Manchester United have been drawn against Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Before this was announced, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke to the press.
After beating PSG and after beating Juventus on home soil before you were here, is there a feeling of bring it on?
OGS: Definitely. We’re happy to be through. There are so many good teams. It’s been a nice couple of days relaxing and watching the other games, instead of having a game ourselves.
Do you want to avoid an English side?
OGS: I don’t really mind who we’re going to play. It’s going to be a tough game anyway. If we’re going to get to the final and win it, you have to beat everyone.
Injury wise, any news? We heard Lukaku picked up a knock.
OGS: Yeh he’s had a sore foot this week, so he’s been assessed. Hopefully he’ll get through today. Phil Jones is back. There have been so many players out. Anthony has been training well this week. Herrera has been training, Jesse has, so obviously we’ve got a decision to make tomorrow on who’s match fit.
What does it say about the Premier League that there are six sides in both European competitions?
OGS: It’s got to be a compliment. It tells a lot about the quality and it’s not like any of us have had easy teams to play against. Dortmund, Munich, PSG have been beaten, so it’s a testament to the Premier League.
In terms of Wolves, they’ve taken points off all the teams in the top six. How impressed have you been with their approach to the big games?
OGS: That’s a testament to them. From last season you were impressed with them then, to go through the Championship as they did convincingly with the players. You could see they had a clear plan. They didn’t get Championship players in, they were players above the Championship level and you can see that now in seventh position. They still trust their own way of playing. You still have to defend well. They defended fantastically well against Chelsea last week but at home they take the game to the opposition with their great passing ability in the team.
This is the first international break since you’ve been manager. How would you assess your performance over the last three months?
OGS: We’ve done well. We’ve given ourselves a great chance to the top four, or even third position. We’re in Cup quarter-finals both in FA Cup and Champions League. We’ve been on a good run but now, it’s not squeaky bum time like the gaffer used to say, but it tightens up and April and May is always the time at Manchester United when we narrow the focus and it’s now about winning trophies, really making use of the squad. It’s always been April and May that we’ve made that last step.
You obviously came in half way through. Do you feel as though you’re ahead of your own schedule?
OGS: I didn’t have a schedule. I had until May to do whatever I could with the team and playing style, mood, results, everything, has been going well. But then again football kicks you in the teeth sometimes, so it’s always the next game. If we get through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup then maybe I’ll have a nice few days back home.
How’s Alexis Sanchez’s recovery going? There’s been a report this week that he might not be in your plans in the long term?
OGS: He’s coming back on Sunday. He’s not been on grass yet, he’s been seeing his people in Barcelona. He’s still a few weeks away so if we get to round about Everton, City, Chelsea, that period, he’ll probably be available. Hopefully.
Are you confident that Manchester United will see the best of him?
OGS: Yeah I hope so. You can never be 100% but Alexis is such a determined lad, he loves football so I’m sure he is doing everything he can to get back and show his best side.
People learn more in defeat than in victory. So with the Arsenal game you’ve had a few days off to work with the players. So what do you take from that blip at the weekend?
OGS: You’re always measured on results but we played a good game against Arsenal. We’ve played so much worse and won games and that’s the strange thing in football when you’re a manager, that you can look behind the result and say that was a good performance, we didn’t get what we deserved, sometimes you say that was a bad performance but we won, and you’re happy. So it’s so strange. The Arsenal one, very disappointed in the result. It hurts more than anything. But it’s not like we can look at the performance and say we were s**t, because we weren’t, sorry! To be honest and blunt, we weren’t, we played well.
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) March 15, 2019
With the international break, what will you do with the players that you have?
OGS: I’ll have a few days back home hopefully or go somewhere with the family, that would be nice. Players who’ve been injured need to train hard and get fit, and the ones who’ve played a lot will play with international teams, so hopefully they’ll come back fit.
Can I just ask about Paul Scholes? We were all surprised.
OGS: Were you?
Maybe not, no.
OGS: He’s probably got his reasons why he left, so you’ve gotta ask him. He’s invited here if he wants to come and have a little chat about it. We’ve texted and it didn’t work out as he wanted, that’s just management.
You’ve come through some tough games in the FA Cup away from home, just as you did in 1999, when you faced some tough opponents. Do you see any parallels between now and 20 years ago in terms of the character you had to show?
