In a Sportzwiki exclusive, we talk to the ex-Manchester United winger who rose up the leagues to play in the top flight for the Red Devils. In an insightful chat, Maiorana talks about his rise from Histon to Manchester United, playing at Old Trafford, his career ending injury and how Sir Alex Ferguson sabotaged his career.
Giuliano Maiorana, born in Cambridge to Italian parents, was involved in a fairy tale transfer to Manchester United in the late 80’s from the English non-leagues. Having been scouted and then handed a trial, he impressed in a testimonial game before signing a 4-year contract. His extraordinary rise continued as he made his league debut v Millwall on 14th January 1989. Touted by some Manchester United fans as the new George Best, he shone in a televised 1-1 draw v Arsenal at Old Trafford. Giving England right-back, Lee Dixon, the run around in the meantime.
However anguish was just around the corner for the highly rated youngster as in a reserve game versus Aston Villa, a collision with an opposing player left Maiorana badly injured. The severity of what turned about to be a knee injury, kept him out for a lengthy amount of time and eventually he would never recover. Being released by United in 1994 before retiring after a short spell in Sweden, Maiorana is one of the games victims. A youngster who looked to be on the way to stardom, before it was all cruelly taken away from him by one tackle. Jules as he is affectionately known struggled to cope with the after effects of the injury and didn’t watch football for the next 7 years. Now a fan of the game once again, we discuss a range of topics including why he felt the great Ferguson mistreated and neglected him in an attempt to stop him playing again!
Who was your childhood hero?
Maradona. I always say that if you don’t like him as a man, that’s fine but you can’t deny what he did on the pitch. The guy was a genius.
Who had the biggest influence on your career?
My Dad. It’s quite a familiar answer I imagine but it is true.
How did your incredible move to United come about?
I was 19 and playing at semi-pro level, I wasn’t even playing Saturday football. I worked my way up from playing 5-aside to joining Histon and played 30 games for the first team in my first season. One night though, somebody told me that a United scout was watching me and I actually thought it was a joke. After the game I found out there had been a scout in the stands and I was invited up to Manchester for a trial. I went up and played in a testimonial. I only played until half-time and I played very well. From there Ferguson signed me on a 4 year contract. It was the stuff of dreams. I was very proud of my rise from all the way down in the lower leagues to Manchester United in such a short space of time. That sort of thing would never happen nowadays!
How was day to day training at the club?
Awe inspiring. I had been playing Saturday football for just over a year and I was suddenly at United training with international players. All the players were great with me and would always compliment me and tell me how good they thought I was, which was nice. They helped me fit in.
Sir Alex Ferguson was the United manager at the time, what was your relationship like with him?
Ferguson was fine at first. He even said I was one of the best players he had ever seen on trial but eventually we wouldn’t see eye to eye. He was very uptight. People told me he eased off a bit after he started winning but my memories were of him being very uptight. He would always be going on at me to cut my hair or shave my beard. Then he replaced me with Karel Poborsky who had long hair down to his shoulders! I thought I was moving to United for just football but I really wasn’t.
You made your first-team debut v Millwall before playing Arsenal on TV. What was it like playing in front of a packed Old Trafford?
I was still amazed by how far I had come in such a short space of time as I had gone from playing in front of about 200 people each week at Histon to playing in front of about 40,000. How you react to the atmosphere depends on what kind of player you are. I relished it as I always wanted to show what I could do and loved to take players on. I always believed in my ability and liked to let my feet do the talking.
Do you remember how and when you picked up your career ending knee injury?
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a reserve game v Aston Villa and I had already scored a good goal. For the injury, the ball came down to me just outside the area and back then I always tried to do things differently like flicks and over-head kicks. That was what happened here. I chested the ball down and tried some sort of scissor volley. Doing this is my biggest regret. Somebody came across me as I went to shoot and took the ball away from me. I ended up kicking his hamstring I think. As a result of the collision I injured my knee badly and that was how it happened. My biggest regret. I still talk to the old United physio regularly about it. If it was in the modern day I’m sure it wouldn’t have affected me as badly as it did because the technology has grown so much from back when I played.
How did you end up leaving the club?
Back then there was no Bosman ruling so I had to sign a contract at another club before I left United. I didn’t feel United treated me well and they didn’t help me find a club as they should have. I spoke to the other players whose contacts were expiring and they said that the club had been told months in advance that they would be released and would help them find a new team by putting them in the shop window. Only when I went to see Ferguson did he tell me that he was letting me go. Believe what you want but I genuinely feel that Ferguson didn’t want me to play for United or any other club. If I had joined another club I would have made him look like a fool. He tried to stop me playing and basically sabotaged my career.
You then had a short spell in Sweden, what was that experience abroad like?
Well, the manager of the top division side I joined was an ex-United player called David Wilson and he managed to get me over there for a few months. I didn’t stay long cause I kept having niggles here and there. I eventually had to go back to England and announce my retirement.
How much did having to retire hurt you?
It hurt an unbelievable amount. To the point where I couldn’t watch football for 7 years after my retirement. What made it worse was that I knew how good I was. The United fans used to call me the next George Best. I didn’t want anything to do with football because I felt United were trying to stop me playing and there was a lot of nastiness going on behind the scenes. I thought if this is football then I want to wash my hands of it.
How do you look back at our career? With regret or pride?
Mainly with regrets to be honest. People always say you should be happy to have played for United but I don’t see it that way. The thing is that I never made it, I only tasted it and that is a lot worse. I would have preferred it if United would have told me I wasn’t good enough after my trial and I could have accepted that and gone back to Histon. I was good enough though and that’s why it is so hard to take because everybody was always telling me how talented I was. When you get a taste of something you want more and I had it all taken away from me. That’s why I couldn’t watch football for 7 years after I retired because I wanted nothing to do with it. I washed my hands clean of it. Recently I set up a Twitter account and all these United fans were on there who remembered me from my time at Old Trafford. I always had a great relationship with the fans but I thought they would have forgotten about me as I had tried to forget about my career. So it was nice that whilst I had moved on from my career in the game, others hadn’t.
Your best moment in football?
That would have to be how I went from Histon to United. Something like that will never happen again. It was a great rise and I am most proud of that.
What would you say we’re your best attributes and how would you like to be remembered?
I was best with the ball at my feet. Before a game I would always look at the opposing right-back and think that he was in for trouble. That wasn’t arrogance just I believed in my ability and enjoyed what I did. Bryan Robson once said I played “like a mixture of Maradona and Eusebio”. I remember in Reserve games my teammates would always shout ‘get the ball to Jules’. I would also just liked to be remembered as a humble bloke who was happiest with the ball at his feet.