Norwich midfielder David Fox insists Manchester United knockback was the making of him
The prospect of facing Manchester United this weekend is a stark reminder to David Fox just how far he has come.
The Norwich City midfielder spent five of his formative years under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson before the mutual decision to sever ties left him plying his trade in the lower reaches of the Football League - until Paul Lambert rescued Fox from Colchester's stiffs. Beating the Red Devils tomorrow is one thing; just being on the same pitch is a notable achievement in itself.
'When you leave a club like Man United the only way is down – even for the biggest players,' he said. 'When you sign for a club who are second bottom in League One at the time (Blackpool), the Premier League seems a million miles away. To be playing against them in the league now is something you never think is possible. I remember speaking to the manager when I signed for Colchester and he was telling me about getting back to the Premier League and I was a bit surprised that he felt I could make it back to the Premier League. United was the best place to be educated – not just football, but life in general. The standard of training was frightening. Every training session was tough because they are all trying to make it at United and if you do then you are set for life.'
Becoming a made man at Old Trafford rests on the patronage of the big boss.
'Sir Alex had such an aura about him that when you saw him you tried to keep your head down and out of the way because you didn't want him to have a go at you,' said Fox. 'He had such an influence over everyone at the club. He knew the youth team results on a Morning and how you had played. I had a couple of meetings with him when I was younger, which as a 15 or 16 year old at the time was very daunting. When I left around 21 I had six months to run on my contract. I went in to see him and said I felt it was time I left. A few weeks later I got a letter through the post thanking me for my attitude and time at the club and wishing me all the best in my career. It is a letter I have still got and one I was proud that he took the time out to thank me for my efforts.'
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Fox's path to the first team a decade ago was blocked by the formidable presence of Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes – the latter duo's longevity underlined by the fact they could be on duty this weekend.
'I think when people like (Zinedine) Zidane and Xavi have said in the past that Scholes is the best you take notice,' said Fox. 'He is unbelievable and he has done it for years and years and he has sort of changed his role a bit over the years and adapted like Giggs to what was needed. His passing and work when he is on the ball is brilliant.
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'The coaches would always tell us to watch him in training, watch him in games. When we were in the youth team we had to go and watch the games and it was literally just to watch him play and you learned so much from his passing and technique and attitude. To have six months off and come back into it is a testament to the love of the game that the likes of him and Giggs have got.'