EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United cult hero Kleberson on life at NYCFC

Manchester United cult hero Kleberson on accidentally parking in Fergie’s spot, the rise of MLS… and his new life as a coach at Man City’s sister club NYCFC

  • Kleberson played for Manchester United from 2003-05 under Sir Alex Ferguson
  • He’s now an NYCFC assistant after coaching the Philadelphia Union’s reserves
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off!

Nearly two decades since Kleberson departed Old Trafford, the wisdom of Sir Alex Ferguson still sticks with him.

‘I feel so glad to have had a coach like him. I learned a lot,’ the former Manchester United and Brazil exclusively told Mail Sport.

‘I think for me, the way he managed the team, it’s unbelievable – because he had a lot of egos on the team. A lot of players with really hard personalities, really strong.’

Ferguson’s lessons are perhaps now more relevant than ever to the 44-year-old, who is in his first year as an assistant coach with MLS’ New York City FC.

The budding coach, who greeted this reporter with a warm smile at NYCFC’s training facility, cuts a more genial figure than his former boss. But there are still things to take from the stern Scotsman.

Kleberson is seen with Sir Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo after signing for Man United

The former midfielder is now enjoying life as an assistant coach with New York City FC in MLS

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‘We didn’t see any mad faces in the game or in training sessions, we were just all workers. And the way he did it impressed me… the culture he created around him, it was impossible for any players to break that.’

Kleberson is now part of a different culture at NYCFC, a club where he’s part of a sizable South American contingent, and which is of course a sister outfit of his old rivals Manchester City, through City Football Group.

While he didn’t quite become one of Ferguson’s favorites, Kleberson still has the stories – and the clout – to show for his stint in England with his players.

‘For me it’s really powerful when I start a conversation with a guy, and [bring up] the name Ronaldo, Rivaldo, or Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes,’ he said. ‘What those guys did when they played, the guy’s always like, “That’s amazing.”‘

Kleberson – who began his career with Athletico Paranaense – achieved plenty himself, and his humility can easily obscure the fact that he made over 300 appearances and played a major part in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph.

Now viewing the game from the other side, he’s adjusting to the quirks of coaching.

‘When you play, of course you think about the team. But also you put a lot of energy on yourself,’ he said. ‘When you play, you never think about like, “OK, which kind of training session [are we] gonna be doing.”

Kleberson is seen at practice with his Manchester United teammates in the 2005 preseason

Kleberson is seen with NYCFC assistant Mehdi Ballouchy (center) and head coach Nick Cushing

He played a pivotal part in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph, starting in the final (above)

‘As a coach, it’s totally opposite. You have to look for the whole picture on the field.’

There’s plenty the ex-international can help head coach Nick Cushing with, as the assistant aids the team – known for its proactive, possession-based style – in its attacking patterns. 

But a human touch has been needed this year in New York as well. Two seasons removed from winning the club’s first MLS Cup, NYCFC is struggling just to make the postseason in a challenging year that saw top scorer Gabriel Pereira depart to Qatari club Al-Rayyan midseason.

Incidents like Ferguson (eventually) laughing off the player accidentally using his parking spot showed the Brazilian a softer side of management. 

‘As soon as I start to run with the guys [in training], I saw Sir Alex Ferguson walk to the building. He starts to scream,’ Kleberson recalled of one morning not long after his move to United.

‘My English at that time was really bad, I couldn’t understand anything. I just understand like, “Car parking.” And the guys ask the question, “Who parked their car in Sir Alex Ferguson’s spot?”

‘Kleberson, you’re crazy!,’ he remembered his teammates saying. ‘You’re gonna be fired the next day.’

Of course, Kleberson lasted another two years at the club, and Ferguson chalked it up as an honest mistake by a culture-shocked player.

Past stories aside, the coach’s present is plenty exciting as well.

The USA is less than three years away from co-hosting the World Cup, NYCFC is trying to jostle its way into the postseason and MLS is of course a more exciting league with the addition of Lionel Messi.

Not every team can expect to land a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, but Kleberson sees a higher standard from when he played with the Philadelphia Union a decade ago.

‘When I was here in 2013… we didn’t have great technical players for that moment. Now, you guys can see so many good players. Because [MLS] brought a lot of guys from outside America – the other guys learn.’

That improvement has undoubtedly tracked with the progression of the USMNT as well.

The Brazilian briefly played in MLS for the Philadelphia Union but thinks the league’s level has vastly improved. Here, he instructs NYCFC’s Talles Magno during a match

Kleberson, seen with Ronaldinho, experienced World Cup success of his own and is excited to see the tournament come to the United States in 2026

The team is now represented by stars at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and largely acquitted itself well in Qatar with a round of 16 finish.

But Kleberson doesn’t foresee Christian Pulisic lifting international silverware in 2026. 

‘You guys have to think long term,’ he said. ‘Just compare with ’94 to now… I don’t see the United States winning or getting close, getting in the final.’

Ultimately, he’s heeding his own advice and looking towards the future when it comes to the tournament.

‘To be close to the World Cup, to see the fans, to see the whole structure the United States has to bring the World Cup here will be an amazing experience for the younger generation.’

Now he, and the rest of us, must simply wait. 

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