Do you remember the first thing Sir Alex Ferguson said to you during the summer of 2006 when United declared an interest in you? How did he envisage your role within the team?
“We didn’t really speak about that, to be honest. He didn’t need to sell the club in any way; he didn’t need to sell it to me in terms of where I played or how I played or anything. As soon as I knew they were interested it was a no-brainer: I was coming regardless. But the first time I met him and went into his office for the first time and had that one-on-one conversation, it was quite nerve-wracking. It was more of an introduction. He just said: “You’ll enjoy it here. You’ll love playing for this club. It’s a great club, and you’re playing with great players. Hopefully you work hard and improve. You’ve got to live up to the standards that we’ve set over the years.”
How much do you recall of your first day of training with your team-mates?
“It was daunting! I was 25 at the time, quite established – I had played for England – but walking into that United dressing room was daunting. There were big characters and world-class players. It’s two-fold, really. You’ve got to fit into the dressing room, find your place in there and create relationships – but then you’ve also got to gain the trust of the lads on the pitch as well, through training and playing. It’s a massive part of integrating with the squad. And having to do that with the players I was stepping into the squad with was daunting. But at the same time it was a big challenge and something that I was really excited about.”
The league campaign was incredibly tight that first year, 2006/07. How did United manage to find an extra gear when coming from behind to overhaul Chelsea?
“I think it was a bit of everything. There was a huge amount of belief in each other and individual confidence, and the spirit within the group was unbelievable. The belief and the trust in each other was there, and obviously an awful lot of quality as well. Someone would step up when we needed them to. We
always had players that we thought would create chances and score goals for us, which was a massive thing to have. So we always felt in a game, whether we were 1-0 down or 2-0 down, that we’d get opportunities towards the end of the game to.”
You’ve mentioned getting to grips with the intensity of training and earning the trust of your team-mates during your first few months. Was there one match or moment were you thought to yourself: this is where I belong?
“Not really, no, I think it was just over time. Probably the highlight of that first season for me was the Roma game – winning 7-1 at home. But there was a gradual build-up and improvement as time went on and I felt more and more comfortable. I couldn’t really say there was one moment that stands out. I was just so happy to be here playing with a team as good as we were. Tottenham, where I came from, had a good team, but it was such a big jump to playing with the team Thad joined. I was more in awe of being in the team and just enjoying the experience.”