Former Manchester United star Gary Pallister believes that the standard of pitches during his career prevented him from playing his natural game. Widely recognised as one of the finest ball-playing centre backs of his generation, Pallister did not do too badly despite the problems he faced with playing surfaces. He helped United win several trophies in the 1990s including four Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
However, in a recent interview with Betway about the art of defending, the ex-United star indicated that quality of pitches during that era did not play to his strengths.
“A lot of the issues were to do with the pitches,” said Pallister. “If you look at the pitches I played on in the early part of my career, they looked like rugby pitches. Nowadays they’re like bowling greens and you can take more risks if you trust the pitch.”
With pitch technology advancing rapidly during the 21st century, the current crop of Premier League players doesn’t face the same issues endured by Pallister when he was playing. Modern-day defensive training now requires the ball to be on the floor much more, something which should suit United’s new centre-back pairing. Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane are both comfortable with the ball at their feet and are expected to forge a formidable partnership at United. The Red Devils have been vulnerable defensively over the past few seasons, despite shelling out £80 million to sign Maguire from Leicester City in 2017.
Varane’s arrival from Real Madrid this summer should resolve their issues, with the World Cup-winner widely recognised as one of the best defenders in the business. One thing that should work in the United duo’s favour is the tactical shift away from two strikers to one amongst most top-flight clubs. Some clubs have gone a step further by employing a ‘false nine’ system – something that was an alien concept during Pallister’s time in the sport.
The ex-England international regularly faced a tough physical battle when he played, with teams generally deploying a ‘big man/little man’ combination in attack. That put Pallister up against some of the most fearsome number nines around and forced him to adopt a rather unusual technique to boost his physicality.
“In the early part of my career you’d get a lot of centre forwards who were pretty robust,” Pallister added.
“You think about some of them – Mick Harford and John Fashanu, for example. It was the job of these guys to mess with the centre-half and intimidate them. Physically, you’d have to be up to that kind of challenge, and it was something that I found hard when I first started in football because I was very slight. You got pushed around by some of these bigger guys and it’s something that I had to try and learn to deal with.
“That included weights and a maybe a few glasses of Guinness to try and beef myself up.”