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Mark Bosnich On Manchester United, Aston Villa And Playing Under Big Ron & Sir Alex

Mark Bosnich On Manchester United, Aston Villa And Playing Under Big Ron & Sir Alex

An interview with Mark Bosnich, by Callum McFadden for WFi.


You joined Manchester United for the first time in 1988. How do you reflect on your first spell at the club?

“It was a brilliant experience for me. An education in football. I made some wonderful friends and learned what it would take to be a professional footballer at that level.

“My first spell was like a finishing school in how to be a footballer. I made my debut for the club in the old First Division and it was a wonderful opportunity for me as a young goalkeeper.”


You returned home to play for Sydney United before signing for Aston Villa in 1992. Was it always your ambition to return to English football?

“The last game that I played for Manchester United in my first spell was against Tottenham in front of 55,000 people so to go back home was a culture shock from what I was used to at United.

“My burning desire was to return to England and I knew that I would have to work as hard as I could to earn myself a move back to English football.

“My time at Sydney was an interesting one. I was actually sent off in a local game and struggled to win my place back in the team after that.

“Thankfully, the Villa interest was still there and came at an opportune time for me to return to England for my next challenge.”


You played at Aston Villa for seven years and played over 200 times for the club. Who were the big characters in the dressing room during your time there? 

“First and foremost, the biggest character of them all at Villa when I arrived was Ron Atkinson.

“He gave me the chance to return to England which I am grateful to him for. He was an experienced manager and also a wonderful man who was very funny.

“Then, in the dressing room, we had so many big characters on the playing side such as Paul McGrath, Dwight Yorke — who is a close friend of mine to this day — Steve Staunton, Andy Townsend, Dean Saunders and Nigel Spink. Gareth Southgate was also a part of our squad at that time too.

“I loved learning from Nigel because he was a European Cup winner with Aston Villa in the past and was a great person too.

“Sadly, some of the characters at Aston Villa that I had so much time and respect for are no longer with us.

“Les Sealy was great with me and I knew him from my Manchester United days which helped.

“Dalian Atkinson was another massive character as was Ugo Ehiogu who I was close to. It is a great shame that all three of those guys are no longer with us.

“We were a formidable side who finished 2nd in the inaugural Premier League season before going on to win two league cups over the next few years after that.

”Laterally in my time at Villa, Paul Merson came to the club and he was a top player who I learned a lot from too.

“Overall, Playing at Villa and having success with those players and staff including Ron Atkinson, Brian Little and John Gregory was a pleasure.”

Mark Bosnich Vila

28 Dec 1997: Mark Bosnich of Aston Villa celebrates a goal during the FA Carling Premiership match against Leeds United at Elland Road in Leeds, England. The match was drawn 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Mike Cooper /Allsport


You mentioned your friendship with Dwight Yorke. I spoke to him recently and he is renowned for what he achieved at Manchester United. What was he like as a young player at Aston Villa?

“Dwight was in and out of the team when he arrived because he was such a versatile footballer who could play in any of the attacking roles across the front of the pitch.

“I always think that versatility in football can be seen as a strength because you can bring different things to a team, but also a weakness in the sense that you can spend too much time playing in multiple positions without mastering one single position and making it your own.

“Thankfully, that was not the case for Dwight who then went on to establish himself as a top-class centre forward for Aston Villa in partnership with Savo Milošević.

“They were outstanding together for us in 1995/96 when we won the League Cup, reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and finished 4th in the Premier League.

“Dwight scored goals for fun during that season and that was a pattern that followed him in his career wherever he went.

“I always remember telling Sir Alex Ferguson at the time when he signed Dwight that he would help win him the Champions League which proved to be the case in 1999 when United won the treble.”


You won the league cup twice against Manchester United and Leeds. What was it like to play in winning teams at Wembley? 

“Playing in those occasions and winning trophies at Wembley is special. I especially remember the first final against Manchester United because it was my old club and because my parents and my sister were in the crowd to watch the match.

“We had lost the three previous league games leading up to the final so to win the trophy on that day was a dream come true.

“I will never forget being 2-1 up in the game after being 2-0 up before Mark Hughes scored for United to bring them back into the game.

“Then, with a few minutes to go when we were awarded a penalty which if we scored, would all but seal the cup for us.

“I remember turning my back on play to face the crowd with Paul McGrath as the penalty was about to be taken. We stood at the halfway line and knew that the fans’ reaction would tell us what had happened.

