Dwight Yorke 'understands now' Ferguson criticism of him as a Manchester United player

Former striker tells UTD podcast manager wanted his players to get better each season

14 Apr 2001:  Manchester United goal scorer Dwight Yorke is congratulated by team mate Roy Keane during the FA Carling Premiership match against Coventry City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. United won 4-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill /Allsport / Getty Images
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Manchester United’s strikers are in fine form, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won’t be happy unless there’s fierce competition for places. He’ll always compare the current crop to the others he played with – and has mentioned Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke recently.

He also saw how Sir Alex Ferguson pushed and pushed his forwards, even if they found it baffling at the time.

Yorke, who now lives in Dubai, arrived from Aston Villa at the start of the treble-winning season in 1998/99. He scored 29 goals in his first season at Old Trafford and 24 in his second when he was again the club’s top scorer. So he was stung to be described as a failure during that second season at United by Ferguson.

“I didn’t quite get it,” Yorke tells the new UTD official podcast which comes out on Monday evening.

“I mean, obviously now I understand where he was coming from, knowing the manager himself a little bit more. That was my second year. I finished top scorer, I think with 26 goals in total over the season. First year 29, second year 26. The manager said I was a failure. I didn’t get it at the time. I look back now and I totally understand where he was coming from.

“I understand that each year you need to better yourself and I didn’t do that. At the time even though I felt I justified myself as his number one striker, being top scorer for two years running. I felt that was a great return. Don’t forget that the FA Cup was taken away from us [in 1999/2000]. We didn’t play in the FA Cup. A lot has been said about it because the lads probably enjoyed themselves in Brazil but we didn’t get a chance to defend our FA Cup which again, with the team that we had and the way we went on to win the Premier League that year, who is to say we were not capable of defending the FA Cup? So that was an opportunity gone, for whatever reason on the political side of football, that we as players didn’t get involved in but that was a big blow to us because we didn’t get to defend the FA Cup that year. Maybe I could have finished up with more goals.

10 Mar 1999:  Dwight Yorke of Manchester United celebrates his goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-final replay at Stamford Bridge in London. United won 2-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Stu Forster /Allsport
Dwight Yorke celebrates scoring against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-final replay at Stamford Bridge in London on March 10, 1999. Allsport

“When you look at Messi and the Ronaldos of this world each year they come back and try to better their target and I didn’t quite see that. I understand it fully now, clearly, now that I’m out of the game and I’m a lot wiser. While being in the bubble, I felt being top scorer at United it was enough to justify my argument but in the manager’s eyes I was supposed to be better the following year and I wasn’t.

“So having those experiences and those things in your head, understand that each day, each moment when you are training, you have got to keep pushing yourself to get better every season and not just sit on your laurels. Not that I did that year but I understand where he was coming from.”

Overall, Yorke was a success at United, with 66 goals in 152 appearances, 120 of them starts. But by his third season he scored only 12 goals from 38 games as he won a third successive Premier League title and left for Blackburn Rovers after one United goal in his fourth season. He was only 30 and would play a further eight seasons with Blackburn, Birmingham City, Sydney and Sunderland.

On or off the field, Yorke’s life was seldom dull. He grew up on the Caribbean island of Tobago, where he suffered a terrible accident, which he has seldom spoken about.

Dwight Yorke, second from right, lines up in a Manchester United wall to face a Roberto Carlos free kick in 2002. Getty
Dwight Yorke, second from right, lines up in a Manchester United wall to face a Roberto Carlos free kick in 2002. Getty

“A lot of people don’t know [about it], unless you know me personally and have seen it [his large scar on his back],” he says. “It’s not something I obviously go around and showcase around the world to everyone. The reality is, I don’t know much about it. When I was two years of age, my sister and I went to the shop. She was holding my hand. One of my other sisters was across the road by the bus stop, waiting for the bus to come along. So we went into the shop and of course, as a kid, she just took her eye off me for that one moment. In that one moment, I ran out, my sister was waving across the road to me, I kind of ran out towards her not knowing that cars were coming from both sides.

“I honestly have no recollection of anything. I have no idea, I have just been told this story over and over. Maybe one little vivid thing, I remember coming out of the hospital. I’ve been told I spent six months in the hospital as a kid, 1973, think about it, in a third-world country. I was told that there was a doctor in the car behind and somehow he was a Chinese doctor. What was a Chinese guy doing in the Caribbean at the time?

“So I had my guardian angel looking over me and that’s how I was saved by this doctor. I don’t know who he is, I have never met him, don’t know where is he’s from, anything about it. I literally should not have been here. I was given a second chance in life.”

Asked how this has shaped his attitude to life, he says: “I do live more on a daily basis. I take things as they come. I don’t think about the distant future. For what I’ve been through, even though I have very little recollection of it, it makes me realise that you are not here on this earth for a long time and you have got to enjoy and you got to embrace it for what it is. I was given that second chance, to play football at this level. That’s why I am where I am. When you see me in the morning and I’m all happy and chirpy and all that, I think that it all stems from my upbringing back home.”