Big Norm could have been greatest: Atkinson
Northern Ireland hero Norman Whiteside could have been the best player of all time with a little more pace, according to former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson.
As a 16-year-old in 1982 Whiteside was given his first team debut by Atkinson and went on to reward the then Old Trafford boss with big performances and big goals.
Whiteside scored in FA Cup final wins over Brighton and Everton in 1983 and 1985 respectively, the latter one of the most memorable Wembley strikes of all time.
Speaking yesterday on Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show to publicise his new book 'Manager', Atkinson insisted that Whiteside had what it took to be the finest footballer of them all apart from one key ingredient.
"Norman was fabulous. He was top drawer," said Atkinson.
"If Norman Whiteside had had a shade more pace he might have been the best player of all time.
"Everyone associates Norman with being ultra competitive and ultra aggressive which he was but I tell you what he had a phenomenal football brain."
Atkinson, who was replaced by Sir Alex Ferguson in 1986, disputed that there was a drinking culture at Old Trafford during his time when players like Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson were terrace heroes.
"When Norman and Macca (McGrath) played for me at United there was no problem whatsoever," said the 77-year-old.
"I think what might have happened when they both had injuries they got involved in a lot of the social activities. I think that may have worked against them but week in week out they were two of our best players anyway."
On the iconic George Best, Atkinson added: "I play golf with a lot of young lads who didn't know that football existed before Sky and the Premier League and when I tell them George Best was as good as Lionel Messi they don't believe me."