Can I ask you about the situation in Russia and with Chelsea, and everything that is going on there? What is your view of what is happening at the moment with English football and what is happening in Ukraine and the impact that’s having on events here?
RR: Well, to be honest, everybody, I think, shares the same opinion, that this is a tragedy, what’s happening over there. And everybody can only say, fingers crossed, that they find somehow a peaceful solution once again. With all the measures that have been taken recently politically and in with regard to the economy or whatever, it also now affects the football business in a way that seems to be logical to me. But again, I don’t have enough inside information to speak about, for example, what is happening now at Chelsea. But, I mean, if you look at it in a bigger picture, for me, it’s just a human tragedy and I very, very much hope that in the next days and weeks that they can find a peaceful solution.
As someone who works for a football club, are managers going to have to think about the clubs that they work for, and the background of the clubs that they work for before they go and work for them? Because obviously Thomas Tuchel is now in the position of having to answer numerous questions about the behaviour of the owners at Chelsea. Other managers have had to do that before. Is that something people are going to have to do? You worked in Russia for instance. How does that work?
RR: Had anyone in this room or wherever… could anybody foresee what was happening there in the last three or four weeks? Nobody would have expected that to happen. And, therefore, I think we should be very careful to blame somebody for doing this or that. This couldn’t have been foreseen and Roman Abramovich has been the owner. Not only at Chelsea, but Arsenal or Everton, there were ownership shares by Russian oligarchs. So they are not the only club. Of course, it affects everything. It affects football, it affects the way that gas and oil is being delivered to European countries. In the end, it affects everybody. Right now, here in England or in Germany or other European countries, although we are only two-and-a-half hours away from Ukraine, it doesn’t affect us, as yet, directly. But I would be surprised if, in the next couple of weeks and months, suppose the war goes on, it wouldn’t affect us all at one stage.
On the game tomorrow, how important is it in your opinion for the Premier League season? And the four players who missed last weekend, will they be available?
RR: I mean, we are fully aware about the importance of tomorrow’s game. And at the same time, the game on Tuesday. But now the most important game is the game tomorrow against Tottenham. We have to win that game, we are fully aware of that. We had a good week of training. The players are also fully aware about the importance of the game. The focus is there, the togetherness was there in the training sessions. So, with regard to players, we will still miss out Luke Shaw. He’s until yesterday still being tested positive with Covid. And Scotty is a question mark, he had some problems with his calf so we have to wait and see until after training today. But right now, it is more likely that he will not be available because if we risk him tomorrow, he will more likely be out for the game on Tuesday again, that’s why I tend, with muscular issues – even more so if it’s the calf muscle – I tend to be careful.
It sounds like then Cristiano will be back. This week there has been a lot of talk about him and his situation at the club, is there any issues there? How’s he been? Is he fully fit?
RR: Yeh, he resumed for training yesterday. He trained for the whole session, and I expect him to be in training today as well. He trained well like the rest of the group so I would have thought that he’s available for tomorrow.
Is there any issues with him?
RR: Issues, what do you mean issues?
Just lots of talk about happiness as well as fitness.
RR: I haven’t asked him if he’s happy at Manchester, at this club. For me it’s important that he’s fit again, and he resumed for training yesterday. Then we will see with which formation and with which line-up we are going to play tomorrow.
Following up on Cristiano, there’s a suggestion that the club were not aware he was going back to Portugal. Can you just clarify the situation?
RR: No, because it doesn’t make sense to look back at what was happening in the last six or seven days. For me, it’s important what’s happening today and tomorrow. For me, it doesn’t make sense at all to go through all this again. Importantly, he, and Edi by the way, are both back in training and are both available for the game.
Can I ask about Marcus Rashford, because he would have been disappointed not to start against Manchester City? What does he have to do to get his place back in your side?
RR: To play on the same level that he trains. This is all. We spoke about that a week ago or two weeks ago in a press conference. Marcus is training well, he’s got abundant talent, he’s got almost everything that you need as a modern striker. And for him, it’s only about transforming the performance of the training sessions into the regular games.
Would you accept that Arsenal are now favourites for fourth place with their two games in hand and their current form? You’re playing catch-up a little bit.
RR: Yes, but not only us, the same is true with two or three other clubs. Right now, they seem to be in the best possible position but there’s still 10 games to play. We are fully aware that we have to look after ourselves and make sure that we do not drop points anymore.
You said when Paul Pogba was in Dubai that you would prefer for players to do their rehabilitation here. But when Cristiano has a hip injury he flies to Portugal. It’s not a good look for the club, is it?
RR: Well, as I said, it happened last week. I didn’t anything about that trip. But it doesn’t make sense to waste energy dealing with it, because the games we have to play now are too important. Therefore I decided to put my full focus on the upcoming games and not waste any energy on things that happens in the last seven days.
It came out this week that Marcus was considering his future at the club after he didn’t start the game last week. What’s your feeling on that?
RR: I spoke with him yesterday and the day before yesterday. I don’t know anything about that. In my 25 years of professional football I have been deciding not to take too much notice of things happening in the media. He didn’t say anything to me [about that]. He said to me that he’s still happy and wants to perform on a high level for the club. He didn’t mention a thing about not being happy here.
Is it not a concern that a local lad, who’s got a year left after this summer, is considering his future? If anyone loves Manchester United it’s Marcus Rashford, the story of how he got in to the team, the sort of person he is, he’s a leader off the pitch with everything he does to help people. Does that concern you for the club that he’s considering this?
