Big Ron is enjoying himself. A renowned mangler of the English language in the pursuit of co-commentary, he gives the impression that he enjoys himself rather a lot of the time as he regales a room of journalists with one-liners, put-downs and exhaustive anecdotes.
After five years out of football management, the tan, the grin and the barrage of gags tell the story; Ron Atkinson barely misses his former profession.
'The TV work that I do keeps me involved in the game,' he says, a statement corroborated by a series of references to recent games he has attended.
'I don't miss the pressure but I wouldn't mind the money. They earn a lot more than they did in my day.'
Self-assurance being rarely in short supply he is scathing about the achievements of some of today's dug-out dwellers.
'I see some managers getting praised for coming eighth in the league and think "I'll have some of that". Remember, I once got sacked for coming fourth.'
He is referring to his 1986 exit from Manchester United where two FA Cup wins and four fourth places in a row, the kind of record that Gerard Houllier would kill for these days, were not enough to save him from Martin Edwards' axe, which he is only too keen to tell us was celebrated with an all-night party chez Atkinson with Messrs Robson, Strachan and Whiteside leading the festivities.
Claudio Ranieri, a fellow graduate of the Atletico Madrid Jesus Gil school of sackings, is the recipient of some Ron respect: 'Talking in terms of television he's been a shining light, an absolute plum.'
'And he's put himself in a much stronger position at Chelsea than he was in a few weeks ago. He's used the situation to his advantage and as a consequence his profile is a lot higher than it was six months ago. They're talking about him for the Real Madrid job now.'
Ranieri's continental origins, says Atkinson, should mean that he was used to the 'hire 'em and fire 'em' approach often practised on the continent: 'It goes with the territory. You live under the shadows. Del Bosque won two European Cups at Real and got finished. The fella there now, Queiroz, he virtually knows he's going at the end of this season.'
|“||Whatever people say about him he gets things done - and he does people. ”|
|— Ron on Ken|
Ron then goes on to reassert his view that Ranieri should 'get a shout' should Sven Goran Eriksson desert his England post. He is also supportive of another Chelsea man in Ken Bates and his attempts to take control of Sheffield Wednesday, another of Atkinson's former clubs.
While paying tribute to Bates' achievements at Stamford Bridge he said: 'I think Batesey would be great for Wednesday, he's a doer. Whatever people say about him he gets things done - and he does people, he's not one to fiddle about.' When asked whether he'd have liked working for the tempestous Mr Bates, he giggles: 'I always got on with him OK except when we knocked them out of a Cup semi. You know where you stand with him.'
Though he always looks out for the results of his old clubs, even keeping up regularly with the fortunes of Cambridge United and Kettering Town, he reserves a special affection for Aston Villa, who he supported as a boy and both played for and managed. The Villa are also the subject of recent takeover speculation but Ron swiftly pooh-poohs the idea of Doug Ellis ever relinquishing control at Villa Park.
'Doug will never leave, he's no need of the money. Aston Villa's his life.' Villa's revival of recent playing fortunes meets with approval. 'I saw Villa against Chelsea and they were very impressive. They're only one or two points away from Newcastle and could creep into fourth spot.'
|“||Doug will never leave, he's no need of the money. Aston Villa's his life. ”|
|— Ron on Doug|
Villa's rise to the verge of Champions League qualification has come on a shoestring, which Ron puts down to David O'Leary 'working with what he's got and finding that they're better players than he thought he had.'
Ron, as the last man to manage Manchester United before Sir Alex Ferguson and his involvement in covering the Champions League in the last decade, continues to have respect for his old club, naming Paul Scholes and Ruud Nistelrooy in his comedy attacking formation of 2-1-7 alongside former club-mate David Beckham. Though United's season has folded into anti-climax with both the Premiership and the Champions League now out of reach, Atkinson doesn't think that major surgery is a requirement at Old Trafford.
He can see United remaining a challenger for the top honours 'if they can make a signing of the same ilk as Van Nistelrooy, maybe not even quite that good. The players they've signed recently have only been as good or perhaps not as good as what they had before. Rio Ferdinand returning sorts out the defensive situation. But one thing's for sure - they were better when they had Beckham.'
'That midfield of Giggs, Scholes, Keane and Beckham was good enough to take on anyone. You had workers and creators.' But with Beckham already gone, Atkinson questions whether Keane will be at Old Trafford next year after his return to international football was announced this week. When asked how he'd deal with Keane's Ireland return if he was United's manager, he merely says: 'It's his own decision.
|“||Keane should make a public apology to the Irish people and players. ”|
|— Ron on Roy|
'It's up to the Irish what they want to do. Though I do think that Keane should make a public apology to the Irish people and players.'
Ron's roles as ITV expert and Guardian columnist see him regularly hold forth on tactics, a pursuit he seems to relish. 'When I'm watching games these days I always look for certain things and patterns of play. I was at the Birmingham-Man U game at the weekend and I couldn't for the life of me work out why United were playing with Solskjaer on the left and Giggs up front in the first half.'
When asked if his tactical analysis has met with approval or disquiet from his managerial brethren he tells how 'Pleaty' (David Pleat) phoned him about Spurs' 4-0 loss to Southampton in last season's FA Cup and told him that he 'was spot on there' about the crucial role of Fabrice Fernandes. When I profer that Glenn Hoddle was still Spurs boss at that time, he smirks 'Oh yeah' and laughs off the breaking of managerial omerta and inadvertent confirmation of Pleat's heavily rumoured low opinion of Hoddle.
Atkinson is reknowned almost as much for his commentary catchphrases as his managerial record these days. Phrases like 'lollipop' (a stepover) 'easy oasy' (slacking off) and 'eyebrows' (flicked header) have become common parlance in the football fraternity and Ron is happy to take the credit for them, saying their origins lie in the training ground. The 'Ronglish' vernacular has been around ever since his early playing days at Headington United he says.
|“||You don't need loads of defenders, just good defenders ”|
|— Ron's footballing philosophy|
As has his devotion to attacking football, with which he first made his name as a manager at West Bromwich Albion in the late 70s: 'You don't need loads of defenders, just good defenders and I was lucky to work with great ones like Paul McGrath and Martin Buchan. When I was a manager I'd only spend 20% of my time on defence. The other 80% was spent on attacking.'
With a joke, a story and an opinion on all things football and a fair bit besides, that Atkinson ideal of going out and entertaining remains in full flow.