Crossing the divide Red winger who turned blue
Russian regrets that his former club no longer play with abandon and would prefer to see Guardiola in charge at Old Trafford, he tells James Ducker
There was nothing subtle about Andrei Kanchelskis as a player. With his arms propped out on either side, as if he had a coat hanger lodged in his jersey, the rampaging Russian winger would knock the ball past a defender and invariably leave them for dead with his sheer power and pace. Fancy tricks and flicks? Forget it. More than 20 years since his heyday playing for Manchester United, though, Kanchelskis is still going for the jugular.
His last appearance at Old Trafford was actually on loan for Manchester City against United, a game infamous for Roy Keane’s wild tackle on Alf-inge Haaland. But while Kanchelskis, despite straddling the divide, is very clear that his loyalties will lie with the red half of Manchester in Sunday’s derby, the last player to claim a hat-trick in the fixture is less taken with Jose Mourinho or his brand of football.
Kanchelskis makes no apology for saying he would have preferred to see the City manager, Pep Guardiola, at United, just as he dedicated a section of his new autobiography, Russian Winters, to arguing they erred by appointing David Moyes over Ryan Giggs in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. The game may have changed since Kanchelskis claimed the last of his two back-to-back Premier League titles with United in 1994, but his belief wide play and entertainment go hand in hand remains undimmed, and he sees an advocate of both in Guardiola, not Mourinho.
“At the moment, yes,” Kanchelskis says when asked if he would have had Guardiola over Mourinho at Old Trafford. “Man City look a bit better – a higher level than United. United have big names, big players but, looking at the games, City are making a better demonstration of football. Andrei Kanchelskis is one of a select band of players to have represented both Manchester clubs. An attacking right-sided midfielder, he joined United from Shakhtar Donetsk for £650,000 in March 1991 and made 123 appearances, scoring 28 goals. He was a key part of the team that won the League Cup in 1992, the league title in 1993 and 1994 and the FA Cup in 1994. He was the club’s leading scorer the following season with 15 goals in 32 games. He then had spells at Everton, Fiorentina and Rangers, who sent him out on loan to Manchester City where he made 10 appearances, scoring once, in an FA Cup fifth-round defeat at Liverpool Manchester United need someone now looking to play wingers. Money is not a problem, so maybe look for two good wingers – left and right. Mourinho plays more defensively. “Some games, I am not happy [watching United]. It is not like we played under Ferguson. We always played with wingers. Now it is City who play with wingers and you can see City are scoring a lot of goals. United need width to stretch defences.
“When I played, we played to enjoy games and there would be improvisation – sometimes we would play in a different way. Cantona, Giggsy, myself, Mark Hughes. Now, for me, you’re looking at one or two good players.”
It is little surprise, then, that Kanchelskis looks vaguely incredulous when asked if United’s 1994 team – “real tough b-------” as Ferguson once called them – would beat the current crop. “Yes, definitely,” he says. “No problem.”
Kanchelskis played with one of the great goalkeepers in Peter Schmeichel but he believes United are still too reliant on David de Gea, who goes into the derby on the back of making 14 saves in last Saturday’s 3-1 win against Arsenal.
“Marcus Rashford is good but David De Gea is the best player,” says Kanchelskis. “If not for De Gea, United would not be in second position but fifth or sixth because he is an exceptional goalkeeper. Like Peter Schmeichel, he has helped. He is absolutely brilliant.”
There was little doubt Kanchelskis’s standout moment in a United shirt came when he scored a hat-trick against City in a 5-0 thumping in November 1994 and, as he surveys the modern-day City, it is clear the Russian has difficulty associating the club now with the one he encountered over a fourmonth period in 2001. Out of favour under Dick Advocaat at Rangers at the time, Kanchelskis had answered an SOS from City manager Joe Royle, who had persuaded him to join Everton over Middlesbrough from United six years earlier with a pitch that included the line: “Why
Shifting loyalties: Andrei Kanchelskis played for both Manchester clubs Confidence: Andrei Kanchelskis says his United team would beat the current one