Mike Phelan was appointed assistant manager to his former Manchester United teammate Steve Bruce in February 2015, having just left Norwich City where he had briefly been first team caretaker manager. Phelan’s arrival had a positive effect on Bruce’s struggling Tigers side and two Premier League wins immediately followed against Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers. However the team’s form slumped again and the Tigers were relegated at the end of the 2014/15 season. Phelan assisted Bruce throughout the 2015/16 season as Hull City competed in the top six of the Championship and eventually triumphed in the play-off final against Sheffield Wednesday after ending the season in fourth place.
Despite this success on the pitch there was evident unrest between Bruce and the chairman’s son Ehab Allam, who was acting chief executive while his father recovered from illness. With the club starved of investment by the Allam family as a proposed sale moved forwards at glacial pace, Bruce’s patience cracked in late July 2016 and he resigned, leaving Phelan to step up to become first team manager (in a caretaker capacity betwwen July and October 2016). It was a mammoth challenge, the first team squad was threadbare – what remained was talented, but numbers were short – and within weeks the proposed sale of the club to an American consortium led by Peter Grieve collapsed, leaving the Allam family unexpectedly in charge of a Premier League side once more. Phelan’s reaction to the situation was admirable – he led the Tigers to victory in the opening match of the season against champions Leicester City, then over the subsequent ten days delivered further victories away at Swansea in the Premier League and Exeter City in the League Cup. With only twelve fit senior players at his disposal, the wins against Leicester and Swansea were a remarkable achievement and placed the Tigers joint top of the table.
It wasn’t to last, at least not in the Premier League. The Allams resumed investment in the squad and new talent was signed – Scottish international goalkeeper David Marshall, strikers Will Keane and Dieumerci Mbokani and midfield playmakers Ryan Mason, the club’s record signing at £13 million, and Norwegian Markus Henriksen. But hastily assembling a new squad in the teeth of a new Premier League season was a job beyond most managers and Mike Phelan, though he battled manfully, was unable to thrive – just one victory against Southampton in the next 18 league games saw the Tigers slump to the foot of the Premier League table. He did mastermind a fine run in the League Cup though – after defeating Exeter City the Tigers prevailed over Stoke City and Bristol City to set up a Quarter Final tie against Newcastle United. Despite Newcastle dominating the first 90 minutes the tie remained goalless and entered extra-time, City’s Wembley hero from six months earlier, Mo Diame, struck a 98th minute opener for the Magpies only for Robert Snodgrass to equalise a minute later. City won a low octane penalty shoot-out 3-1 and Mike Phelan, for all his struggles in the League, had led Hull City to the club’s first ever League Cup semi-final.
Despite this achievement in became clear over the festive period that Phelan’s days were numbered and the day after a defeat at West Bromwich Albion on the day after New Years Day, the likeable Lancastrian was dismissed to be replaced by Marco Silva. Mike Phelan’s half a season in charge may have been studded with defeats, some of which were heavy (1-4 against Arsenal, 1-5 at Liverpool, 1-6 at Bournemouth) but he did deliver a thrilling opening fortnight to the season when playing resources were stripped to an absolute bare minimum, and he did deliver a fine Cup run. Hull City’s history should recall him positively.
Michael Christopher Phelan was born in Nelson, an east Lancashire town in the Colne Valley, he joined his local Division Three side Burnley on associate schoolboy terms in July 1979. A year later in July 1980, defensive midfielder Phelan signed his first professional contract and was soon part of the Clarets first team setup. He made his senior debut on the last day of January 1981 against Chesterfield and within weeks he was a regular first team starter, scoring his first senior goal against Barnsley in March 1981. He was also quickly called up to the England Under-18 side, making his debut in February 1981 against Northern Ireland and taking his tally to five appearances against Austria in May 1981. He retained his Burnley first team place during the 1981/82 season as the Turf Moor side won the Division Three title, though Phelan was absent for the last two months of the season due to a fractured cheekbone. With Burnley elevated to Division Two Phelan resumed his first team berth in the 1982/83 season and ended the season an ever-present as the Clarets reached the League Cup semi-final (which they lost to Division One giants Liverpool) and the League Cup Quarter Final, losing out to Sheffield Wednesday after a replay. Despite this Cup success Burnley struggled in the League and by May 1983 had slumped to relegation back to Division Three. Phelan remained loyal to Burnley for two more seasons but moved on when they were relegated to Division Four at the end of the 1984/85 season – he scored 13 goals in 211 senior appearances for the Clarets.