RR: No, because we have quite a few other players whose contract is expiring in the summer. For me, this is not a worry at all. For me, my worry is, or my concern, is what I’m trying to achieve with him is what we did with Anthony [Elanga], Jadon, and other young players that we have. It’s just to improve his performance and make sure he gets the best version of himself.
Are you surprised that the reason he’s considering this is because he’s had a lack of game time? To a certain extend, that’s his responsibility, so don’t you look at that and think ‘show me what you’ve got’?
RR: I don’t think he’s not had enough game time. In the 13 or 14 games that I’ve been here now he’s had more games playing from the start, so I don’t think this is an issue. He never said anything about that when we spoke yesterday. But again, I mean, the window is closed right now. Even if we suppose he and his agents or his family at one stage in the summer think about going to another club, well then he can do that, but in the summer. But now the window is closed. It’s got nothing to do with tomorrow’s game or the game on Tuesday.
You said you and the players are fully aware of tomorrow’s game and of Tuesday, in that sense, do you see this as a potentially defining period of the season for this club? If you lose tomorrow and lose on Tuesday, that’s effectively your season over.
RR: We don’t think like that. We think like if we win both games it could be a massive turnaround again and it will be a massive chance in the Champions League and in the Premier League. So right now, let’s play the game tomorrow, full focus on the game tomorrow, and then we can see.
Do you think these two games could define your season? There’s so much riding on them.
RR: We’re fully aware of that, but in the last few weeks we’ve had a few of those kind of games, so we are fully aware of the importance of those two games.
When you look at the way the team collapsed in the second half against City and the difficulties of getting a 90 minute performance out of the team, and the reaction sometimes when they concede goals, do you think mentally this team are up for the fight for the top four? Do you think they’ve got it in them to fight for it?
RR: I think we’ve shown it in the past, in quite a few games, that they are. But like I said after the game, I think we didn’t play that badly in the first half. We gave away two easy goals. Having seen them after the game, watching the two situations before the goals that we conceded that were just easily given away by us. They didn’t have to do that much to score. But against one of the best teams in the world in possession of the ball, then all of a sudden 3-1 down, it’s difficult. That’s why we had to admit they were better in the second half, far better team than us on that day, but it’s the past now. We have to look ahead, look forward and we are fully aware that on a good day we are able to beat Tottenham, and this is what we have to do.
I know your focus is obviously on this game but no-one can escape that behind the scenes there is a search going on for a manager. Given the situation with Chelsea, which is very uncertain and seems to be changing all the time, do you think there’s value in waiting to see what develops with Tuchel’s future? If he did become available, is there value there in showing some patience?
RR: That doesn’t make sense to even think about that or speculate about that at all. Yes, Tuchel is a top manager, yes I know him well, yes he was a player of mine, yes he took his first job in football at Stuttgart when I was the manager there, yes, yes, yes, we all know that. But he is the manager of Chelsea right now. They are third, still in the Champions League, it’s only because there are some issues now about the ownership of the club. To speculate here about him maybe being a candidate for the manager’s job here in the summer? I don’t think it makes sense to do that.
Antonio Conte was one of the managers who was linked with this job at the club. The club decided to go down a different route and brought you in. Do you think in time the way the club has gone and the direction they’ve taken will prove to be the right one?
RR: I don’t know. I don’t know what our club thought in October. All I know is that at one stage they contacted me about whether I could imagine to take over until the end of the season and I did, and that’s why we are sitting here.
What does Conte bring to a team?
RR: You can see that they are playing with a back three, with a very compact team, probably one of the best teams in transitional moments, with Son and Kane, and this is what we have to be aware of and prepare for tomorrow’s game. Don’t give them those transitional moments, but at the same time, they also lost against teams like Middlesborough, Burnley, Wolves, so if we play on our best possible level, it’s not impossible to beat them. With all respect, if they can beat them, we can beat them in our own stadium. And this is what we have to do. This is our job for tomorrow.
You’ve got two big games over the space of a few days, high intensity games, how do you approach that from a team selection point of view? Is it going to be too much to ask Cristiano Ronaldo to play on Saturday and then on Tuesday after coming back from an injury?
RR: Right now, we only think about tomorrow’s game. We don’t think at all about the game on Tuesday. The formation and the line-up for tomorrow’s game has got nothing to do with Tuesday.
You can’t prioritise one of those games?
You’ve built squads over your career. In terms of Marcus Rashford, he’s got a year left on his deal in the summer with an option of an extra year. Is that something that you think the club should explore in the summer?
RR: Again, I think we should just finish this season as well as we possibly can, and then there’s enough time to speak about that. Right now, nobody knows who will be the manager, how the club will be lined up, it doesn’t make sense to speculate. I understand why you ask the question, don’t get me wrong, but right now it doesn’t make sense to put any energy in to that. I don’t know. I can only repeat myself. I like Marcus as a player and I’ve had quite a few players in the past in former clubs where they’ve had problems at one stage, but it’s our job to help him, to get the best Marcus Rashford that he can be. This is my job right now, and I’m putting all my energy in to achieving that.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has come back in to the team over Diogo Dalot, I wondered what your thoughts on that situation were?
RR: Diogo has been training well this week so we have almost in each position two players who can play. Having a couple of games coming up, of course it’s an option to play with Diogo in one of those games.