Date: 13th June 2007 at 9:59am
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Gothenburg legend Neale Cooper has spoken out on his time with Aberdeen during the Dons glory years in the 80`s and points the finger at Alex Ferguson for having to retire from the game very young but he wouldn`t change a minute of it.

The man nicknamed Godzilla due to his power in the tackle, was part of Aberdeen`s most successful team ever and part of a midfield duo with Neil Simpson who were the Roy Keane and Nicky Butt of their day.

But footballers weren`t treated as the prize ponies they are today and Cooper burned himself out very early as he pushed his body to the limits chasing all the trophies Sir Alex Ferguson demanded they win and forced his retirement at the age of 30.

Cooper tells his story, ‘Trying to deliver what Fergie wanted is what burned my body out long before its time.

‘Neil Simpson, John Hewitt and Eric Black were all badly affected as well.

‘It’s no coincidence all of us were out of the game at the top level at a very young age.

‘Fergie has commented about it himself over the years and admitted he learned lessons and tried to be more careful when bringing young players through at Old Trafford.’

Cooper knows however that his career would not have been anywhere near as glittering as it had been without Sir Alex`s drive and determination, something Cooper himself took into management as he forged a decent record at Ross County and Hartlepool before returning to Aberdeen and coaching the Under 19`s.

The man born in South Africa said, ‘I wouldn’t swap a minute of working for Fergie for maybe being fit enough to play on a bit longer.

‘I’m sure Neil, John and Eric would say the same.

‘Fergie is the greatest football manager ever and it was an honour and a privilege to get the chance to play for him.

‘I wake up every day in pain from the three major knee and foot operations I needed after picking up injuries.

‘There are players since who have made millions of pounds out of football but never enjoyed half the on-field success we did.’

Neale was never submissive on the pitch but admits he did back down to the boss. Although he got his own back in other ways, Cooper is quick to point out that in the end, Fergie always won.

‘It’s well documented that Fergie was aggressive and could be a bit of a bully at times,’

‘But when you put that alongside being a brilliant tactician and the best man-motivator in the business you can see why I loved every second I worked for him.’

Fergie worked hard in those early days to keep Neale on the straight and narrow to ensure he could fulfil the promise shown as a youngster.

Stories of Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe being dragged from parties by Fergie are legendary but the young Aberdeen lads were the blueprint for his iron fist of control as Neale reveals, ‘I was earning decent money so decided to get myself a flat in Aberdeen.

‘When Fergie found out he went mental.

‘He said I was still too young to be trusted staying on my own and ordered me to move back in with my mother.

‘I did that for another two years and made sure I got Fergie’s permission when I decided to move the next time.

‘I was also prone to doing the odd childish prank to wind up him and the other players.

‘Fergie got his own back by ordering me to sing ‘Ba Ba Black sheep’ to the other lads in the dressing room.

‘He said if I behaved like a child he would treat me like one.

‘I didn’t like that but did it anyway because what Fergie said was the law.’

The ex-Aston Villa, Rangers, Dunfermline and Reading player believes he knows just why Fergie has achieved all he has done and what he has inside him that drives him there year after year.

Cooper said: ‘ I have never met another person more determined to win than Fergie was. … and by that I mean at everything.

‘I recall having to dodge snooker balls and cues after beating the great man in friendly games at Pittodrie.

‘He and Archie Knox would also batter you with their elbows at head tennis, anything to make sure they won.

‘It was all great fun, though, and I would gain revenge by impersonating Fergie at every opportunity.

‘He acted all angry when he caught me and I would often get bread rolls and the like thrown at my head to shut me up.

‘But I’m sure, deep down, he loved it all and I like to think we have formed a strong friendship.’

Fergie has obviously learned from his Pittodrie days after seeing the special talents of Neale, Eric Black and John Hewitt not fulfill their potential in the way of international caps and honours as the Old Trafford youngsters today are wrapped in cotton wool.

But the man`s achievements will always precede him and he will always be considered as one of the best ever, even by the players he perhaps damaged.

But is he the all time greatest?

Your opinion please on the Vital Aberdeen Forum as usual.