You’ve obviously got an opportunity to put things right after a couple of defeats and the fans that I’ve been speaking to have been talking about wanting to see more passion and fight from your players. Do you want to see that as well?
You know every time you play for Man United, passion and fight of course are things you expect to see. To earn the right to win a game of football you need that, definitely, against Everton. With or without fans at Goodison Park you still have to have that passion and fight in you. That’s of course a given. I know times now are different, times are strange, the strain on players. Football unfortunately is not the same unfortunately, without the fans and the passion, so that takes away from it. No one has been in this situation the players are now. They’ve had months and months of playing with the uncertainty and the unknown of the virus and the pandemic and sometimes it’s easy to sit at home and think football is the same and you expect the same from everyone. Sometimes we have to look behind and we have to look after them both physically and mentally. These are things I think about a lot and thinking about my players. How do they cope with the whole situation? So yes, passion and fight, we’ll see that. I’m a definite believer in these boys and they’ll come back and show how much they care.
You mentioned Everton. How do you think they’ve changed under Ancelotti and how impressed have you been with Dominic Calvert-Lewin?
It’s not just Dominic Calvert-Lewin, it’s the whole team, the set up. When Carlo came in you know that’s a manager that everyone admires, players, other coaches, us managers. He’s had a fantastic career. You start having a little look over there. Of course, they didn’t have a very, very good period after the restart, maybe struggled a little bit, but now you can see what he’s been working on. He’s had a good pre-season and has probably used the restart as well to look at his team and I’ve been impressed. Of course, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been part of that and is integral to their play.
How’s the reaction been from the players within the group to those defeats and what have you made of the external reaction to the defeats?
You know we had a very long and late flight back home. We were here early Thursday morning landing in Manchester. Of course Thursday was the day of some tired minds and tired heads and legs. We couldn’t do a lot. Today has been a bright day, a sunny day in Manchester for a change, and the boys are ready for a reaction. We’re all hurt and it’s never easy and never enjoyable when you lose two games on the bounce, but that’s football and you’ve got to react to it. We know that Champions League games are difficult but the manner of the goals obviously, you don’t mind when they outplay you, but we gifted them those goals.
Is it a fact of life as manager of Manchester United that when you have a performance like Wednesday, when mistakes are made, that people call you or the manager into question, the players into question and the reaction is as fierce as it’s been?
Yeh, you have to be mentally strong. There’s demands on a Man United player, a coach, and a manager. There’s also an expectation, because we are at the best and the biggest club in the world. You don’t expect to have anything but criticism then. It’s just how you deal with that setback. From what I’ve seen from the boys, they’ve been very focused since we’ve come back and ready to give a response.
I think everyone on this call has known you an awful long time as a player and a manager. Firstly, how are you, and secondly does this feel like a bigger game than going to Goodison Park and trying to beat Everton?
I’m good. You know you don’t have to be happy to still stay positive. Because the thing is you know on difficult days, on hard days, in life there will be better days coming. And for me I know these players well enough and I trust them enough to have a response. Going out there, enjoying wearing the shirt and playing against a good team of course, which always is personal pride as well that you go out there and play against some very, very good players and a good team.
It’s obviously been two really difficult matches in the last week or so but are you still as certain as when you were appointed Manchester United manager on a permanent basis that you still will be successful here at this football club?
Yeh, why shouldn’t I be? If I don’t trust my beliefs and values and my staff’s quality and the player’s quality, who else should? Of course I am. I don’t look at one or two results and fall like a house of cards. Yeh, it’s a setback definitely. I think there’s been too much made of say not scoring against Arsenal and Chelsea. Those games, there’s been more or less nothing in those two games. It’s not long ago we were the best thing since sliced bread, when you beat Leipzig and PSG. There’s ups and downs in football and that’s just the way it has to be. You’ve got to have that belief in yourself, belief in the players. The club has been very positive. They’ve shown me their character and strong leadership, so I’m looking to Saturday morning, or lunchtime kick-off, which is another matter. We can talk about that later on, probably.
If you are safe or not it almost seems to be changing with the wind these days in Manchester. How do you feel yourself, do you feel the pressure before the game against Everton? Is it a do or die game for you? Do you feel the backing from the board and Mr Woodward?
You know I’ve always had a very good, open, honest and positive dialogue with the club. As I said, they’ve shown strong leadership. I’ve had good dialogue continually since I’ve come in. With me today, it’s sunny in Manchester and I don’t expect the wind to turn. Of course there’s always pressure and expectations on us. But I’ve grown up here. I became a man at Manchester United and I’ve learned how to deal with good and bad times. You’re a top coach or manager when you win and you’re bad when you lose, because that’s the last game you played. You’re not really better than your last game. Every game of football becomes history quickly and we’ve just got to go into Goodison Park in a positive frame of mind.
You talk about the highs and the lows. Can you understand why the team is so good one week – against Paris and RB – and the opposite a week later? What can you do about that inconsistency?
