MIKE Phelan was on the Manchester United payroll for almost 20 years in total, as player, coach and – for the last five of them – Sir Alex Ferguson’s right hand man.
But he knows where his loyalties lie tomorrow.
Born in Nelson, on September 24, 1962, at the age of 18 he achieved his dream of playing for boyhood club Burnley.
Now his beloved Clarets are back among the big boys, with United next up at Turf Moor.
Phelan will be there.
He was on the bench for the opposition last time, in his role of assistant manager.
Tomorrow he will be in the home end, hoping for a home win.
While he will be rooting for Manchester United for the rest of the course, he is supporting the club where his love of football is rooted first and foremost.
There is no fence to sit on for Phelan.
“No,” he said emphatically. “I’m sitting in the Burnley end.
“I’m a guest there so I’ll be somewhere in the Bob Lord (Stand).
“I won’t have a scarf on. But it will be an interesting game from my perspective.”
Now, more than a year after Sir Alex’s retirement also brought an end to Phelan’s time at Old Trafford, the 51-year-old admits he is still adjusting to life as a fan.
“I haven’t had to do it much for the last 20-odd years,” he said.
“It’s difficult because you watch the game a little bit differently and it’s more about the tactical side of it and things like that you tend to watch rather than the game of football itself.”
Robbie Blake famously scored the winner the last time Manchester United were at Turf Moor – a bitter-sweet moment for Phelan.
“It was mixed emotions really. You work for one club but you support the other. I got off lightly,” said the ex-Claret, who is looking for a route back into coaching, or management.
He would not bet against a repeat outcome five years on, as both sides battle to overcome a difficult start to the season and get their for their first win.
“It means different things for both teams. It would be great for Burnley to get a point or some points on the board as quickly as possible and the next home game is Manchester United.
“For Manchester United it’s still part of a process that’s going on there at the moment and they could be vulnerable at this moment in time.
“All the odds are stacked against Burnley because of who they’re playing, but the game of football tells you that if you turn up on the day and your attitude’s good you can give anybody a game.”
United expect to give a debut to their British transfer record breaking signing Angel di Maria.
Burnley’s budget for their entire squad is dwarfed by the £59.7m spent on the former Real Madrid winger, just one indicator of how much the Premier League has pushed on Phelan describes the gulf between the Championship and top flight as “huge”.
“Sean knows exactly what his situation is at Burnley Football Club, he’s committed to the club and I’m sure he’ll do whatever he possibly can to make Burnley successful in the league,” said Phelan.
But Di Maria’s arrival was not the biggest story of the day, as on the night that Burnley bowed out of the Capital One Cup with a 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, United were thumped 4-0 at League One MK Dons.
Although new manager Louis van Gaal admitted he was “not shocked”, with an opening day defeat at home to Swansea and draw at Sunderland last weekend, it is not the start the former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Netherlands manager would have anticipated.
Could this be a good time to play United, or should Burnley be braced for a backlash?
“They’re going to have to play against all the big teams, that’s what they got promoted for, to play the big teams,” said Phelan.
“Playing them early can be good but as they found out against Chelsea it is difficult and every game is difficult because once you’ve played Chelsea, Manchester United come along in the next (home) game.
“There’s no relaxing. You know you’ve arrived.”