Mike Phelan out of Fergie's shadow and thriving as Hull City boss
When Manchester United began life after Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2013, Mike Phelan ushered in the new era by watching the Community Shield victory against Wigan Athletic from the Wembley Stadium press box, providing analysis for a local radio station.
Three months earlier, he had helped plot the club's 20th league championship as Ferguson's right-hand man, but the winds of change generated by the Scot's retirement cost Phelan his job, with David Moyes operating an 'out with the old, in with the new' policy.
For Phelan, now preparing to face his old club this evening as Hull City caretaker-manager, it has been a long road back, but United's post-Ferguson journey has not been without its potholes and diversions either and the 53-year-old admits that being a victim of Moyes' cull was perhaps not the worst career move.
"There's a disappointment, because you know what you are leaving behind," Phelan said yesterday, as he discussed his reunion with United. "There is always an uncertainty when someone new comes in because you don't know which way it is going to go.
"It became a little bit turbulent in the last two or three years, looking from the outside in, of course. They seem to be correcting that now and moving on, though."
United and Phelan (pictured with Ferguson) meet again looking each other in the eye today, with Hull matching the Old Trafford club's 100 per cent start to the season.
But while Jose Mourinho has spent almost £150m on three new faces, plus the free transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to bolster United's ambitions, Phelan has guided Hull to back-to-back Premier League wins having failed to make a single new signing since Steve Bruce, who resigned last month, secured promotion last May.
With Hull waiting to hear whether the proposed takeover by a Chinese consortium passes the Premier League's suitability test, Phelan and his squad have certainly punched above their weight to start so impressively.
But life at the sharp end as caretaker-manager has not been easy. "It would be wrong to say I haven't been frustrated," Phelan said. "There are times when it has been more frustrating, but from a football sense in training with the players, that's not frustrating.
"The other side can be - being at the other end of a phone call, how people sometimes deliver details to you makes you wonder what is going on.
"But my job right now is to prepare for a match against one of the best teams in the league and it doesn't come any better than that."
Injuries are biting hard, however, and Phelan faces United with just 13 senior players available.
"You can't win can you?" he said. "I think we would be a little bit delusional to think that 13 fit players could take you through a Premier League season. What's important is that you try and create a healthy club that can generate good football and be interesting for fans - and others.
"Yes, we have to build on what we have achieved, but it won't be easy. Our next few fixtures are pretty tasty."
Phelan is undoubtedly now doing the job that he has wanted to do since leaving United three years ago, having decided to pursue a career in management following Ferguson's retirement.
But the former United midfielder, a member of the club's first Premier League-winning team in 1992-93, concedes that life after Ferguson was something that he did little planning for. "Not many people lose their jobs because a manager retires," he said. "It was three years ago, but it seems like 30.
"My situation was that a new manager came in (Moyes) and he didn't want me involved. I know football well enough to accept it and move on.
"For the first six months after leaving, I just wanted to chill out and get away from it all. I didn't want to get involved in football too much really.
"But then all of a sudden, you talk to your mates and see people on your travels and you talk about football and start to get the buzz back.
"The difficulty after that is, 'how do you make that next step or career move?'
"There seems to be only certain times of the year when you can get back into football, but I was patient and did homework.
"I got myself around, did a bit of radio and telly, which was an experience in itself.
"It was a good experience, but when you have left school and gone straight into football - and been in football ever since - it is the only thing I can turn my hand to."
Having spent more than a decade working on Ferguson's staff, however, Phelan accepts he may have stayed too long.
"I think there is always a case for that," he said. "Assistant managers have stayed a short time as an assistant, gone into management and obviously tried to make a go of it.
"But it is a cut-throat environment and I felt all along that I was working at a club that was massively successful and when you get into that successful stream of things, why do you want to step outside of that?
"You are working with some of the best quality players out there, you've got a magnificent stadium and facilities to work in with supporters who are turning up in their thousands every week and you think, 'this is the life to live'.
"There is no reason to step outside of that. Plus, if you do want to step outside of it, you have to ask permission and sometimes that wouldn't be granted. But when it happened, it is just a case of, 'what is the next step?'
"You don't make rash decisions on things like that until you know what the next step is. And when that was discussed, it was discussed in a way that there were going to be changes, there were going to be other members of staff coming in, so you cut your cloth accordingly.
"But you learn a few things and get a bit of your own identity about what you'd like to do.
"I've reached that point now. I'm 53 and it's coming to the point where I want to try and put myself out there."
Phelan, who admits to retaining a close relationship with Ferguson, is expected to be handed the Hull job on a permanent basis once the takeover process is completed.
But while they remain in a state of flux off the field, he admits that his former employers finally appear to have bridged the gap to the Ferguson era by installing Mourinho as manager.
"They have changed a lot already since (I left)," Phelan said. "They have looked at certain things and have finally got the balance they were looking for. And they have got a manager in now who is second to none. He has had a good start and has invested in some very good players.
"I have been in Jose's company on numerous occasions and he is a tremendous guy. He is full of enthusiasm and he probably now finds himself at a club that he has probably always had a deep desire for.
"He has to find a way to produce the winning formula. But he is the right man at the right time. I am sure United have chosen wisely, but it's up to him now, he has to deliver."