Daniel Nardiello knows better than most how hard it is for a youth team player to become established in the Manchester United first team. The Welsh striker spent several years competing with the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Diego Forlan and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before flying the nest to carve out a successful career in the Football League.
Spotted by United as a teenager playing in Wolves junior sides and district football in the Midlands, Daniel recalls how he signed for the club: “I found out that United were interested in me and a scout came to watch one of my games playing for my district team.
“Not long after Sir Alex Ferguson rang my house and spoke to my family. My mum and dad actually went to meet him at a hotel, I must have been 14 or 15 at the time.”
The young striker settled into playing for the club’s youth sides before becoming established in the reserves, scoring regularly. His first team debut came on 5th November 2001 as a young United side lost 4-0 to a more experienced Arsenal team at Highbury in a League Cup tie, with Daniel coming on as a second half substitute for Bojan Djordjic.
“I didn’t even know that I was going to be involved, I remember walking down a corridor at Carrington and Ferguson pulling me to one side and asking if I was ready for Arsenal in a few days. He told me I was going with the squad and I was buzzing.
“It was a great experience getting the train down, staying in the hotel and obviously getting a bit of game time. I remember that I had a half chance, I got the ball just inside the area and had a shot which flew over the bar.
“They didn’t have their best team out, but it was a strong team and it was a great experience to play against such good players. I was obviously young so I just took it all in my stride and enjoyed every minute of it.
“Ferguson was fantastic after the game, I think everyone knew looking at their team and our team that they’d win. It would have been a great achievement even if we’d got a draw. It was more about an introduction to the first team and giving most of the lads a taste of it. I saw him go mad a few times when I was in the squad but that wasn’t one of them.”
Nardiello had to wait another year for his next opportunity, another substitute appearance in a 3-0 Champions League defeat to Maccabi Haifa in Israel on 29th October 2002, his first start came a week later in a League Cup tie with Leicester City at Old Trafford. David Beckham and Kieran Richardson scored late goals as United ran out 2-0 winners.
“The Leicester game was my first start and it was at Old Trafford playing with some of the big boys. We won 2-0 and I came off with about 20 minutes to go. Looking back I was probably a bit more nervous than I was for the other games but it was fantastic and I loved it.
“One thing I do remember about playing at Old Trafford is that when we went on an attack you could hear the roar from the crowd. It was loud and exciting but it didn’t intimidate me, when you’re that young you just take it in your stride.”
Of the man who gave him his chance at United, Daniel has only positive memories of Sir Alex Ferguson: “He was fantastic with me, he was strict and I remember going to ask permission to buy my first house and leave digs. He wouldn’t let me do it until I’d had three months of cooking lessons with the Head Chef at United which I did before training every day.
“Everything he did, he did it for the right reasons and it wasn’t just the football side of things it was your whole lifestyle. For me, he’s the best manager that ever lived. He was great and I can’t complain with how he treated me.”
Having been on the fringes of the first team for several years during a successful period for the club Daniel provides insight into some of the characters in the dressing room at that time and their influence on him as a player: “Every one of them was different, Teddy Sheringham was great and used to give me bits of advice when he’d watched the reserve games on TV. Roy Keane was always fantastic, even when I’d left United and he was manager of Sunderland he always came over after we’d played them to have a chat.
“Ruud Van Nistelrooy was great, I remember playing against Holland for Wales a few years later and he came over after the game to swap shirts which I’ve still got.”
Daniel made one more competitive appearance in the first team, in a 2-0 League cup defeat to West Brom. After spells on loan at Swansea and Barnsley he eventually departed for the latter in the summer of 2005 before going on to have spells at a host of Football League Clubs including QPR, Blackpool, Exeter City, Rotherham United and Bury.
When recalling his Old Trafford departure he says: “I remember getting called into the office and the manager said to me that he could probably give me another year but that it was probably best if I left to play regularly.
“I think he was just being kind, I think he knew that I wasn’t in his plans and that there were better players in the squad. There were a few clubs showing interest so he gave me a bit of advice and I moved to Barnsley which was a great time in my career. I loved it there.
“It was a little bit sad leaving United but I knew that at 22 it was time to move on and make a name for myself in the Football League.”
Now 34, Daniel plays for Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League which he combines with a new career in the finance industry: “I’m still playing semi-professionally and I’m now a financial advisor with St James’s Place. I’ve been doing it for a while now and really enjoy it.
“At Bangor City we managed to qualify for the Europa League so I can now say I’ve played in that competition as well which is nice. We’ve got a good set of lads with some decent players, I still enjoy playing and will try to for as long as I can.”
Looking back at his time at United and career in general Dan is very proud of his achievements in the game and still returns to Old Trafford occasionally to watch his first club: “I don’t have any regrets, it’s made me who I am today. I’ve had some injuries but I’ve had a 17 year professional career and there’s not many who can say that. I’m quite privileged to be half-decent at football and it’s all good to look back on.
“I went to a few games last season, I’d say I’m a United fan and I live in Manchester now. A lot of my friends and family support United and I like to have a bit of banter with people I know who support City as well.
“I’m really happy with the signings this summer and for me Matic is the one, I think he’ll make a real difference. Although we won the two cups last year, the league position wasn’t fantastic and I think they will definitely improve on that. I think Pogba will just get better and overall the future looks very bright for the club, especially with Mourinho in charge.”