Just before my loan ended with Toronto FC, I got the chance to catch up with teammate Richard Eckersley.
‘Ecks’, as he is more affectionately known, began his career with Manchester United in 2007 after coming through the clubs famed youth academy.
The now-24-year old full-back turned down a contract offer from United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to move to Burnley in 2009 but found some difficulty there as the Clarets did not want to pay too much compensation to the Old Trafford outfit.
Nonetheless, he ended up moving on to Toronto permanently in 2012 after a successful loan spell the year before and he has found himself a nice little niche in Major League Soccer.
Ecks and I discussed everything from the beginning of his career, playing under Fergie, learning from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, trying to defend Thierry Henry and where he seems himself in the future.
“As everyone knows, Sir Alex Ferguson is an unbelievable manager but he doesn't always get credit for one-on-one player management,” Eckersley said.
“At first, when I stepped up to the first team, it was scary and daunting but he's quick to speak to you and help relax any nerves that you did have. His door was always open to talk, not just about football, but any other questions or problems in everyday life.
“I signed my first professional contract when I was 18. I didn't get carried away at all because for one; it wasn't a massive amount of money and two; I knew there was so much work for me to do.
“As a youngster, especially at United, they don't give out four or five year contracts. They like to keep it short to possibly keep you striving and hungry to make it into the first team. Then that's when the bigger contracts start coming.
“I try not to regret anything I do in life. If I knew at the time that Burnley wasn't going to play me just to keep the compensation down to a minimum then in all honesty I would have stayed at Manchester United. The more I played the more Burnley would have had to pay. That's why they only played me in cup games. When the compensation (of £1million) got settled I wasn't flattered at all. I was so frustrated with the first six months of my contract and my career there that I was desperate to leave and go on loan. That's when I went to Plymouth Argyle in the Championship (in 2010).”
Ecks touched on the education he received, not only from Fergie, but also from Solskjaer who is now leading Norwegian club Molde to regular successes.
“When I was in the reserves it was Ole's first year as a manager and even then he was fantastic. I think playing for so long under Alex Ferguson, his techniques and the way he goes about things, rubs off on his ex-players. You just have to look at the players that have played under him that have managed top teams in the premiership in recent years.
“Again Ole's man management skills were second to none and his finishing when he joined in training wasn't bad either!”
And a handful of Eckersley’s old United teammates – such as James Chester, Robbie Brady, Paul McShane and Joe Dudgeon – now find themselves back in the Premier League with Hull City. He believes they are capable of doing well in England’s top flight under United great Steve Bruce.
“It's great seeing my old friends playing regularly in the Premiership,” he added.
“I still speak to most of them constantly. I'm keeping everything crossed that they manage to stay up. They have a tough set of opening fixtures so if they can get a few points there then hopefully it could be a springboard for the rest of the season.”
As for the MLS, Ecks is confident that the overall quality of the competition is only continuing to improve and feels it would be a great place for Premier League clubs to send young players on loan.
“I think the standard in MLS is getting better with each year. Sometimes when you go on loan to lower leagues in England they stop playing football and turn very direct. In MLS, the majority of teams try to play out of danger rather than always hitting the long ball.
“Obviously physically, the level of play within MLS is just as tough so I think it would be a very good idea to loan players over here.”
In regards to those opposition players who have given him the most trouble Stateside, the Worsley native had a few big names to think about.
“I'm not saying these names because they’re the most recognisable. It's there movement when other people have the ball, either to create space or to get themselves into a good scoring opportunity. All great players have fantastic movement off the ball and obviously they're very good with the ball as well which makes these guys hard to stop.”
The ‘David Beckham Experiment’ worked wonders for MLS during his six-year spell with the LA Galaxy but Ecks doesn’t believe another similar name is necessary to help further grow the sport in North America.
“I think people around the world are starting to appreciate the standard of play within the MLS now and that's largely because of David Beckham. But I don't think the league needs another icon like that.
“In my short time here I've noticed players are coming over younger and younger, so I think the only way is up in my opinion. Also with the majority of teams having soccer specific stadiums it definitely helps.”
As for his time with Toronto and what the future holds, Eckersley was loving playing under Ryan Nelsen whilst admitting the lure of one day heading back to England could also rear its head.
“Ryan's experience has 100% helped, especially for the younger guys in the team. Having just come off a long career in the top flight of football you have to listen to what he's got to say and take on board his ideas. Everyday he's so enthusiastic to educate and to make people better. I think next year the club will reap the benefits of his appointment.
“I love Toronto and playing soccer here. There's always something in the back of my mind some days telling me to go back (to the UK).
“When I see all my friends that I grew up with playing in the Premiership then obviously I have an itch to try and see what's out there. I've got another year on my contract here so maybe after that, it will be the right time.”