just had to take on the role and pick the players.”

Remaining steadfastly philosophical about his exit from United in the summer of 2013, he added: “It wasn’t my decision to stay.

“I was told that new people would be coming in with the new manager and from that moment on, you just set your own stall out to try and do something else.”

Phelan’s grounded and relatively calm demeanour, given a chaotic summer which would have seriously tested the skills-set of Ferguson – even is his pomp – has been one reassuring constant and it is easy to why the respect from the current batch of Tigers players is forthcoming.

Among that number is left-back Andrew Robertson, who feels that Phelan has made the best of a pretty tough situation, with a crack at the full-time managerial role being the very least that he deserves, in Robertson’s eyes.

Robertson, who has confirmed he is ready to commit his long-term future to the club, with talks underway, said: “He has been relaxed and a calming influence on us all.

“I would like to see him get the job now. We have all grown closer together.

“He has got three wins, so I think he should get the job.

“That is up to the people up above. Hopefully, they make the right choice.”