Outside today there’s fans protesting against the way the club is being run and the results. What’s your view on the point they’re trying to make?
RR: I mean, we all know that football is a game of passion and emotions, and I think we can all understand, I can understand, that our supporters are being disappointed both about where we stand in the table but also about a performance, for example, that we showed against Everton, at least after we had conceded that first goal. But I still believe that our supporters are one of the best, if not the best in England, and as long as they do that protest in a peaceful way and as long as they still support the team in the stadium, I think they have the right to express their opinion and, as I said, emotionally, I can understand that they are being disappointed.
In terms of the overall results since you’ve been here and performances, are you disappointed, shocked? How do you feel that you’ve not been able to trigger the improvement I think most people expected when you came?
RR: Well, I think we did. I mean, we had moments and situations in games and spells where we played well, where we showed that there is that, yeh, the team would be able to play on a higher level. If I just think about games that we played against Crystal Palace, the first game, against West Ham, against Tottenham, away at Leeds, until the 70th minute away at Aston Villa. I think we had quite a few games where we really played well, not only with regard to the result but also the way that we played together as a team, but what we couldn’t do is do it in a sustainable way and over a longer period of time and yes, I’m disappointed about that, I would have thought that we would be able to play sustainably on a higher level. I’m not happy with that myself, for sure, but this is what we will try to do in the rest of the season.
Obviously in the background, we’re still to see exactly what will happen with the manager going forward. Erik ten Hag has been asked about it, and says he still has to concentrate on Ajax, what do you know about this? When can we expect an announcement as regards to this because it looks like a done deal now?
RR: I don’t know if it’s a done deal and my reply is the same as Erik ten Hag’s reply was, my focus is on the game tomorrow against Norwich and prepare the team in order to be able to play on a higher level and win the game.
Can we talk on a general level, what qualities do you see in someone like Erik ten Hag. What qualities would he bring to be able to bring success to a club like Manchester United?
RR: Again, it doesn’t make sense. We all know that he’s a good manager and that he’s done a good job at Ajax and also in former clubs but right now it doesn’t make sense if I tell you what I think about any other coach.
Do you have to take it game by game now? Is that the focus? That’s how you’ll try to finish as high up the table as possible?
RR: Yes, of course. I mean in football in general, this is what it’s all about, but even more so in our situation. It doesn’t make sense to speculate how other teams will play, or whether they will drop points or not. As long as we don’t win our own games, the other results will never be in our favour, so our focus is on tomorrow and, in front of again 75,000, play on the high level and win the three points.
You said a moment ago about being unable to sustain a higher level throughout your time here. Do you know the reason why you think you haven’t been able to sustain that higher level? The key reason?
RR: Well, I can imagine what reasons are, and of course, without using that as an excuse or as an alibi, we have lost a few players. Since the West Ham game, for example, we lost three of our strikers who were all part of that game and also part of that last-second goal that we scored. And right now, we are missing quite a few other players, with Fred and Scott McTominay, our two defensive midfielders, so this is also probably one of the reasons but in total it’s also that we are not, as I said, sustainably playing on the highest possible level. I think we reduced the amount of goals that we conceded. In the last couple of games, we were struggling to score goals ourselves. But this was not always the case. We scored three goals against Tottenham, for example. In other games we have scored two or three goals. It’s about still finding the best possible balance between what is necessary as a team to defend our own goal and our own box. The way that we defended the goal against Everton I was not happy at all, not only because of that unforced error in midfield that was not the best possible ball that we played from Fred to Nemanja Matic and Nema could have defended the ball in a better way but even after that, there were 12-15 almost seconds that we could have defended that in a much better way. We don’t do that, and this is also one of the problems that we’re having, that we’re not keeping a clean sheet in a game like this. I’m 100% convinced that if we scored the first goal in this game, it would have been a different game and we probably would have won the game.
Has motivation been an issue of late, the last two performances in particular, when United have conceded? The general feel has not been what we would expect from your team.
