Daniel Nardiello has reflected on his time at Manchester United and he has expressed regret that he should have stayed at the club for another year.
The former Wolves player signed for United in 1999 and signed his first professional deal in October of the same year.
He would need to wait until November 2001 to make his first team debut, in a tough 4-0 loss to Arsenal in the League Cup.
Nonetheless, on reflection, the score has little impact on the former striker’s memory of the experience.
Speaking to The Manchester Evening News, he claimed, “don’t get me wrong, looking back at it now, from a 40-year-old’s perspective, it’s something I’m extremely proud of that I managed to do, not many people manage to pull on that shirt and represent Manchester United’s first team”.
“It’s something I look back on with real pride. At the time, I was an 18-year-old kid and you sort of just take it in your stride at that age, so I didn’t really realise the achievement of playing for Manchester United’s first team until my older age and when I retired”.
The former Barnsley striker also revealed the great experiences that he had training with the quality of players that were part of the United senior side at the turn of the millennium, such as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. However, there was one player who stood out even above the rest of the great names.
“Keane was unbelievable. If training wasn’t right… I actually remember him stopping training a couple of times to make sure the lads were doing the work and doing things right. He expected 100% effort and commitment from lads all the time in training”.
The Irish legend was famed for his aggressive and demanding nature on the pitch but it was the nurturing role on the training pitch that most impressed the English forward.
“It was the encouragement levels he gave you as well. I don’t know if people saw this but the encouragement he gave specifically to me was second to none, he guided me in certain aspects and also encouraged me a lot. I remember him playing a couple of reserve team games and it was nothing but good advice and guidance and encouragement”.
Nardiello had the chance to play with another United great and spoke glowingly about the player’s talent, even at such a young age.
The player’s last appearance for the club came in place of Cristiano Ronaldo, with the attacker replacing the Portuguese ace in the latter stages of a 2-0 defeat to West Brom in the 2003/04 Carling Cup.
“He [Ronaldo] was clearly an unbelievably talented young lad when I was there, I think when he signed he was 18 or 19. You could see in training and in games that he obviously had a lot of ability and potential, but I don’t know if anyone would have predicted how amazing his career would be”.
The 41 year old would go on to make four appearances for the Red Devils, three from the bench, but it is the game he started and actually won, that he naturally feels the most special connection to.
“It was great starting a game and again there were no nerves or anything like that, it was just a case of trying to do as well as I could on the day,” Nardiello added. “Looking back now and looking at the starting line-up from that game, it was a really strong starting eleven, with me being probably the weakest link in the starting eleven”.
However, game time was tough to come across, so he went on loan to Swansea for a month and then to Barnsley, where he scored seven times in 16 appearances.
After returning, Nardiello had an open conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson where he offered him to stay but suggested the right step for his career would be to move on in search of regular game time to develop.
“I kind of knew it was coming towards an end, I got to a certain age where I was playing regularly on loan at decent-sized clubs, but it wasn’t Premiership clubs. I got called into the office by Sir Alex, had a sit-down with him and he said he could give me another year, but he said he thought I should go out on a permanent basis and play regular football”.
“I think he was just being kind saying he could give me an extra year, looking back I probably should have said, ‘Give me that extra year then’ but it seemed like the natural end to my time there.
“I don’t think I was upset, it was just one of those things you have to deal with in football. It was an end of an era in terms of leaving Manchester United, but I was just focused on building my career.”
The player has no resentment towards his former manager and told a heart-warming story where the two ran into each other in a hospital visit, 10-15 years after he left the club and the player was left astounded by the fact the legendary manager praised him for his displays and goalscoring for Bury.
“He came over to me and said, ‘You’re doing really well, scoring goals at Bury’. I was thinking, ‘How does he even know, 10 or 15 years after I’d left the club, that I’m at Bury towards the end of my career?’. How he knew that after however many years it was, to come up to start speaking to me, the physio I was with was in shock!”
The striker would go on to play 368 times, scoring 138 goals in the lower divisions.