The Big Interview: Frank O'Farrell

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When Manchester United manager Frank O'Farrell walked into the Old Trafford boardroom, shortly after a 5-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, he probably knew that the Christmas spirit would be in short supply.

Still, he was ill-prepared for what followed that late December afternoon nearly 40 years ago.

"I'll never forget it," he recalled. "The secretary had a scrap of paper in front of him and he mumbled, 'We've terminated your contract'.

"Matt Busby was sat at the head of the table and he didn't utter a word.

"I thought 'I'm not going out of here without him telling me why', so I asked Busby.

"He looked straight ahead and said, 'No reason'.

"My time at Manchester United was over and a week later I was signing on the dole at Chorlton Labour Exchange.

"I'd never done that in my life – but that's what they put me through.

"I walked away from Old Trafford thinking about what Matt Busby had written in his Daily Mirror column, that 'Frank O'Farrell is probably the best signing I ever made'.

"But 15 months later he sacked me and I had to sue Manchester United to get a settlement.

"It's a long time ago, I know, but I had to do a lot of re-thinking about people after that experience.

"Somebody had judged I wasn't good enough and that was that."

O'Farrell was forging a powerful reputation as one of the brightest managers in Britain when Manchester United had come calling in June, 1971.

The likeable Irishman had guided unfashionable Leicester City to promotion and an FA Cup final appearance and Busby wanted O'Farrell to succeed him at Old Trafford three years after beating Benfica to lift the European Cup for the first time.

"Matt Busby came to see me at Leicester and we talked for hours at my house, and of course it was a wonderful opportunity," said O'Farrell.

"He admitted that he'd let things go, in terms of not bringing in new blood.

"He gave me a five-year deal and told me that I'd got three years to sort it out.

"It was a massive rebuilding job and that's what he presented me with, so I went there knowing that was the situation.

"The team was too old. Not good enough really. United still had great names – Bobby Charlton and Denis Law – but they were past their best."

By the middle of October, United were top of the old First Division, and with just two defeats in his first 20 games, he had engineered a promising revival.

United finished eighth in O'Farrell's first season in charge.

"The first thing I did when I went to Manchester United was make George Best the best-paid player," he said.

"I thought that was only right because he was the most skilful footballer. He could win games on his own and he did – George was that good.

"But on the flip-side I inherited the problems of George's hectic lifestyle. Some days he'd never show up for training – nobody knew where he was.

"He didn't turn in one morning and somebody said, 'Oh. George has gone to Spain on holiday' – it was the middle of the season, but he had just packed his bags and gone.

"I wasn't going to do my Mother Teresa bit, go out and bring

him back – I had to manage Manchester United.

"Every week you were protecting him, explaining why he wasn't there or whatever.

"You tried to keep it quiet, but when it did get out, George would be on the front and back pages.

"A manager's job is hard enough, and lot of my time was taken up by George, who was a big distraction."

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