ADAM ECKERSLEY: I played with Beckham and Ronaldo – but Becks was better… and on one of the few occasions Fergie spoke to me, he warned me of dangers of gambling
08:36 GMT, 6 February 2013
10:01 GMT, 6 February 2013
Adam Eckersley played one first-team game for Manchester United, before moving to Denmark to play for Horsens and AGF Aarhus. The 27-year-old attacking full back also played for Port Vale, and had loan spells at Royal Antwerp, Brondby, and Barnsley. Here, he talks about life as a Manchester United youngster – and what it’s like being an Englishman abroad…
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BY ECK: CAREER HISTORY
2004-2008: Manchester United
2006: Royal Antwerp (loan)
2006: Brondby (loan)
2007: Barnsley (loan)
2007: Port Vale (loan)
2008: Port Vale (loan)
2008 – 2010: Horsens
2010 – AGF Aarhus
Man Utd 4-1 Barnet
League Cup third round, Oct 2005
Scorers: MU – Miller, Richardson, Rossi, Ebanks-Blake. Barnet – Sinclair
Howard; Phil Bardsley, Gerard Pique, Wes Brown, Adam Eckersley; Lee
Martin (Darron Gibson), Ritchie Jones, Liam Miller, Kieran Richardson;
Giuseppe Rossi, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.
My Manchester United debut (at home to Barnet in the League Cup in 2005) was one of the best nights of my life. I was so nervous though.
We met at the hotel about 1pm, I couldn’t sleep, so I spoke to some first-teamers for advice.
I said to Wes Brown, who was playing that night but had made his debut seven years earlier: 'I’m really nervous, are you'
He just looked at me and said: 'I’m not that bothered, to be honest, mate'. I was like: 'Thanks mate!'
I actually found out I was playing the week before. Wes used to have poker nights, once a week on a Monday night. It started off with just a few, but we ended up with 25 to 30 down there. You’d get first-teamers but reserves too, people like me, Chris Eagles, Mark Howard.
At one, Rooney said to me: 'I’ve seen the team, you’re playing next week.'
The manager (Sir Alex Ferguson) once had a word about my poker. I was with the first team on the way back from Birmingham City, playing cards at the back of the bus with the lads.
The next day, the manager had a word. We weren't playing for big amounts, but he told me to stop playing poker, concentrate on my football.
He actually brought up Keith Gillespie, who had gambling problems. It wasn’t the hairdryer, but it was good advice.
I didn’t often speak to the manager at United. If you walked past him at Carrington, he’d make conversation but I worked more with Brian McClair and Jim Ryan.
Debut: Adam Eckersley (No 44) joins the melee of Manchester United players as they swamp
goalscorer Liam Miller during the 4-1 Carling Cup win over Barnet at Old Trafford in 2005
Rocket man: Eckersley scores against Peterborough during a pre-season friendly at London Road
Larking around: Wes Brown has a giggle at Ruud van Nistelrooy's expense during United training in 2005
Still, you knew that he knew everything: how you were playing, how you were training.
When I left for good, his last words to me were: 'You’re going to have a great career, you’ve been fantastic here.'
That was really good to hear.
I was in Puccini’s restaurant in Swinton, Greater Manchester, when I first heard about going to Denmark. In 2006, our reserve team manager at United, Rene Meulensteen, went to manage Brondby.
He signed Mark Howard from United. I’ve known Mark since I was five – we played for the same junior team in Salford, Barr Hill – and one day he phoned me up. He asked if I wanted to sign on loan. It was the first I’d heard of it!
Brondby wasn’t my first loan spell abroad. Earlier that year, I went to Antwerp in Belgium. It came as a shock: I came into training one morning, Jim Ryan dragged me in, and said you’re going to Antwerp this afternoon.
There were a few of us over there: Danny Simpson (now at Newcastle United), Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Wolves), Lee Martin (Ipswich). We lived in a hotel for six months. It was a good opportunity to play first-team football.
