In terms of team news, with Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, how are we looking this weekend?
RR: Harry is back in training, he trained the whole week, since the day after or the second day after the Brentford game, he resumed for training. So, he will be available for tomorrow and be part of the group. Edinson is in training, obviously he came on as a sub. Marcus Rashford will be missing, he has caught bronchitis with high temperatures, so he won’t be able to be part of the group. We have a question mark behind Eric Bailly, he called the doctor this morning and had some back problems, problems with his back and he’s being checked right now. We’ll have to see if he will be able to train afterwards.
How tough are these final two games for you as a manger in terms of making sure the mindset is right, making sure you do push those teams around you right to the end?
RR: Well, I think these last two games, two home games, we got four points against the two home games against Chelsea and Brentford. We spoke already after the Brentford game that it was one of our best games in possession of the ball and also one of our best games in the last six months. I am positive that the team will try to play on the same level tomorrow at Brighton and in two weeks’ time against Crystal Palace. Once again, this is our job and what I liked about the game is you could see that they had fun playing together, that they were enjoying themselves on the pitch and this is exactly the kind of approach that we need tomorrow as well.
In terms of the future, we’ve spoken a lot about your thoughts but when do you speak to Ten Hag? When do you offer your opinions to the board? When do you give an overview of where Manchester United are because you’ve only got two games left now?
RR: We will definitely speak at the end of the season, both Erik and myself want to have our full focus on the outstanding games, he has another three games to play and will do everything he can to win the league in the Netherlands. We have agreed we will have a chat and speak about everything at the end of the season.
You mentioned there about it looked like the players were having fun, fun is not a word that has been used a lot around Manchester United this season. Do you get the impression that there is a group there who do want to succeed, that do want to improve this situation?
RR: Well, I think it was visible against Brentford, I think this was not only my subjective opinion, I think you could see they enjoyed themselves on the pitch. This does not mean everything was perfect, but in possession we were controlling the game and with regard to next season, there will be some changes quite obviously because there are quite a few players whose contracts are expiring and I think we spoke about that earlier on with the right, new players to join us here, plus the players who are already here and have longer-term contracts. It’s also something that needs to be discussed with Erik and the board, to tell the board with which players he wants to work but I’m positive that with the right new players to add to ours already here, the pathway could be into a very positive one and this is what we will all try to achieve.
You talked about some of the players who are out of contract at the end of the season, one of those is Jesse Lingard, who didn’t feature on Monday night. His brother said this week that it was classless not to give him one final game at Old Trafford, I wonder what your reaction was to that and also why he hasn’t featured almost at all this year, only four starts across all competitions?
RR: To start with, I think in the last couple of weeks under my tenure, he has played far more games than he used to before I came. That’s to start with. Number two, on game day against Chelsea, he contacted me in the hotel and asked me to release him from the game and release him from the training session the following day or two days after the Chelsea game for some personal, family reasons and I also allowed him to do that. This was also the reason that with only three subs, still unfortunately, in all the other leagues you have five subs, I had to take a decision between bringing on Edinson Cavani or Jesse Lingard or the young Alejandro Garnacho who I would have also loved to bring on and give a chance having been 3-0 up but I took the decision to bring on Edinson for the very reasons I explained to you. Had I not brought on Edinson Cavani, maybe someone else would have posted: ‘it was classless not to bring on Edinson Cavani’ or maybe someone else would have posted: ‘why didn’t the manager bring on the young Alejandro Garnacho?’ With only three subs and two already done, or the first one had already been done, you have to take a decision. This will not be to the liking of everybody, it’s also part of the game.
The mood has been mentioned a lot this season with Manchester United, but also little things like that from outside the camp, how frustrating and counter-productive has that been?
RR: To be honest, I’m not reading a lot. I haven’t had the time in the last six months to read. I’m not on Instagram as you know, Facebook, I’m not engaged in those areas and my focus has always been here, with my coaching staff to develop the team. It’s always, in those days with social media, there’s always somebody posting something, and I think it’s important for us, anybody at the club not to take too much notice of that, unless it’s the player himself, then it might be a different story.
You mentioned that Harry Maguire is fit and available, should we expect him to start tomorrow?
RR: This is a decision I have to make after training today and obviously I don’t want to tell our opponents with which line-up we are going to start but he will definitely be part of the group.
Just going back to Lingard, whether it’s him or his brother that are saying he should be picked, is that the sort of thing you don’t need in your football club if you’re trying to build something? If anything, is it not classless towards the player you did bring on? If you’re Edinson Cavani, are you thinking ‘what does that say about your opinion of me?’ It’s not great for team spirit, is it?