RR: Again, it shouldn’t be a problem at a club like Manchester United. The players who play for Manchester United should always have an internal level of motivation, but, yes, if I look at the Everton game, until that first deflected shot on our goal we were in control of the game. I’m not saying that we played extremely well but we controlled the game, from the sideline, I always had the feeling that they felt shaky, Everton. At that time had we scored ourselves it would have been different, but we didn’t. With the first shot on goal, we conceded the goal ourselves and from then on it changed the atmosphere in the stadium, which was clear, and it also changed our own energy level in our team and this should not happen. Even if you concede a goal, that can happen in football with a deflected shot, in football, and that can happen, we should still be aware that we are the better team and we can dominate the game, but it wasn’t the case, it’s got to do probably with confidence, with, whatever, you may call it motivation, but it’s definitely affected our level of confidence at that moment.
You mentioned that Fred and Scott are missing. Can you give us a full update?
RR: Five players will still be missing for tomorrow, and some of them probably also for the upcoming games. You already mentioned Fred and Scott. Rapha Varane, Luke Shaw had his bolts and metal stuff removed from his leg and Edinson Cavani, those are the five that will be missing.
With Luke, did that operation go smoothly, there’s been suggestions he could be out for longer?
RR: Yeh, as it seems, he will be out for at least another four weeks, if not five weeks, so I think for him it will be difficult to be available for one of the outstanding remaining seven games.
You mentioned after the Everton game that you felt the players struggled with expectation and that seems to a problem particularly at Old Trafford as well. Could you just elaborate on that?
RR: Well, I don’t know what you…
The expectation is part of being a Man United player. Why should they struggle with it?
RR: I don’t know if this is the case, but it might be, at least with one or two or three of our players, it seems to be like that. That the level of expectation is high and that some of the players seem to struggle with their own performance with that. Again, no alibis, no excuses, we have to be ready to cope and deal with it for tomorrow, for sure I am fully aware of that, and I’m also convinced and very positive that all of the players know about this. This is a test of character tomorrow and mentality in this game. We are playing against the bottom team. Yes, I know they won against Burnley last week and we know that Everton lost against Burnley the week before and we also thought we should be psychologically in a better position than Everton. But we have to show it on the pitch. Whatever we talk about right now, whatever kind of speculations we have and whatever you think, or I think might be reasons for the performance at Everton, we have to be able to, in our own house, beat a team like Norwich and show the best possible performance. This is what it’s all about but the truth, the reality, is on the pitch, whatever we talk about right now.
With regard to the game tomorrow, you’ve just lost to Everton who are 17th, Norwich are bottom. Is it unthinkable that you could lose two weeks in a row to two relegation-threatened teams?
RR: It should be unthinkable, but we all know in football things like that can happen. We saw that even in the European cup games again and in other leagues, we saw it the day before yesterday that things like that can happen. This is what makes this ball game so interesting. You never know what the outcome might be. But as I said, I am pretty positive that we will show a reaction tomorrow. This has to happen, we have to show that we owe it to ourselves, we owe that to our supporters, we owe that to the whole club and yeh, as I said, it is definitely a test of character but we have to be aware that if we invest enough energy into that game with regard to total distance, sprints, fast runs, if we are tactically prepared for that game, which we will do, we always do that, we will give them the best possible game plan, we will try to with regard to formation and line-up to start with the best possible team. And then it’s up to the players to show on the pitch that they are still ambitious, and they want to finish the season on the highest and best possible note.
There has been a lot of focus on the players and criticism of them but is there anything you feel you could have done more, and anything you feel you could have done differently, and do you have any regrets at taking this role over the way it has panned out?
RR: No, I have no regrets whatsoever that I took that role. I would do it over and over again. You have to see the situation that we had in December, and I don’t regret that at all. As a manager, I always think you have to question and ask yourself what could you have done better. Could you maybe have played with a different formation in this game, or could you have made this substitution earlier on? This is what is always happening. We always question and ask ourselves what we could have done better but in general, I think we are all aware that this is not an easy squad. That the whole situation was not easy, otherwise I wouldn’t even be sitting here, and Ole would probably still be here. But again, I think we have shown in the past, in the last couple of months that we were able to raise the level but in the same sustainable way that I would have wished it to have happened. And that’s the reason why I am not happy at all with what we have done and achieved so far.
Can I ask if Cristiano Ronaldo is fit because obviously he came off with an injury the other day? Is he fit to play?
RR: Yes, he’s fit to play.
And have you spoken to him about the incident post-match with an Everton fan?
RR: No. I think he apologised in public on social media for what happened. As far as I know there is still an investigation ongoing, from both the police and the FA, but apart from that, I haven’t spoken about that with him.