What’s the difference between the reserves and first-team games It’s a feeling. In a first team, you’re someone important. You’re doing a job. You’re playing for points, for people’s livelihoods, for the manager’s job.
We would get six or seven thousand people at Antwerp, rather than 300 down at Altrincham for United reserves. I saw my career as a ladder, and this was another step up the ladder.
Injuries aren’t funny. I came back early from my loan spell at Brondby because I did my hamstring. I couldn’t take being injured.
I missed the buzz of the crowd, so I came back too soon. When you get older, you know when to stop. You think, 'You can either miss three games or three months'. When you’re younger, you don’t think like that. You just want to be out there.
Fitness battle: Eckersley at a Danish hospital with his legs in a special recuperation chamber
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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
If you’re coming back from loan spells injured every week, it doesn’t look good. You look at other people who’ve had good loan spells and it really helps them: Tom Cleverley at Wigan, Jonny Evans at Sunderland, Danny Simpson at Sunderland and Blackburn, others.
Injuries held me back a little bit: I’m not saying I’d have been good enough for the first team, but they didn’t help.
In 2007, I had a loan spell at Port Vale and was sent off on my debut (at home to Brighton). I was booked in the first half for a good tackle, threw the ball into the floor, and gave the ref some stick.
In the 80th minute, the attacker was through, I caught him, it was almost a professional foul. I think the ref remembered the stick – he couldn’t get the red card out quick enough!
I still got man of the match though, so not all bad.
Looking back, I rushed my permanent move to Port Vale in 2008. No disrespect, but I think I could have signed for a team higher up the leagues. But I was at the end of my tether with reserve-team football.
I needed a new challenge. I had Evra, Heinze, Silvestre ahead of me. I thought 'you’ve got no chance'.
I signed a six-month deal at Port Vale, but I didn’t really like the football. The Horsens manager, Kent Nielsen (who played at Aston Villa from 1989 to 1991), had seen me during my loan spell at Brondby, and took me over there.
I knew the league, I knew the living conditions. In my first season, I injured my knee and we were relegated, but we won the First Division (the Danish second tier) the next season.
I then went to AGF, who’d been relegated from the Superliga. We went straight back up. Now we’re five points off second, although Copenhagen are running away with the league.
Take a look: Reading manager Brian McDermott watched Eckersley last year but a deal never materialised
Living in Denmark was a lot easier after I met my Danish girlfriend, Elizabeth – she's now my wife. I’ve got to know her family; it’s like a home from home.
Do I speak Danish Elizabeth’s trying with me every day. The problem is, everyone here speaks English so well. I’m taking lessons though, and this time next year I reckon I’ll be OK. I don’t want my wife and kids, when we have them, speaking behind my back!
I’m not desperate to come back to England. If a Premier League team came in for me, of course I’d consider it.
Brian McDermott at Reading watched me last year but it didn’t work out. But there’s nowhere I wouldn’t go: Germany, Holland, anywhere. Moving abroad has made me grow up fast.
Family guy: Eckersley with his daughter in Denmark
David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo are the best I’ve played with. If I had to choose Beckham.
I remember a first-team session at United, eight versus eight. Roy Keane was on my team; Beckham was on theirs. He kept crossing, and they kept scoring from them. I couldn’t get near him. Keane was shouting at me, going mad: 'Adam! You’ve got to get out to him, stop the crosses!'
I thought: 'The best full backs in the world can’t stop him, so what chance do I have!'
Keane just wanted the best though. I’m a bit like that with the younger players now.
Simply the best: Adam played with David Beckham (right) and Ronaldo at United but rates Becks as better
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There are some really good players in Denmark – Lars Jacobsen (Copenhagen, formerly Everton, Blackburn and West Ham), Dennis Rommedahl (Brondby, formerly Ajax and Charlton), Martin Jorgensen (AGF, formerly Udinsese and Fiorentina). It’s a tough league and I enjoy it.
If you’d told me 10 years ago how my career would go, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ve spoken to my mum about it. It’s amazing how it’s gone.
Elizabeth says it was all mapped out so I’d meet her.