Ben Thornley Column: United Improving All The Time is delighted to welcome Ben Thornley as the latest former Manchester United player to become a columnist of the website. Ben joins Kevin Pilkington as a former class of 92 member to write for us.

Ben’s autobiography is available for pre-order and is released on October 15th. “Tackled”, written with Dan Poole, can be ordered here. In his first column he talks about writing the book and how United are coming on at present.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] admit, I am very nervous about the book coming out! The author, Dan, tried two or three times to convince me that I had an interesting story to tell. I hope that it is. The angle would be different to that of other sporting autobiographies, and he had the idea that if we could enlist the help of all the players I’d played with, from the youth team upwards — players that knew me both before and after my injury — then curiosity alone would entice people into wanting to read it. My take was always “I never made it so why would people be interested in my story?” I have to say though, the response and support has been overwhelming!

United won 3-0 on Wednesday. It’s a great start — 3 points away from home with 3 scored and none conceded is nigh on the perfect start in European competition, in a group that, I believe, is really tough. If you win your 3 home games and take 3 points, 1 from each, on your travels then not only will you qualify but possibly qualify as group winners. Tougher assignments lie in wait, no question, and Young Boys will most probably finish at the bottom of the group — but it’s a solid start and with Paul Pogba showing his class with a tremendous brace and all round ‘captain’s’ performance, all fans are eager to see him churn these out on a more regular basis. It’s something he is more than capable of doing.

I believe we are improving all the time under Mourinho. We are an altogether more exciting team who can score goals, generally don’t concede many and have-at last-got pace in the side. I appreciate that Jose has a conservative approach going into certain fixtures but we proved at the Etihad last season that when we’ve nothing to lose and play with freedom of expression, we can beat the best the Premier League — and Europe, for that matter — has to offer. City won the league by a country mile so, at the time, they were the best. I would never criticise Mourinho — his record, whichever country he has managed in, boasts league titles, cups and Champions League trophies. That being said, the delivery of a domestic league and/or the Champions League is a must this time around — it’s been too long for a club of United’s stature!

There’s been a huge shift in style at the club over the last four years. I think people just have to respect just how much Mourinho has achieved and won. He has won trophies and got us back amongst the European elite again, so let’s get behind him, because we know we have a team capable. Consistency is going to be key. To win the Premier League, my reckoning is that you can realistically only afford to lose 5/6 games — we are already one third of the way there so a strong run of 10-12 games unbeaten will consolidate our place in the top 2/3 and put us in contention, therefore, to win the league. Hopefully.

Part of the criticism of United is their wingers. As a former winger I get asked about this a lot. Both our recognised ‘wingers’ have been our full backs for the last few seasons at least. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford prefer to play through the centre so we don’t really have any specialist operating wingers.

Very few, if any, teams play 4-4-2 these days. Most only play with one up top. I was brought up on 4-4-2 when wingers were an integral part of the structure of many a successful, championship winning team under SAF. Rightly or wrongly, the Premier League has adopted a more continental style with a tightly packed midfield and usually one up front. Out and out wingers are pretty much defunct, however, it is imperative that when the ball is worked into advanced wide areas, players can deliver accurate crosses into the box — especially when you have a powerful forward like Lukaku so he has something to attack.

Like I said, we need to win one of the big two trophies on offer, the Premier League or Champions League. It’s important for Utd to be in the Champions League every season but to be there by winning your own league or by being the holders in Europe would be a perfect scenario for a horde of fans that, this season, expect a big trophy to be delivered.

After three away wins on the bounce, everyone will be keen to see how United play at Old Trafford this weekend. Wolves won the Championship easily last season. They played a superior brand of enterprising, attacking flair football under a coach that the players want to evidently play for. They have speculated in the transfer market, won their first game in the Premier League early on to settle them down and they will take great heart from the fact they pegged back the champions — and it was no fluke!

They’ll be tough to beat and at Old Trafford, they’ll look to counter but as long as United are patient, then their superiority should tell in the end and they can use the last 2 victories as a springboard to move up the league, advance into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup and set themselves up for a critical October where four out of five games are at Old Trafford.


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Published by Ben Thornley

Ben Thornley

Class of 92 alumni. 14 appearances from 1994-1998. Autobiography now available for pre-order :

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