Bruno Fernandes signing a new contract, how important is it for the club to tie him down longer term and also reward him for his performances in the two years he’s been here?
RR: Yeh, I think that’s very good news for the club, for the fans, the supporters, also for Bruno, I think, to know that he will be here for the next five years, I suppose. I mean, there’s no doubt that he’s a very important player for this club and for this team, and, as I said, that’s great news. I already congratulated him yesterday when we saw each other after his return from the World Cup qualifier. As well as know, he played well in the second game, I watched both games on TV, and scored the two most important goals to qualify for the World Cup.
Harry Maguire’s been in the news obviously this week. What have you said to him, have you had to have a conversation with him?
RR: Not yet, but I speak regularly since I’m here, so he knows my position towards him. He’s been a very valuable player and the captain of the team and the club and also my captain. I didn’t understand what was going on actually at Wembley, but I’m pretty sure this will not happen in our stadium with the Red Army behind the team and the club, and also behind their captain. For me, he’s a very important player, he’s been playing well for Manchester United and for England in the last couple of years and therefore, I think Gareth Southgate said something after the game and Harry Kane, so for me, it was… I didn’t watch the game actually, but I heard what had happened before the game there when they announced the starting line-up. Difficult to understand.
What would you say to fans who are contemplating booing again?
RR: Well, I don’t speak to them in person but I’m pretty sure this will not happen in our stadium. That it happened before an international game is pretty unusual.
Do you understand why Harry is such a centre of attention, because he does get a lot of attention from United fans on social media, there’s a lot of opinion about Harry, maybe more than other players?
RR: I don’t think that this is a personal thing, it hasn’t got anything to do with Harry himself. We all know, or you know probably better than I do, that there were one or two other players who have been criticised in the last, not only months but also the last one or two years. For example, Fred, for me, a very important player as well for this team, a very valuable player, regularly playing in the starting XI for Brazil. And again, I also watched his two games, or his first game, he played in the first game from the start and did well. Maybe it’s still got to do with the high expectations around this club, maybe people just tend to compare with former legends or former big players, I don’t know, maybe it’s got to do with that. I can only tell you both players, Fred, you can also speak about Scotty, and Harry, they are both important players and players with the right attitude.
Just at the start of the international break, Paul Pogba did an interview where he said he’s not satisfied by the five years at the club, interpreted as saying he’s basically wasted the best years of his career. Can you understand that sentiment, and do you think that will shape the decision he makes at the end of the season?
RR: Well, I don’t think. I’ve got enough to do now to prepare the team for the next game, for tomorrow’s game, another important one, and I don’t think it makes sense to now interpret or judge what he has maybe said in an interview. That doesn’t make sense. This is something that you can do if you want but for me it’s only important to judge him. I also heard that he had maybe said he had to play different positions in the last couple of weeks. Yes, of course, because since the game against West Ham on 22 January, we have lost three strikers since then, with Anthony Martial, with Mason Greenwood and even with Edinson Cavani, who is injured again unfortunately and will be out for the next couple of weeks. And if then, on top of that, by then Paul was still injured himself, if then players like Bruno against Tottenham or Scott McTominay are missing, then, of course, somebody else has to play in a different role and if this is somebody like Paul who is a flexible midfield player who can play in 6, 8 or even 10, then this is a normal thing.
Louis van Gaal said that Ten Tag should just a football club and Manchester United are a commercial club going off his experience. So far, what have you made of the club? Do they prioritise football over the commercial side?
RR: I think football worldwide, and even more so in the English Premier League, where any rich person or company can buy a club as long as they pass the fit and proper test, is a commercialised business. This is for sure. No matter in which club or which city. But what I can tell you from the last four months, this is a club with a big tradition, with a close relationship with the supporters, also to the whole city and region. I don’t see anything negative in that. If this was aimed at something else inside the club, I can’t say anything to that. But, I mean, Louis himself as an experienced coach signed a contract here five or six years ago, so he could’ve known that in advance if he has this opinion. For me, this is a great club and if the club draws the right conclusions about what has happened in the last couple of years, because the last couple of years has not been as good as people would have expected, I still see a very bright future for this club.
Have you had any input on the next manager process? The club have interviewed Ten Hag now.
RR: Well, I don’t know. I know that they have spoken to some people but so far we have not spoken about the experience and impression they’ve got from those meetings. But this is not an issue for me, because for me it’s about preparing the team for the next games.
