Shrewsbury Town vs Manchester United, FA Cup: 'I said Vardy would play for England and people laughed' says Mellon

Micky Mellon, whose Shrewsbury play Manchester United on Monday, has built his reputation on developing players 

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The Independent Football

When Louis van Gaal turns up at Shrewsbury Town’s Greenhous Meadow stadium on Monday evening, the Dutchman can be sure of two things at least: a cup of tea and a seat on the sofa will be there waiting for him, courtesy of home manager Micky Mellon.

That was the message from Mellon, an infectiously bubbly Scot, as he looked forward to his team’s FA Cup fifth-round tie with Manchester United and the opportunity to offer Van Gaal the same hospitality as was enjoyed by Jose Mourinho in the Shrewsbury manager’s office before Chelsea’s narrow 2-1 Capital One Cup fourth-round victory there last season.

“They are just football people,” said a distinctly unawed Mellon at Shrewsbury’s media day at Lilleshall this week.

“Before kick-off I was walking down the corridor and Jose Mourinho was just stalking about. His team were out warming up. I said, ‘All right, Jose?’ He goes, ‘All right, Micky?’ I go, ‘Do you fancy a cup of tea?’ and he came in and laid down on the settee and I was sitting beside him and the analyst was looking at him and looking at me. 

“I said, ‘Jose, it’s because you’re in here’ when he said [to the analyst], ‘Why are you frightened of me?’ We started talking about football and he was saying, ‘I like your three at the back. I have watched it a lot. Tell me what you did there.’ I said, ‘No chance’.”

It is a lovely anecdote and Mellon chuckles as he recounts it – though just another meeting of “just football people” is not how the outside world will see it on Monday when a wobbling United side ripe for a Cup upset visit the lowest-ranked club left in the competition. 

Shrewsbury, fourth-round conquerors of Sheffield Wednesday, sit 19th in League One and their chairman, Roland Wycherley, has called the Manchester United tie the biggest one-off match in the club’s history. 

The Shropshire side have never played United before, yet there are links with Old Trafford: midfielders Richie Wellens and Larnell Cole are graduates of United’s academy and Wellens himself now coaches there, while both his son Charlie and Mellon’s boy Michael are in the club’s schoolboy ranks. (Both boys, incidentally, predicted a 1-0 Shrewsbury win when asked by their coaches. “He will support his dad because his mother has told him,” Mellon added of Michael Jr. “He’s on a sticky wicket if he doesn’t.”)

Mellon does not disguise his admiration for the grounding United give their young players and it is a subject the former West Bromwich, Blackpool, Tranmere and Burnley midfielder, who led Shrewsbury out of League Two last year, is passionate about. “I am one of those managers who is determined to help my players be the best I can,” said the 43-year-old, citing the example of Shrewsbury’s Junior Brown and Andy Mangan, two players he first signed from non-league teams as manager of Fleetwood, whom he took into the League in 2012. 

The outstanding example, though, is Jamie Vardy, whom he brought to Fleetwood from Halifax Town. Even then he predicted Vardy would play for his country. “At the time he was coming through I told the press ‘He’ll play for England’ and they all laughed. And I thought ‘God, I hope he does now or it’ll come back to haunt me’. He was way above the level.

“I’d be on his case all the time saying, ‘If you keep your habits right and your standards high then you’ll become the best you can be and you’ll play for England because you’ve got everything’. And he did, he had absolutely everything you would need.

“He reminded me of Andy Cole, with the way he ran and sprinted and was so single-minded,” added Mellon, a former Bristol City team-mate of Cole. “Coley actually phoned me up when I said that and he said, ‘He’s not as good as me’. I said, ‘Give it a wee bit of time’.”

As Barnsley assistant manager, Mellon worked with John Stones and Jack Butland, two other future England players. Stones, he recalled, “just purred like a Rolls Royce” and he will offer the example of all three when speaking to his players about the need to dream. 

“They had this mentality that nothing will get in their way in order for them to make the most of themselves. I say the same to the boys here: ‘Make sure you make the sacrifices and behave properly and you love the game and you work hard every day and you dream and you be inspired. Dream that you can be there.’

“Because that is what [Vardy] did. He went out every day in training and wanted to be the best and now look at him. He will still be dreaming about the Euros if he gets selected for them; he will be dreaming about scoring the winner in the final.”

Talk of Vardy leads to Mellon being asked which actor would play him in the mooted Hollywood film about the Leicester striker’s rise, and he jokes “Begbie out of Trainspotting” – the violent psychopath played by Scottish actor Robert Carlyle. There is a grin on his face, yet he will be quite happy for his players to channel their inner Begbies if it means giving United a fright on Monday. 

“Somebody said to me, ‘Will you be telling your players to play the game and not the occasion?’ and I said, ‘No’. I want them to get involved in the occasion and get full of adrenalin, get full right up to their eyeballs and run about like a nutcase, if I can get anything more out of them.”