In July 1985 Phelan transferred to Division Two side Norwich City for a fee of £60,000, a move that was to define his career. He was a first regular for the Canaries for four seasons as they claimed the Division Two title in the 1985/86 season then achieved two top five Division One finishes in the next three seasons. Phelan was an important part of this team – he was later placed in the Norwich City Hall of Fame by supporters – and took over as club captain in 1987 when teammate Steve Bruce signed for Manchester United. By the 1988/89 season Phelan was recognised as one of England’s most promising midfielders as Norwich ended the season fourth place in Division One and reached the FA Cup semi-final (though Phelan missed the Villa Park semi-final defeat to Division One rivals Everton). In July 1989 Mike followed Steve Bruce to Manchester United in return for a £750,000 fee, he left the Canaries having scored 10 goals in 194 appearances.
Phelan’s stock continued to rise at Old Trafford and he performed well at both right back and central midfield as the Red Devils won the FA Cup, defeating Crystal Palace in the May 1990 final after a replay. Mike also won his only full England senior cap in November 1989 against Italy. He remained an important part of the Manchester United first team during the 1990/91 season but as the 1990s progressed and a rich seam of talent emerged from the club’s youth team, Phelan found first team game time harder to come by. He played only a handful of games in the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons as the Red Devils twice won the Division One title, though he did win a League Cup winners medal against Nottingham Forest in April 1992. He made his final appearance for Manchester United against Wimbledon in November 1993, taking his tally to three goals in 146 appearances.
Handed a free transfer in the 1994 close season, Mike joined League Division 1 side West Bromwich Albion in July 1994 but in one and a half seasons at The Hawthorns he managed just 23 appearances. In December 1995 he decided to hang up his boots and commenced a second career in football coaching, joining former club Norwich City as reserve team manager and assistant to first team manager Gary Megson. When Megson was sacked by Norwich in June 1996 Phelan also left the club and became assistant at League Division 2 side Blackpool when Megson was appointed manager a month later. Megson left Blackpool in July 1997 to take up the manager’s role at League Division 1 side Stockport County and Phelan again followed him as assistant manager, a move he made for a third time in less than two years.
In July 1999 Mike left Stockport County weeks after Gary Megson was dismissed and was handed a coaching role at Manchester United’s Centre of Excellence. Phelan was promoted to the first team coaching staff in July 2001 and rose to Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager in September 2008. A familiar sight on the BBC due to Ferguson’s refusal to conduct interviews with the state broadcaster, Phelan was also a constant presence on the touchline through the 2000s as the Red Devils won five Premier League titles, and lifted the European Champions League trophy in 2008. Phelan left Manchester United in May 2013 shortly after Ferguson’s retirement.
After a year out of the frontline Phelan returned in November 2014 when he was appointed first team coach at his former club Norwich City. Within two months manager Neil Adams had been dismissed and Phelan was elevated to caretaker manager for a few days, returning to his coaching duties when Scotsman Alex Neil was appointed by the Canaries. Mike left Norwich City at the end of January 2015, joining Hull City as Steve Bruce’s assistant manager a fortnight later.
Phelan left Hull City in January 2017 and after another career break he was appointed sporting director at Australian A-League side Central Coast Mariners in July 2018. In December 2018 Phelan returned to England and was reappointed first team coach at Premier League side Manchester United, working alongside manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. In May 2019 he was once again appointed assistant manager at Manchester United, a role he retained under Solksjaer’s successor Ralf Rangnick. Phelan left Manchester United in May 2022 when new manager Erik ten Hag was appointed.
Date/Place of Birth: 24 September 1962, Nelson, England
Appointed by Hull City: 22 July 2016; 53 years, 302 days old
Left Hull City: 3 January 2017; 54 years, 101 days old
Tenure: 165 days
Norwich City (2015), Hull City (2016-2017)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 24, Won 6, Drawn 5, Lost 13, Goals For 25, Goals Against 48