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United icon Kanchelskis rates Guardiola above Mourinho 

INTERVIEW BY IAN HERBERT: Andrei Kanchelskis’s last Manchester experience is the one he considers the most extraordinary and it reveals why the red half of the city was so dominant.

Andrei Kanchelskis's last Manchester experience is the one he considers the most extraordinary and it reveals so much about why the red half of the city was so dominant for so long.

Six years after his departure from Old Trafford sent him on a nomadic journey through the game, he pitched up in 2001 on loan at Joe Royle's Manchester City, then marooned near the foot of a Premier League which Manchester United were about to win. And in their wisdom, the club decided a winter trip to Marbella would be a bright idea.

'Marbella!' Kanchelskis says, still not sure whether to laugh or cry about it. 'Marbella! Bottom of the league and we go to Marbella! We needed more concentration, more training, more tactics. Mamma mia! That was very bad. Marbella! That was City at that time.'

Ahead of the looming derby Andrei Kanchelskis believes Pep Guardiola trumps Jose Mourinho

Royle, who coined the term 'City-itis' for the club's capacity to implode, perhaps did not appreciate what a shambles would unfold on the Costa del Sol. 

Kanchelskis and French defender Laurent Charvet, who were rooming together, called at defender Steve Howey's room on the trip to see if he wanted to join them for dinner.

They found him lying on his bed, watching television, surrounded by bottles of beer. 'That's my breakfast,' Howey said, pointing at one bottle. 'That's my lunch. And that bottle over there; that's my dinner.' City returned home, lost three straight games and were relegated after a 1-1 draw in an April Old Trafford derby.

A lot can change in 16 years, though the last 10 have altered the City Kanchelskis knew beyond all recognition. Now, he views their football as the kind which United should aspire to. 

He feels Pep Guardiola's principles, not Jose Mourinho's, are in keeping with what he experienced in his sublime first English season, marauding down the right wing, with Ryan Giggs in tandem on the left.

'In my period, we played to enjoy games,' he says. 'There would be improvisation. Sometimes we would play in a different way. Eric Cantona, Giggsy, myself, Mark Hughes.

He played in one of Manchester United's finest sides, but believes the present doesn't compare

'Now, you're looking at one or two good players at United. There aren't those (many great) players. We wouldn't worry about being defensive because we had two great defenders, a good goalkeeper and two midfielders. It gave us freedom, there was a lot of attacking play.

'Paul Scholes came in. We had Cantona. Now, it is different. More soft.' He rates Guardiola above Mourinho. 'At the moment, yes I do. City look a bit better — a higher level.

'United have big names, big players but City are making a better demonstration of football.'

Kanchelskis is 48 now, and coaching the Russian national universities team after a managerial odyssey around the nation's clubs, whose extraordinary owners can resemble figures from the Wild West. One came at him with a baseball bat after a bad defeat.

But as his compelling new autobiography reveals, he was always willing to speak his mind. There was the time when the 22-year-old Kanchelskis struggled to recapture his first-season form in 1992 — 'I was no longer an unknown quantity. Defenders were getting used to me and my moves' — and Ferguson told him he would be in the reserves.

'You can fine me or you can transfer me,' he replied. 'You can send me to Siberia but I am never going to play for Manchester United's reserves.'

It was not ever the same between them again. The indignation he felt about how he came to leave the club three years later still lingers. At the heart of it was Ferguson's accusation, repeated by United's young club doctor David Fevre, that the Russian had feigned injury to avoid playing, when he was actually diagnosed with a double hernia.

He confronted Ferguson — and extracted an apology — before leaving for Royle's Everton.

The Russian is one of few players to have turned out for both United and rivals City

That episode gnaws at him because it meant he let his agent Grigori Essaoulenko talk him into leaving for Goodison, in what remains one of the most mysterious aspects of the winger's career.

The book relates how, once the deal was secured, Ferguson met Essaoulenko at Manchester Airport, the morning after a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest, and was handed a box containing a 'samovar' — a Russian tea urn — in which £40,000 was secreted.

Kanchelskis reveals he knew nothing about this until Ferguson described it in his 2000 autobiography, though he offers the first explanation of why the money had been passed over.

'Essaoulenko would have been under a lot of pressure from my first club Shakhtar Donetsk, who were entitled to at least £500,000 should United sell me,' he says. 

'Some said the figure they received was closer to £1.5m. The club was run by Akhat Bragin, who would be killed by a bomb attack in his own stadium. It was a mafia thing. Essaoulenko told Ferguson, 'Kanchelskis has to leave'.'

In the same season, George Graham, then Arsenal manager, admitted he had received a much bigger gift from Rune Hauge, an agent who had worked with Essaoulenko. 'Graham banked the money and, when that was revealed, Arsenal sacked him,' Kanchelskis adds. 'Ferguson returned his gift which was a big decision — and a very good one.'

Beyond the skulduggery, though, Kanchelskis's United years were the time of his life. His team-mates laughed at him because of his dress sense and dubious driving, which saw him prang his new club Audi within a few days.

Kanchelskis believes Jose Mourinho should be aspiring to play the same way as Pep Guardiola

'I wore normal clothes!' he reflects. 'I don't know why they would be laughing. But I was a fast driver. I lost my licence for six months in Scotland! Too fast! Too many cameras!'

And there was a November 1994 day, months before he left the club, when he became the first United player in 34 years to score a hat-trick in the derby. United's 5–0 win made it City's heaviest defeat by the neighbours in a century.

Though he can't quite admit it, you see that those four incredible Old Trafford years — scoring 48 goals in 145 appearances — mean a substantial part of him will always be with Old Trafford.

'I hope United win on Sunday because they need the points,' he says. 'And if they do, the title remains wide open. I hope for them, yes. Even now, after all these years, people will walk up to me in the middle of Moscow and say: 'United!'

Russian Winters, autobiography of Andrei Kanchelskis, published by deCoubertin (£15.99), is available now. Go to: www.decoubertin.co.uk/Kanchelskis

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