Football: Pallister sees a golden future

Guy Hodgson talks to an Old Trafford campaigner who says the best is yet to come
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The Independent Online
Here Is a bit of news to make the rest of the Premiership happy. Gary Pallister thinks the current Manchester United side is nowhere near its zenith.

If anyone is qualified to comment it is the 6ft 4in centre-half. He is the muscular strut in the span that bridges the first and present United teams created by Alex Ferguson. The prototype, built round Eric Cantona, was good, he says, the present modification, with a greater spread of talent, could be better.

"You see the kids develop from youth level," he said. "You see the potential they have got, everyone's talking about them, and you wonder if they can take it on to a bigger stage. They've done that already and the form they have produced is just fantastic. You don't know how far this team can go. I don't think it has reached anywhere near its peak."

Given that the side which started the destruction of Feyenoord in Rotterdam on Wednesday included five players aged 23 or under and that Andy Cole (26), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (24) and Roy Keane (26) are hardly worrying about their pensions either, you can see the source of his confidence. Yes, that weeping you can hear is from Merseyside.

Pallister, at 32, is the old head towering above young shoulders who is coming to the end of his career as his team-mates are beginning theirs. Just past 400 games for the club (Denis Law, Nobby Stiles and Pat Crerand only got into the 390s), when he took the field in the Champions' League at the De Kuip Stadium on Wednesday he was the sole survivor from the side which won the European Cup Winners' Cup team in Rotterdam in 1991.

Then United were expected to become a force in Europe but instead they had to wait until last season's Champions' League semi-final to get anywhere near another continental trophy. That near miss, he said, has left a mark of ambition.

"We felt we were the better team over two legs against Borussia Dortmund, who went on to win it. It was disappointing knowing we could have been in that final. It has spurred us on. The boys are firing on all cylinders at the moment, especially the strikers. We have to face them in training every day so we can see what it's like ourselves. When you've got people like Ryan Giggs and Andy Cole coming at you in full flight they can make mugs of you. I'm just delighted they're on our team."

Pallister has been able to sit back and watch as United have put 16 goals past Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Feyenoord, although to describe him as an elderly passenger being carried by his team-mates would be wholly wrong. He jokes along the lines "Steve Bruce used to say it was nice to have young legs around you so you don't have to do so much running", but his form this season has been as good as at any time in his career.

He ascribes much of that to a rare commodity in his case: full fitness. His back injury might flare up at any time but so far this season he has been pain free which allows him to turn and use his extraordinary speed for a man of his size and weight.

"I'm feeling good this year and that's a boost after the last couple of years," he said. "Nobody wants to be out of the team at the moment. Some of the football the lads have been playing has been tremendous. We put in almost every chance we had against Barnsley, seven out of eight, and while we missed a few more against Sheffield Wednesday we still got six. We got a bit of criticism for the chances we missed in the first match against Feyenoord: it's been a failing in Europe, and it's made us more determined to put those goals away."

At the same time United have conceded by far the fewest goals in the Premiership - seven - which must have something to do with Pallister as he has had to play with three fellow centre-backs already. "Playing with this team could extend my career," he said, which would delight him and his manager. One of the old men of Old Trafford, he would love to be there when this United team does reach its peak.