RR: Well, I don’t think in this case it will affect the team spirit. This is a question you will have to ask Jesse. I’ve been in very regular contact with Jesse in recent weeks and months. In January, when the window was still open, he contacted me in that couple of days we had off after the West Ham game and asked me for my blessing to leave the club. And then I said to him, ‘you have my blessing, I will let you go, not matter to which club’. But three days later we had the issue with Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial had gone on loan. No one could predict how often Cavani could be missing. That’s when the board decided he should stay. With Jesse himself, I’ve always been in regular contact.
You seem to have done everything you can to be fair. Do you not feel a little bit let down?
RR: We are now talking about a post from his brother who I don’t even know. This is an issue between Jesse and his brother. Jesse should speak to his brother. I have no focus or time or energy to focus on a post from Jesse’s brother. It doesn’t make sense.
You’ve spoken about how many players should come in. You’ve spoken about how many players will leave because they’re out of contract. Do you roughly know how many players under contract the club should be looking to move on after a season like this?
RR: Well, we spoke about it obviously. This is a decision that needs to be taken by the new manager, by Erik, with the board. As I said, we have agreed to speak at the end of the season. Of course, if Erik asks the question, I’m ready to answer all the questions that he’s asking. But in the end, this is a decision that Erik needs to make.
When you think about that advice to him, will you be basing that on your judgements on ability or attitude? We’ve seen with some players this season there does seem to be a discipline issue within the squad?
RR: Overall, if you analyse the level of performance of a player, it includes everything. It includes mentality, physicality, is he injury prone or not, which effect does he have if he’s regularly playing? In a club like Manchester United, with that level of expectation, it doesn’t help if a player says let me play for the next 10 games and then maybe I’ll show you how good I am. If a player wants to play for Manchester United, he has to perform, no matter if he’s been substituted in the 75th minute or if he’s playing from the start. If you look at the top teams in the league, and some of the games in the week, this is the kind of level if we want to close the gap with Liverpool and Manchester City. We have to make sure we have top quality players in the squad. The players have to be top in all those areas.
Are the problems here worse than you expected when you first got here? In terms of the players leaving, how much of a benefit do you think there can be for Erik having a fresh start with certain players?
RR: Again, we spoke about that in the last couple of weeks. If there’s a good thing about the season we’ve just had, it’s that everyone should be aware of where and how big the problems are, and what needs to be done to raise the level again and be a serious title contender again. This is what it’s all about. It’s very obvious for me what needs to be done but now it needs to be done.
It’s obvious now, but when you first came in did you understand and appreciate…
RR: If there hadn’t been problems before I came, I wouldn’t have come. Ole would probably would still be here answering your questions. There were problems the team had and as we all know in the first couple of months, we were improving, we were conceding less goals, we had a point average of 2.1, but yeh, then after the international break we lost, including Cavani, three strikers, then we had problems with scoring goals and finding balance. This is what happened. Maybe, I still believe, we should have tried in those 48 hours, we should have tried to sign a player. And the board agreed with me. But, as I said, we didn’t. Maybe I should have pushed even more. But we didn’t. Now it’s time to look ahead, we have two games to play and get as many points as we can. Together with the board, with Erik and the scouting department, identify and convince the players to come to Manchester United.
That decision could have cost you a place in the top four. So why didn’t they go and get that player?
RR: The answer at the time was no, there is no player at the market at that time who would help us.
Could you not see one on the market at that time who could have helped?
RR: There were a few. The answer is, Diaz who is now at Liverpool. Another is Alvarez, who will be at Man City in the summer, Vlahovic, who at the time who still was Fiorentina. Those are just three that come across my mind now.
Was it a question of finances?
RR: The answer was no, and that was it.
Do you feel you didn’t push enough for it?
RR: Well, I mean I came back after four days off, I was informed about the issues around Mason Greenwood, and obviously Anthony Martial had already left. I was aware within four days we had strikers missing and it might make sense, we were still in three competitions, but as I said it is the past.
To clarify, did you ask the board to sign a striker and they said no?
RR: I spoke to the board, should we not at least speak, and analyse, and try to find out if we could get a player on loan or on a permanent deal, but in the end, the answer was no.
Did they give a reason why?
RR: The answer was no. Maybe they didn’t want it. The answer was no.
Who communicated that to you? Murtough? Arnold?
RR: Yeh. I spoke to the board.
Given where you’ve ended up, do you think you could have had a fighting chance to sign a player like Diaz or do you think that was a done deal?
RR: I don’t know. But as I said, maybe we should have at least internally discussed it. It might have been necessary and important.
Does that sum up the problems there have been with recruitment? With the benefit of hindsight, it looks like an obvious recruitment they should have made with your approval?
RR: I still believe we should have at least tried. It would have been short notice, with 48 hours, but it might have been at least worth it to internally discuss it, but we didn’t. That’s why without three strikers there’s been an impact on our goalscoring ratio.