I know mathematically you can still finish fourth but there is also a danger of not having any European football next season by not qualifying for any of the other competitions. Although you’re not going to not try to qualify for the other competitions, can you see the benefits, given the rebuild that’s needed, of not having any European football next season?
RR: No. It doesn’t make any sense at all to speak about that right now. Again, we have seven games to play, the next one is tomorrow and our job is to get the best out of those seven games, win as many games as we possibly can, get as many points as we possibly can and then see where we end up at the end of the season.
With Fred and Scott not being available for this weekend, that leaves you quite depleted in midfield. It’s been an issue all season as well. Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, I know you’re down to the bare bones but is there a chance a youngster might come in? A lot of supporters are quite excited about Mejbri for example but is it too soon for him to even be in contention? Some fans might argue they’d rather see him than Paul Pogba who, to all intents and purposes, is not going to be at the club next season…
RR: Well, to start with, I think it’s good for Hannibal for example or for Alejandro [Garnacho] to train with us now for the last couple of days and weeks but we are not playing any friendly games or games where we say ‘OK, now we give a young player an opportunity to play.’ It’s not about that. It’s about playing the best possible formation and line-up with which we still think we can win the game. Yes, it’s not the best situation that we have to replace both Fred and Scotty, but we still have enough central midfielders who can still play and as I said, we will try to find the best possible constellation and formation in order to be able to win the game tomorrow.
Is Paul Pogba fit?
I know there have been protestors here today and a protest is planned for tomorrow. Can I just ask about what your opinions of the owners are, in the dealings you have had with them? The source of the protest tomorrow will be about the club’s ownership, and you’ve worked quite closely with them for the last couple of months. What’s your opinion of the ownership of this club?
RR: Again, no point in speaking or talking about that right now. This is not the issue. The issue is how can we win the game tomorrow. It’s not my job to speak about our ownership. I had a long conversation before I came over here at the beginning of December with the owner, and right now it doesn’t make any sense to speak about that.
From your experience, how much harder for a coach and players does it make it to play against a backdrop like this when the fans obviously aren’t happy?
RR: I don’t think so far we have had to deal with that. The support of the fans has been massive, no matter if it was home or away games, and so far, we haven’t had that situation where they turned their emotions against the team. But again, I can understand it. It’s a game, as I said, of passion and emotion. So far, whenever we come to the ground, be it away or at home, they are receiving and expecting the players with love and with passion. But as I said, it’s up to us to show them that they still care, that we care. The coaching staff, definitely, we care and that the players care and that they try to get the best out of it and that they show that they want to win the game.
There’s talk that some fans won’t come into the stadium for the first 17 minutes tomorrow. That can’t be helpful to the team, surely?
RR: Well I don’t know what they have in mind, but I have heard they want to come in 17 minutes late but even if they do that, then after those 17 minutes, hopefully they’re still backing the team and are being behind us. That again, how much they do that, depends on what we show on the pitch. It’s a game of give and take so we cannot only expect they support us no matter what is happening on the pitch.
You’ve talked a lot about intensity from the team recently. What have you made of the intensity levels in the Premier League? We’ve seen quite a few players be injured by fulsome tackling. Do you think that the tackling level needs to be pared back or do you think this is a very intense league and there are things you can teach?
RR: I mean, we’re fully aware and I think we all agree that this is the league in Europe with the highest level of intensity and physicality, and that is why I was very disappointed about the game against Everton because we were second best in all those relevant statistics with regard to total distance, fast runs, sprints, and this is just not acceptable, and this should not happen again any more, no matter against which team that we play, that we are second best in all those relevant areas of the game. Even more so since they had played on Wednesday and we didn’t have a game the whole week.
You’re missing a number of players due to injury, possibly because of the intensity levels of the Premier League. Do you think that’s a problem for teams in the Premier League, that you’re losing players because of how intense it is?
RR: Yes but I think right now, in this current situation, missing out those players hasn’t been good. The same with our strikers that I mention that we have lost since the West Ham game. Three strikers, with Mason Greenwood, with Anthony Martial, and Edinson Cavani who hasn’t been available for most of the games. Yes it would have been better to have those players available but we didn’t and still we should have been able to score goals in games like Everton or at home against Watford where we dropped valuable points.
Can the match officials protect your players more from said tackles?
RR: No. No. I don’t think most of the injuries and casualties we have at present are due to some heavy tackles or some fouls on the pitch, no.