Given the recruitment of some of Manchester United’s rivals has been so sharp in recent years, and also given that the new manager is now public, will the focus now shift to towards player recruitment, exits and loans?
RR: I don’t know, this is the question you have to ask to the board. My focus is on the last remaining four games and getting the best out of those four games. For the recruitment process, if you have questions on that, it’s better that you speak to the board.
Can we get your reaction to the news this week that Erik ten Hag is going to be the next United manager. I know you haven’t wanted to talk about that and you’ve wanted to focus on the games but now we know it’s going to be him, what’s your reaction to that news?
RR: We don’t know each other in person, we haven’t met as yet in person. But from what I have seen him doing, both at Bayern Munich when he was the Under-23 coach and at Ajax now, I like his football and I’m pretty positive with a full pre-season, with having the chance to build and mould his own staff, also a new team which is obvious we will have a new team, with a full pre-season I am pretty sure that we will see a different team and improvement on the pitch.
Have you had any involvement in the process? Have you had any conversations with the board about his appointment and do you know anything yet about your own role next season?
RR: Well, I knew that Erik was one of the candidates the board spoke to. And obviously I told them from, at least from what I had seen and had known from people who had worked with Erik, that I think he would be a good choice. I still believe that he is a very good choice and all the other things we haven’t had time so far to speak about.
How’s the team looking for tomorrow? Obviously you had a lot of absentees the other day…
RR: Scott McTominay will be back and fit to play. He has been training with us and will train today. So he will be available for the game tomorrow. The same is true with Rapha Varane. And obviously Cristiano Ronaldo is available again, he has been training with us now. All of the others are injured, plus Paul Pogba obviously. With Paul, as it seems after the scan we did yesterday or the day before yesterday, it’s very unlikely that he will play until the end of the season again.
Do you think that Paul Pogba has played his last match for Manchester United?
RR: The doctor told me that it will take four weeks minimum for him to recover. And since the last game is at the end of May, I don’t think that it is very likely that he will be able to play again.
No player should feel that either their life or their families’ lives are under threat because of football. How is Harry Maguire doing after that incident?
RR: I haven’t seen him, because I only got to know about this terrible thing yesterday afternoon. And since then I haven’t been able to speak with him. But again this is another bad sign of the crazy world we are living in. Obviously, I feel very sorry for Harry that he has to make that terrible experience. But he knows that we are all behind him, the club is behind him. Everybody, the players, his team-mates. Bu it’s sad enough that crazy things like that happen.
What have you made of the way Arsenal have played under Mikel Arteta? What do you think of their style of play?
RR: They are very fresh, extremely young team, probably on average the youngest team in the league. Knowing that we spoke about that earlier on, that they lost their first three games. Away at Brentford 2-0, I remember watching that game on TV and I think they just draw the right conclusions of what they experienced earlier on in the season. They brought in some young players, Odegaard for example, and got rid of some players who didn’t fit into that style of football. Yes, it’s a high attacking team with fast strikers. Pretty aggressive in the first third, always trying to press and counter-press. But still also vulnerable at the back. I like watching them actually but hopefully not against us tomorrow. So it’s up to us to be aware and be prepared for what they are doing up front but at the same time take advantage of the space that we will hopefully get in their half.
In terms of your Champions League ambitions, do you need to win the match?
RR: I don’t think it makes sense to speculate about how likely it still is that we can finish fourth or wherever. It doesn’t make sense after a performance like that at Liverpool. We just need to make sure that we play far better. This is the only way to deal with it. We need to get the best possible team on the pitch and then play in a different way with more conviction, with more confidence, with more aggressive behaviour on the pitch. I mean the way that we played at Liverpool, especially in the first half, it will be difficult to get something out of the game against Arsenal. But we will have to change and show a completely different performance.
What has been the players’ reaction to that defeat against Liverpool? Have you seen that in training, a desperation to put things right?
RR: We only trained yesterday because the day after the game obviously was recovery. Yesterday, we trained some issues in connection with the game but the only real training session we are going to have is now in one hour’s time. They were all disappointed as we all were so obviously it’s now up to us and to the players to show a reaction on the pitch tomorrow.
Do you think there will be a lot of ins and outs at the end of the season? I’m sure you’ve got a figure in your head but will you be passing that information on to Erik as to how many players you think are needed to come in in the summer?
RR: It’s obvious there are quite a few players whose contracts are expiring. There might be a few others who, although they still have contracts, are already on loan and still want to be on loan or to leave the club. So it will be a significant change and rebuild necessary, that’s clear but how many players and in which positions. As I said, I haven’t spoken to Erik in person as yet but if he asks me in person my opinion, I am obviously ready and willing to speak with him about my experience. But on the other hand he also will have his own ideas. That it’s not only three or four new players is obvious. Bearing in mind how many players’ contracts are expiring.
How fair would you say it is to characterise Paul Pogba as an enigma? I mean by that, he can play well, other times not so much. A fair characterisation of him as a footballer, an enigma?