On Pogba, he also said the season was dead because there are no trophies to play for, but obviously there’s pride to play for and trying to qualify for the Champions League. Is there a worry at all of players having motivational problems?
RR: No. Even less, for example, players whose contracts are running out. They need to make sure they recommend themselves for either this club or for any other club. It would not be wise to let the season peter out. We can not afford that, even more so for a club like Manchester United, but for players whose contracts are running out. They have to recommend themselves. Even the players who are still on contract, they have to recommend themselves for the new manager.
Looking at the battle for top four, you said before the international break you can’t afford to drop any more points, or if you do, it has to be minimal. The team has only won three games in a row twice this season, there’s only nine games left. They would have to break a huge habit to do that. Do you think it’s in their capacity to do that?
RR: We have to take it game by game, obviously. The most important one is tomorrow, against a team that have had a good run. They’ve won three out of four games and have a few players coming back after injuries. So we are fully aware that this is not an easy one, but we have to win at home against Leicester, and then the next two games away to Everton and at home to Norwich, we have to try to get maximum points out of those three games. But you can only do it game by game.
A lot of players will leave this summer, you’ll be looking to buy some players. All the top players want to play in the Champions League, so from that perspective, qualifying in the top four is vital. Is that not the case?
RR: Of course it would be better, both financially, but also sportingly. Yes of course, everybody would like to play in the Champions League every year. But other clubs have that experience as well. Look at Arsenal for example, they haven’t played Champions League football for a few years, and they have drawn the right conclusion about what has happened at the club. Right now, our full focus is on tomorrow, and then on the next game, and all the other issues, there is still enough time to take care of those.
Is Bruno’s new contract something you were aware of and consulted on, and for any managers are set to come in, is it a no brainer to get him signed on a new deal? Would you have thought a new manager would have been sought their advice on it?
RR: Of course I was informed of that and the negotiations of him signing a new contract. This is another example of a player I would suppose is of interest from other clubs in Europe. And he decided to stay here and sign a new long-term contract here is something he wouldn’t have done if he didn’t believe in the long-term future of this club. It shows that irrespective or not if he knows we are playing Champions League football, that this is an attractive club, a massive club. As I have said, there are reasons why I am here and why the club is in the position it is in. It’s all about finding out and pressing the right buttons to make sure that in the future we regularly qualify for the Champions League again, as hopefully win some trophies.
What are the reasons, in your view, that you’ve had to come in?
RR: In the end, it’s all about recruitment, it’s about having the right players, signing the right players at the right time, not signing the wrong players. It’s pretty easy in football. It’s about knowing which kind of players we really need, for which kind of football, what do we want to stand for. And then have the best possible manager to fit in to that.
So why has that gone so wrong, do you think? If that’s so simple, why couldn’t the club get it right?
RR: Listen, I don’t know. I can only speak about the last four months. In that time we only lost players, we didn’t sign players. So, this is, again, an issue that we speak about in person with our board members and not with the media.
Gary Neville was very critical of Manchester United players after the defeat against Atletico about the perception it might create of them going to far-flung places. Can you understand that? He was saying when they lost big games in the past they would hide away and not show their faces. Can you understand that criticism?
RR: I can understand former players and TV pundits have to have a strong opinion. For me, this is pretty normal. But on the other hand, this was a particular situation, where we had two and a half weeks since the last game against Atletico, with an international break, and we only had six or seven outfield players for training. I don’t think it would have made sense. For public perception, maybe it would have made sense to train with six or seven players, but I don’t think it would have made sense. Those players would probably not be in a physically better state of mind, so that’s why we decided to give them days off, then have them back for a week, and then prepare for the game. Most of the players who were on international duty only came back yesterday so we had one training session to play for the game.
You can understand the perception that it might create for fans, it’s a culture where players, not necessarily don’t care, but they’ve just gone out of a huge competition and they’re posting pictures of themselves online in all these glamorous locations, and fans are thinking that’s not right.
RR: In a way I can understand that, but it brings us back to where we currently are. Those are things that can be changed. Hopefully we won’t get in to a situation again where we’re in the middle of a season and have no competitive game for two and a half weeks.
In terms of what you said about the commercial operation, managers like Louis van Gaal were backed heavily in the transfer market, and you can’t get that backing without a commercial operation, surely?
RR: Of course, it’s always good if you have money available to sign players. But the question is do you sign the right players? It’s not only a question of money, but what kind of idea do you have behind that? What’s your philosophy? How do you want to play? It’s not only a question of money.
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