Every game lives its own life and there’s fine margins – I’ve said that many times. Results create the headlines and the backdrop. In games that you win at times, you’re praised: “that was a fantastic performance.” Sometimes you lose and you’re criticised. It’s not as black and white as that is. Definitely we’re searching for that consistency. That’s something we need to improve on: consistently doing well, that is what I mean, not consistency the other way. We need a response for the Everton one. I said early on with the players and the mentality and the times we live in: that has to have an input in people’s daily life and mental health at the moment. Sometimes you think about the players, how focused they can be on football. I’m sure that sometimes after defeat it’s easier to focus on “I need to get back to preparing well”. Sometimes when you’ve done well, maybe you drop your guard a little bit, you think maybe we’ve cracked it. I’m looking forward to a response anyway tomorrow afternoon, or lunchtime.
How does the pressure compare as a player, for coming on and getting a goal, to a manager? And can you actually enjoy it?
Of course you can enjoy it. I’m not happy being under pressure. The pressure of managing Man United means you’ve got to have a strong head. It’s also the same the other way. I’m not in a too dark a place when I’m not playing well or the team isn’t playing well. I’m not too carried away when I played well or when the team is doing well. You’ve got to have consistency in the way we communicate and work with the players. We don’t want too much reaction. We’ve got a plan in place and we want to continue that plan. Of course, some results need a different reaction to what you’ve planned.
I understand why you took responsibility for the first goal on Wednesday, because that’s what a good manager does, but privately after the game were you livid? Maybe they need it?
I don’t think you’ll ever get me to tell you what I say behind the scenes. But of course I’ll never, ever shirk the fact I’m responsible. I’m responsible for decisions, team selections, strategy, plan, and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you’ve planned. The first goal, there’s too many mistakes in one goal and you can’t get away with that in the Champions League so how I dealt with it is a different matter.
You were speaking about consistency before and part of the success you’ve had has been with the unpredictability of your formation and selection. But what’s the balance between having that unpredictability for opposition sides and consistency of formation, players and understanding in the team to get that consistency of result?
You need to work relationships in a team. You need to work foundations. I don’t like the words principles and philosophy, but we found a formation and a base to work from last season but the style has always got to be the same. In my teams, I always like quick attacks, counter-attacking when there’s chance to do so. When there’s space there you have to attack them. When teams drop off you need a different way of creating chances. We didn’t create enough to win the game against Istanbul. That’s not always down to shape or tactical decisions. We’ve tweaked a couple of times, we’ve tried a diamond, we’ve tried three at the back, but the style of play should always be the same. That’s just putting numbers to a XI. Players work on patterns, we work on relationships, you’re always ahead if you’ve worked on things on the training ground. With the coaches we’ve got here I’m more than happy with the work we do on the pitch.
There seems to be a cycle at the moment there’s a clamour, externally at least, for a change in manager. How frustrating is it for managers these days that there is a short-term view on a manager’s shelf life?
I’ve got to say that all my conversations with the club have been planning long term. Of course we want results short term but I’ve had positive and good dialogue with the plans we’ve put in place, we’ve planted a seed, the tree is growing. Some clubs just rip up that tree and see if it’s still growing and see if it’s getting water underneath. For me I’ve had the backing all the way since I’ve come in on the bigger picture. And the club needs to look at the bigger picture. We can’t react to one or two results. You’ve got to look further back and think what’s the direction we’re going in.
You’ve spoken a lot about the mentality of the players but are there still players here that don’t have the mentality to go for the win every week?
The mentality within the group has improved immensely. The players here really have the mindset of improving all the time and winning. As you’ve said, when you lose a game there are critics out there everywhere, but I’ve got no complaints over mentality. We’ve got competition for places. Some players aren’t happy about not playing every game but that doesn’t mean they’ve got a bad mindset. If they’re disappointed about not playing they’ve got a good reaction coming on. You know throughout the season you’ve got the chance to make an impact. That’s why you’re in the squad.
You said after the Everton defeat last season that was the lowest point and the team capitulated and it wouldn’t happen again. When you’re going back there tomorrow, particular after the Spurs defeat, do you still feel like you’ve got a group of players who won’t capitulate and have moved on from that game?
The Everton game in April was a low point. The Tottenham result, the Istanbul result, there are other reasons behind those defeats. I’ve got no complaints and I think we’ll get a good response tomorrow.
You said in the week the team was leaning way too much over to the left and were too open down the right hand side. Did you feel let down that the right hand side didn’t get a ready made playing coming in to the squad in the summer?
I said that we had a structure on Wednesday that we didn’t really follow. I thought we all leaned over to the side of the ball. That happened in the first 25 to 30 minutes. Maybe we enjoyed having the ball too much. We always need a structure to play from. Sometimes the eagerness of impacting the game, I think that’s what the issue was, it wasn’t the lack of players on the right side.