RR: Doesn’t make sense right now, he’s injured most likely, he’s a player who won the world cup with France, he’s such a good player that he was a regular starter for a team like France. We all know what kind of potential he has, how good of a player he can be but he was quite like a few other players, struggling to get his best performance, sustainably on the pitch for a team like Manchester United and this is not only the case this season or in the last couple of weeks as far as I remember this was also the case in earlier years.
RR: That’s difficult to say, if myself and other coaches knew that it probably would have been easier to change that. I don’t know but right now it doesn’t make sense to think about that because, as I said he won’t be available for the game tomorrow and most likely not for the other four upcoming games. And as it seems he will not renew his contract. I don’t know, maybe the club or Erik will also not want to renew the contract, I don’t know but it’s most likely that he won’t be here anymore next season.
More high-profile and decorated coaches than Erik ten Hag have been at this club and effectively failed, the likes of Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho won titles all over Europe, what makes you convinced and the board convinced that Erik can succeed where they have failed?
RR: I think I spoke about that five minutes ago, it’s important obviously I think he’s a good character to start with, from all I’ve heard from people who have worked with him. He’s a very good character, very communicative, very much carry himself, doing things himself. Obviously he needs the assistance of the whole club, of all the people inside the club, I think he will get that. He will hopefully get the chance to mould, as I said, a new team with the scouting department together with the board which is necessary obviously and for me this is the most vital part, that the club manages to get in the best possible players and also change the attitude and also the energy. It’s also for me a question of energy. I think we need a positive energy for the new team and it is also important for the new manager and if he gets that, I mean we spoke about other clubs that were in a similar position as Manchester United, five, six years ago. So if the right lessons are being learnt from what’s happened this season. This could be one of the few good things about a season like we are going through right now that at least you know which kind of screws you need to turn and which kind of things we need to change and if that happens, I mean why shouldn’t Erik ten Hag be as successful as he was at Ajax? I mean it’s probably not the manager’s quality, it’s about changing all the other things that have brought the club to the position we are in right now.
Is patience the key then because you said it could take two or three windows and then after the Liverpool defeat you said you are six years behind Liverpool so is patience the key? He’s got to be given time hasn’t he?
RR: I would rather say it’s more the level of expectations and this also has got to do with patience, yes but in a club like Manchester United, it’s difficult to tell people to be patient, it will take a little bit of time but we just have to face the current situation. I mean, we lost on aggregate against Liverpool 9-0, we lost against Manchester City on aggregate 6-1. The team even lost against teams like Watford 4-1, we lost to a team like Everton who were not full of confidence 1-0. This is just the reality, the sad reality and therefore I think it also makes sense to have a bit of a sense or reality. I wouldn’t even call it patience but the sense of reality that we have to face and just accept, I wouldn’t say accept but acknowledge. This would also help Erik ten Hag for the future.
Eric Bailly posted something on Instagram which effectively endorsed dropping Harry Maguire tomorrow and him playing ahead of him. Is that something you will speak to him about and is that also another example of the kind of character the squad, the club cannot have next season?
RR: I’m not on Instagram, I’m not communicating by Instagram, not at all.
Is it a point of discipline, I suppose? Do you think he has to be told he shouldn’t do that?
RR: I’m talking about my players now in the press conference not knowing what has happened. This doesn’t make sense but I can only tell you never in my life, I will not in my life be part of Instagram, Facebook or whatever. If this is true what you just told me, I think it’s not the right sign, this should not happen in a football team, no matter in which league.
I know Erik ten Hag will be concentrating on his own games and title race but will obviously be looking at United games, the last few. Do a few players have to maybe put an idea in his head that they’ve got a future here that they have to perform and show him they should be here next season? Because at the minute they’re not.
RR: It should be the case , I mean coming back to tomorrow’s game, we also as I said earlier on, we owe it to our supporters, there will be a couple of thousand travelling down to Arsenal tomorrow, we owe that to the millions of Manchester United supporters all over the world who will watch the game on TV and it’s also a question of pride and honour towards themselves. We cannot play like the way we played at Liverpool, this is just impossible. And we showed in the last couple of weeks and months that we’re capable to play in a different way. So, again tomorrow it’s about just showing the basics, being compact, coming behind the ball, being able to attack, to sprint in the right moments, not as we did when we conceded the first goal. I mean, it was never the game plan to stand at the halfway line, even since Paul Pogba was already hobbling across the pitch, he should have laid down or sat down on the ground in that moment but he was trying to, I was watching that goal that we conceded, obviously quite a few times, he was trying to hobble behind the referee to tell him he was injured. We were effectively one player down, attacking high up and a team like Liverpool, probably one of the best in the world in those transitional moments, that wasn’t particularly smart from our side. Again for tomorrow we just need to be and have shown that in quite a few away games, we need to be compact, close together and the front foot still whenever it’s possible to put them under pressure and create our own transitional moments. This is the basics of the game.
