Brian McClair did not do interviews when he was a player.
“I was a bugger for it. I just didn’t find the questions that interesting,” he says. “We didn’t have any media guidance or training and you could done by a headline and end up apologising to your team-mates. So I just stopped doing them.”
No pressure here then, chatting to one of the most interesting players of his generation about subjects as diverse as his love for vinyl records, Sir Alex Ferguson’s mischievous sense of humour and why he wanted to be a maths teacher if football didn’t come off. “The long holidays”.
The reason for breaking virtual bread with McClair on a morning Zoom call is twofold. Firstly his name is intertwined with Manchester United’s League Cup history on account of his match-winning display in the 1992 final.
That was the trophy that preceded the first league title of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, an important mental hurdle for English football’s coming force.
“Every competition we were involved in was progression to the ultimate thing to win the league. I can see the similarities with what’s happening now,” he says.
The feeling is something special is building for Erik ten Hag’s class of 2023 and this cup could act as a similar springboard.
“I really like Erik and yes, there’s similarities with Sir Alex Ferguson,” he says.
“Clearly Erik feels that discipline on and off-the-pitch is very important. Sir Alex would have done exactly the same as he did with Marcus [Rashford] with the time-keeping. Then there’s the winning culture, he’s not prioritised any games, he’s picked a team to win every game this week. It builds a momentum of its own.”
Secondly, he now co-hosts The Life of Brian: The Brian McClair Podcast, which was started during the pandemic and McClair describes as “like a chat down the pub with some really interesting people”.
Guests have included chef Michel Roux Jr, former nemesis Nigel Winterburn and Whispering Bob Harris.
The latest episode is with Brian O’Driscoll and McClair loves teasing insight from from those he’s sharing a mic with.
“People say I’m different. I’m not, I just have slightly different views and tastes from your average footballer,” he says. “Originally the podcast came out of what I used to do with Choccy’s Diary in the Manchester United magazine, which was a whimsical column I used to write.
“The first one was a pre-season trip to South Africa but I knew it came with Sir Alex Ferguson’s blessing because the editor would have had to pass it on to him. Very, very occasionally I got into trouble with it but I soon understood what I could get away with.
“I used to make things up for my own amusement to put in, which were usually the bits that got into the newspapers which I thought was astonishing. That’d inspire me to try something even more outrageous next time.
“I started it up again when I was coaching and the first-team players used to come and tell me things to put in there to embarrass their teammates. The information I got was incredible – not stuff they’d ever tell a journalist.”
McClair recently made headlines when pictures of him sporting a long, wispy beard and nursing a pint at his local emerged on social media. People assumed he’d either fallen on hard times or grown it as a disguise and the story even made the Corriere dello Sport.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in that newspaper while I was a player or in my coaching career and it’s quite an achievement to get into the biggest selling football newspaper in Italy even if it was a bit about how I was supposedly unrecognisable now,” he said.
“A Scottish journalist friend of mine sent me the link and his suggested headline was perfect: ‘Man gets old’.”
For the record, he’d let it grow during lockdown when you couldn’t get a haircut.
“It’s amusing really, part of letting it grow was for my entertainment,” he said.
“People still recognised me so it was the worst disguise in the world.”
The reaction was an insight into how people can get easily judged.
“It’s a shame really, people think because you look a particular way something is going on. Actually I’m only homeless on a Monday…”
McClair fancies the Red Devils to win tomorrow but is less optimistic about the takeover.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was no sale or there was some sort of investment,” he said.
“I don’t like it personally. I’ll be very interested to see what answers Manchester City give the Premier League in regard to their finances over a number of years.
“My idea of football is clearly Corinthian, the best teams win, the best players go wherever they want. Maybe I’m just naïve.”
You can watch and listen to Life of Brian: The Brian McClair Podcast here linktr.ee/life_with_brian. The latest episode with Brian O’Driscoll is out on Monday.