Man Utd players "had their own unit" with England, David James and Joe Cole recall 4 weeks ago

Man Utd players "had their own unit" with England, David James and Joe Cole recall

"Man United were playing their own game of Toro, which was essentially 'stitch each other up', and everyone else is playing the normal game..."

Joe Cole and David James have recalled how Manchester United players would form their own unit when called up to represent the England team.


Cole and James, who were speaking on JOE's All To Play For, played for the Three Lions alongside members of United's legendary 'Class of '92' side. Remembering the England squads of the mid-2000s, the pair shared similar stories of how the United contingent kept largely to themselves when on international duty - and how this was a product of the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson's management.

Asked if there had been any divides in the England camp during their time as players, Cole said: "The Man United players stuck together. That, I think, was down to the brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson, who indoctrinated all of these Man United players into ‘Man United first, Man United together’.

"They had that siege mentality and they took that into England. I don’t think they realised they did it, because you gravitate to your friends, but they were very insular and very together. That was their genius as a team and as a club.

"What I would say about Alex Ferguson is - even players that didn’t make it at Man United who I’ve come across - they had that Man United swagger about them. They’d gone through the system and [had] that horribleness, that they needed to be the team they were.

"Coming to England, I thought the lads found it hard to mix. I don’t blame them. They just did what they did, they won trophies, they were great players.

"I think a lot of it was they were so tight together as a unit. I think they would all, if they had their time [back], maybe open up a little bit. We’d all do things differently, I’m sure."


Cole adds: "It’s not me saying they didn’t mix [to be difficult]. That was just how they were and we respected how good they were and that it was this that won them trophies."

James agreed, sharing his own example of how United players - including the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Neville brothers, Phil and Gary - would play their own games within Toro drills during England training sessions.

"The basis of Toro - or Piggy In The Middle, the fundamentals, were to keep the ball away from the guys in the middle for as long as you can. It’s not a difficult game, there’s no real rules to it," James explains.


"In a full England training session, you’ve got Gary Neville hitting it as hard as he can into Paul Scholes or Phil Neville or into Becks, and if they miscontrolled it, they would laugh, and that meant they would go in the middle.

"Man United were playing their own game of Toro, which was essentially 'stitch each other up', and everyone else is playing the normal game, which is 'keep the guys in the middle'. It solidifies what Coley’s saying, that they had their own unit."

James goes on to explain how it was a product of the fierce competitive environment that existed at Old Trafford.

"I’d used to joke with Phil and Gary Neville, about them racing each other downstairs for breakfast," James adds. "The two were so highly competitive, but Manchester United were highly competitive.


"You listen to Rio [Ferdinand] talking, I think he said something once on the back of the bus about Cristiano Ronaldo, who thought he was big spuds when first came to the club and Ryan Giggs put him in his place.

"They policed themselves. Sir Alex Ferguson was a genius because he created an environment of players who could police their own changing room through quality and respect and you saw that in that 2004, 2006 squad."

James also recalled how the same United players remained tight-lipped when asked about new signings at their club, refusing to disclose any information which might hint at potential weaknesses.

"You’d ask them and they’d say “great lad”. They would never give you anything. Phil Neville was the worst for it.


"It’s a testament to Sir Alex Ferguson and those teams because they kept winning and winning and winning. When Fergie left, all of a sudden you hear there’s bad players at Man United."