OGS: Yeh. To win trophies you’ve got to win at least on or two really tough games, they’re defining games. We beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal back then. You deserve a little bit of luck in the draw next time, but Wolves away, what a difficult game that can be. Comparisons? Well, we’re not challenging to win the league this year, but we’re challenging for the other two trophies.
You said recently that the club shouldn’t just focus on going after superstars. There’s been a lot of speculation about Gareth Bale. The club have been interested in him before. Is he a player that you would still see fitting in at Manchester United, or is he the kind of player who the club should shy away from now?
OGS: I can’t really comment on Gareth Bale, or specific names, because they’re property of other clubs. But we should look for quality players, definitely. And players who could improve us as a team. There’s so many factors that you need to think of when you sign players. When you’re in the media or a supporter you can think short term, we’ve got to think about the longevity as well, who’s going to fit in personality wise, there’s so many things to think about.
Looking at the quality in the last eight of the Champions League, has this squad got the quality to go all the way and why do you think it has, given your experience of this competition?
OGS: I think we’ve shown that against PSG that on any given day we can beat a top team. Then again, there are so many variables, and in these games they’ll be decided by margins. With VAR, even though for me it’s a penalty [against PSG], you could still be unlucky and not get in the last minute and we’d be out, and nobody would really remember the PSG performance. So yeh, we can go all the way, but you’ve got to be lucky and good along the way.
Results like that give the squad belief, don’t they?
OGS: Definitely. The confidence in the players is sky high and the mood is good, attitude in training is good, so hopefully we can keep that run going.
Do you believe in fate? The fact you’re here 20 years on from 99…
OGS: There has been a couple of comments, like ‘you used to play in number 20, and bla bla bla’. I believe you get what you deserve in sports. If you put the work in. I do believe if you work hard, show the right attitude, go in every single day and do the right things, you’ll maximise your chances.
With the top four being so important to qualify, you’ve got no concern about still being in the FA Cup and Champions League? You look at it the other way and think it can help your league form?
OGS: The more games you win, the more confidence you breed, the more hunger there is in the players. Every single game that you win puts another layer on the way to becoming the team that we want to be. So I don’t agree with Gary Neville teams should go out of this to focus on that.
Do you deserve success here? At the start of the season, I don’t think anybody would have seen you here at this point. Do you think that, with what you’ve done in your career, that you deserve to be Champions League winners?
OGS: I don’t want to judge what I deserve. I just do whatever I can to deserve good things.
You said that Paul Scholes can come and talk to you. Is it a genuine offer that the door is open here if he wants to come and have a chat about joining the staff?
OGS: Definitely. It’s been great so far when you see ex-players. If they want to come in and learn, if they want to stay for a few days, a week. Kieran, Michael, Demps, and even in the academy there are so many good coaches. I know when I was away that I would have loved to have come in and done some study visits, but I had work so I didn’t get the time to do it.
Did you ever get those offers from managers that have been working here after Sir Alex?
OGS: I’ve been working and, to be honest, I didn’t play with them so I wasn’t close with any of them.
After the round with Real Madrid and PSG out, is there a sense that the draw has opened up for everyone in the Champions League this season?
OGS: There’s still top, top quality in it. With Cristiano still in it, I don’t think it’s opened up that much.
But given they’ve won it four times in the last five years, and PSG too, there are teams that are beatable still left in it.
OGS: It goes in cycles. You can see, Porto won it in 2004 and Monaco got to the final, Ajax, you never know. Any team can win on any given day out of those eight.
Di Matteo won it as a caretaker, there have been lots of comparisons with you and him. Do you welcome those comparisons?
OGS: Er. I don’t really think about it that way, no.
A couple of people have said that you’ve been very lucky in your job at United…
OGS: I think I’ve answered that question quite well here. I think you earn your luck, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Considering how hard you’ve had to work to get to this stage of the FA Cup, going to Arsenal and Chelsea, would it be quite an anti-climax if you were to go to Wolves and have a bad day?
OGS: Any game you lose is a big anti-climax. It’s the worst feeling you can have. And that’s maybe the only good thing about that Arsenal defeat, to feel how much it hurt. PSG, we still had a chance to correct it, and before then, the last game I’d lost was August 26th, so it was a long time ago.
For the Wolves game, Ashley Young is suspended. Is that an area of concern with other injured players? Eric had a tough game in Paris.
OGS: Ashley’s been fantastic. We’ve got Diogo, Phil Jones can play there, so we’ve got players. We might even swap to a different system, you never know.