“Thankfully, for us, the crowd went crazy as Dean Saunders scored the penalty in injury time to put us 3-1 up which was the way it ended. That was a glorious day.

“The second final against Leeds was a different feeling for us because we went into the game as favourites such was our strong season in 95/96.

“Thankfully, Savo Milošević got us off to the perfect start with an early goal for us to take the lead.

“From there, Leeds put some pressure on us before Dwight scored to double our advantage. Later in the game, Ian Taylor finished the game off to cap off an impressive 3-0 victory.

“Winning trophies are what you dream about as a player and I am grateful that I was able to achieve success with Aston Villa at Wembley twice during my time there.”


What were Ron Atkinson and Brian Little like to work with? 

“Both were brilliant managers. They were similar in the sense that both were tactically astute managers.

“Ron came up with a great game plan in the 1994 League Cup final which was to cut the supply lines to Andrei Kanchelskis and it paid off handsomely for us.

“Brian gave a great motivational speech ahead of the Leeds games which had us all raring to go because we knew exactly what he expected of us at all times under him.

“The main difference between them was that Brian was a little more measured about things on a day-to-day basis whereas Ron was full on and would not be shy in telling you what he was pleased with from you or what he felt needed to be improved upon.

”Overall, I experienced success under both of them.”


Sir Alex Ferguson signed you for a second time in 1999. How proud were you to return to Old Trafford and win the Premier League?

“Winning the Premier League was a dream come true. We amassed the highest points tally in Premier League history for a title winner at that time which was great to be a part of. We had a great team and that record stood for twenty years.

“We also won the Intercontinental Cup — now known as the Club World Cup — against Brazilian side Palmerias in Tokyo which was an incredible achievement for the club. We became the first British side to win the trophy so it was nice to create history in that regard too.”


I have to ask: what was Sir Alex Ferguson like to play under?

“He had changed significantly from my first spell at the club to my second.

“As a young kid, he was building up teams in the hope of being successful whereas when I returned, he had achieved great success at home and abroad with Manchester United and you could immediately sense that winning aura from him.

“He would be upfront with every player and praise you when you performed well for him but also tell you in no uncertain terms when you had not performed to the standard he demanded.

“He was very hard on you when he had to be but he was always fair.

“If you crossed the line with him, there was no way back. He had that level of control.

“However, I am fortunate to have worked with him for 3 years as a kid coming through then for another 18 months as an established professional.

”I learned so much from him and I will be forever grateful to him for being me my first opportunity to play in English football in 1988.”


How do you reflect on your time at Old Trafford in your second spell overall?

“It was very successful as was shown by winning two prestigious trophies in one year.

“I also had amazing experiences such as playing for the club in the Bernabeu as well as playing regularly at Old Trafford.

“Although, it was disappointing that it ended the way that it did. I should have played there for much longer but such is life. That is the way things work out sometimes.”


Who would you pick out as the best players you played with?

“I have played with so many top footballers over the years. Dwight Yorke, Ryan Giggs and Gianfranco Zola were spectacular footballers who stood out for me.

”I was also fortunate to play alongside many more top-class talents such as Jaap Stam, Paul McGrath, Marcel Desailly, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and John Terry.

“Great days.”


Last but not least, Mark, since retirement, you have gone on to become a successful football pundit across the world. How does punditry compare to playing and how much do you enjoy the role?

”Punditry is not as good as playing the game, it has to be said. There is nothing like playing the game.

“Although, punditry is the next best thing. I loved my playing career and I love what I do now as a pundit. I enjoy researching the games that I am due to cover because I have always loved football and it is great to dive into it for my job.

”I love talking about the game that I love and I always make sure that I remember the responsibility of my words as a pundit.

”I think back to my career and how opinions could affect me and my family so I am empathetic of players and always give as fair an opinion as I can.

“Our job is to give an insight into the game that they are watching without making things overly complicated.

“We have great tools such as xG and average player positions which can help us add greater detail to the games that we are analysing.

”It is also important to remember that stats can only tell you so much. Individual performances can fly in the face of stats.

“For example, Liverpool had a high xG against Real Madrid in the 2022 Champions League final but came up against a world-class goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois who played to his level and it is important to get that across to the viewer in addition to what the stats can tell you.

”Keeping things concise and to the point is crucial because you have your producer in your ear letting you know what we have coming up next.

“For those that know me, they must think that being concise must be hard for me as I can talk a lot as you now know, Callum (laughs).”

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