You’ve kept mentioning in previous press conferences this word ‘sustainability’, some performances have been good but not sustainable and you just mentioned it earlier today. How do you build sustainability and why do you think it’s so brittle at this club? Why do you think it’s sustainable for 20 minutes then goes away?
RR: We have to take it game by game, that’s why it doesn’t make sense to still speculate which kind of percentage of chances we have to finish fourth. Maybe if we win all five games, but even then it’s not in our hands. We cannot influence the other results, we can only influence our own results. The way we have played recently, I don’t think it makes sense to keep saying “yes yes, we have a good chance of finishing fourth at the end.” This doesn’t make sense, for me, right now, it’s only about getting a better performance onto the pitch tomorrow and then after that game, the next one is not an easy at home against Chelsea so it’s not about being sustainable right now, it’s about showing a different mentality on the pitch, a different performance and sustainably changing things, that again is to do with things that happen in the future.
How do you sustain that quality from the training field you mentioned before and translate that to the 90 minute performance?
RR: It has been similar, also in training, we haven’t been training at the level on the kind of level I would’ve wanted us to train and obviously we are very far away from that kind of football I would like to play that I normally stand for as a manager. We are very far away from that kind of football. Even if I watch Burnley, yesterday in the second half against Southampton and they are fighting for relegation and staying in the league. The way that they defended in the second half, didn’t allow Southampton a single chance to score in the second half. This is what I mean by basics, those are the things we need to try and get implemented, we need to show in the next games.
You mentioned earlier you’d not spoken about your situation with the board yet but after what you’ve been through and what’ve you seen the past few months, do you still want to come back and be involved with United next season? Do you see yourself coming back in some role?
RR: At least we have an agreement on that role, but in the end it is not a question that has be written on paper or what has been agreed upon, it’s about what will really happen in everyday life and in everyday’s business, that is the question and it is also important how does Erik ten Hag see that, does he like to speak with somebody like myself, how close does he want to work together? And those are the things we haven’t spoken about. For me, I’m not worried about that at all. But for me it’s not a question of having agreed upon a contract for whatever, next two years. In fact I’m 64 very soon, for me it’s not about having a contract on paper, for me it’s about what will really happen. How much do Erik ten Hag and the board of Manchester United really want to know about my opinion, about my experience and this is what we haven’t spoken about.
Would you like to remain involved?
RR: I’m interested and I’m very much feeling with this club after these five and a half months and I still see what kind of options, what kind of space for improvement we could develop. Again having seen Liverpool play against us, having seen what has happened in other clubs and we also spoke about Arsenal and eve Tottenham. Why should this not be possible here? I mean this is one of the biggest clubs in the world, we have perfect training conditions, we have a fantastic stadium, we have massive fan support, probably the best fan support I have ever experienced apart from Schalke in Germany. This is just amazing. And of course I would like to be part of that process that has to happen but again I cannot right now, I don’t know if this can happen and how this has been appreciated and wanted.
When David Moyes took over in 2013, he was very clear that he felt there was a big rebuilding job at that point, got a long contract but he was sacked after ten months. Do you think that the club, if the next 12 months are bumpy, the club will hold their nerve and realise that it’s going to require patience and some long term thinking to put this ship right?
RR: There was too many ifs and what would happen. I can only tell you what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard and experienced so far. Erik ten Hag is a good choice, if not a very good choice. He has shown that in the past. I’m pretty convinced he’s the best possible coach you can get right now and all the other things as I said earlier on, as sad as it is, as frustrating as it feels for everybody involved and believe me, for me this is really terribly frustrating because in the last ten years, if not fifteen years, we only experienced success. Myself also as a sporting director and as a football manager. Yeh, in football you don’t always have the bright side, right now we are on the other side but as I said earlier on, the good thing that happened, one of the few good things is that it’s crystal clear, it’s not that difficult, you don’t even need glasses to analyse, to see where the problems are. So now it’s only about how do we solve them and for me it’s clear, it’s not enough to do some little minor amendments, some little issues here and there, some minor cosmetic things, no. This is in medicine you see an operation at the open heart, so there are more things to be changed then some little changes here and some minor things there, and this is the good thing, if this happens and everyone has to realise this has to happen and if people want to work together then it makes sense. I still believe it doesn’t need to take two or three years to change those things, this could happen within one year and other clubs, not too far away from here have shown it doesn’t take three or four years, it’s possible in one two maybe three transfer windows.
Does this require strong leadership though, on and off the pitch? Without strong leadership going forward there’s no hope.
RR: For sure. This implies this is not also not only one single person or manager can do. With all respect to Jurgen and Pep, I’m sure that they didn’t do all the things themselves, there were also other people involved in those two clubs. Top people in certain positions, no matter which area it was in order to rebuild and build something that we want to build here in all areas, you have to have top people to work together in a very close and reliable way.