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Mike Phelan warns Man Utd not to get distracted by fierce Galatasaray atmosphere

Mike Phelan (Mike Egerton/PA)
Mike Phelan (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mike Phelan has warned Manchester United not to get distracted by Galatasaray’s fierce atmosphere or any pre-match hostility 30 years on from his ‘Welcome to Hell’ experience.

Three losses in four Group A matches means defeat in Istanbul on Wednesday night will end the Red Devils’ hopes of making the Champions League knockout phase with a game to spare.

Galatasaray won last month’s reverse fixture 3-2 at Old Trafford and are sure to make life tough for Erik ten Hag’s visitors at what is set to be a rocking Rams Park.

The encounter brings back memories of United’s famous visit to the Turkish giants’ hostile old ground in November 1993, when Phelan started a wild second round second-leg clash.

“We arrived and they allowed everybody into the airport,” the former midfielder said. “There was a fair few there.

“I think they blocked it off with some glass, Perspex, something like that.

“There was a lot of police there, but they were just all shouting, jeering and holding these placards that we’re going to die over there.

“An unusual welcome, put it that way. But there was a lot of intimidation really in the atmosphere at the airport. When we got to the hotel, exactly the same.”

Gary Pallister was part of the travelling party and remembers the ‘Welcome to Hell’ placards, as well as the intimidation extending to their plush hotel.

“I was walking past this bellboy, he’s pushing one of the trolley things that you hang your suit on and carries suitcases,” Pallister said.

“As I’m walking past him, I just went ‘afternoon’ or whatever and he just went like that (makes a slit throat gesture) and I just carried on walking.

“I was like ‘wow, this is a bit different’. But I mean that’s what we faced most of the trip I would suggest.”

The air of intimidation continued throughout a trip that ended in United’s Champions League exit, with a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford followed by a 0-0 at the rickety Ali Sami Yen Stadium.

Turkey Galatasaray v Man Utd fans
Galatasaray fans beat their drums in the Ali Sami Yen Stadium ahead of a match against United in September 1994 (Malcolm Croft/PA Archive)

Eric Cantona was sent off towards the conclusion of a game that ended with the forward and Bryan Robson furious at having been attacked as they left the field.

United have made two less chaotic Champions League visits to Galatasaray since then and Phelan says cool heads are required in what is a huge game for both teams.

“Just play the game,” Phelan said. “The best place to be is on the pitch.

“Off the pitch is where frustrations are but on the pitch you are in control.

“On the pitch it is up to what you do, not necessarily what Galatasaray do. It’s what you do.

“What is your game plan? Can you execute your game plan? Have you got the confidence to go there to get the result that you need?

“Can your big players turn up? Because you need your big players. In big games and occasions, you need your big players.

“I think you’ve got to control the game because you can’t control the atmosphere.

“You might be able to, in a little way, if your retention of the ball is good and you’re not making mistakes, then you control the game, control the ball, and that can silence the crowd – don’t encourage the crowd.”

Manchester United v FC Astana – UEFA Europa League – Group L – Old Trafford
Phelan, left, was assistant to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when United achieved a fine away win at PSG in 2019 (Martin Rickett/PA)

Victory on Wednesday would be United’s most important Champions League away win since their stunning 3-1 last 16 second-leg triumph at Paris St Germain in 2019.

Phelan was assistant to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back then and says they just need to keep the mentality that “it’s a game of football”.

“Galatasaray are in a fantastic position, being at home and knowing they can go through with a win, so their team talk will be slightly different to United’s,” he said.

“But United know the task ahead – they have to win two games. But you can only play one at a time, so win the first one, then take up the challenge of playing Bayern.”