Fulham have drawn with Liverpool and Tottenham. They’ve only had one defeat in their last seven games. Are they are better team than their league position suggests, do you think?
OGS: I think they’ve had a very good turn around from a slow start. They made some very good signings towards the end of the window and you can see they are very well coached. Scott and the team trust their own organisation and they’re one of the teams to break down. At the moment they’re really well structured on and off the ball. They’ve got some defensive players who are very quick and strong and good on the ball. Individually on the ball going forward they’ve got players who can make a difference, so it’s another tough game in the Premier League.
I’m going to take you back two years. You were asked in a press conference a couple of years ago where you see the team in two years’ time and you said “challenging for every trophy there is.” If you’re going to do that in the Premier League, Ole, is beating the top six teams an area you can improve? Is that the biggest thing you have to change in order to do that and be considered genuine title challengers?
OGS: Well, of course we’ve had some tight games against the teams around us this season. It’s going to be tight anyway. I think only Tottenham, of the teams around us, have beaten us, we’ve not conceded many goals. Of course, we have not conceded to Chelsea, City and Liverpool which is also a strength to have. We’ve built some defensive momentum and if you keep on winning the games that we have done lately, I think we will have a good chance of staying competitive towards the end.
How do you regard Bruno’s form at the moment? He’s obviously played so well for so long but is he feeling a bit tired now?
OGS: His form is very good, he was just voted the Player of the Month. He’s not tired, no. No chance. He’s one of the players who runs and covers the ground in every single game. He’s very good at recovery, very good at recharging his batteries. If he’d scored with his free-kick [a Anfield], if he’d just had a bit of air on the shot when Luke put the cross in, he’d have been lauded as the best player in the Premier League again. Since he came in he’s been absolutely immense. No, he’s not tired. If I ask him, there’s absolutely no chance he’ll say he’s tired.
Is it that he’s done so well for so long that everybody expects him to do it all the time?
OGS: He’s expected to create goals, score goals and sometimes the margins are against him. That free-kick, and there were a couple of passes he plays through and it’s just marginal if it’s onside or off. So he’s always on the verge of creating something, even when he loses the ball. That’s the position I want him in and that’s what he’s been told to do. He has to be the creative one. I want him to play the passes he sees.
Are there any absentees for tomorrow’s match? We’ve seen you rotate during this frantic period, can we expect the same tomorrow?
OGS: Well, we’ve not got the COVID test results yet. It’s almost 38 hours ago since we did the testing, so hopefully we will get them soon. No, everyone trained this morning, more or less. Brandon [Williams] and Phil Jones didn’t train but the rest were on the pitch.
Can I just ask you about outgoings? You mentioned in an interview with the club that you couldn’t say no to potentially more players going out. There’s lots of speculation around Jesse Lingard, seemingly by the day. Will he be here at the end of the month?
OGS: I don’t want to go into individuals. We can allow maybe one or two more to go out. But then, it’s one of the strengths we have, is that we have had a deep squad with strength and depth. We don’t want to give our advantage away by easing off on our players, so I can’t really give you a better answer than that.
One of the players you have brought in, he came in the last few days, is Amad Diallo. What have your first impressions of him been?
OGS: Very good. He can handle the ball. He’s enjoyed training and make a difference in training, which is quite remarkable at his age. Some adjustment to settle into the hustle and bustle of the physical part of the Premier League. I can’t see it being too long until he’s in the squad.
In terms of the time scale, will it be four or five weeks, that sort of thing? Or is it going to be a bit quicker than that?
OGS: It might be quicker than that, who knows? He’s definitely settled down well. The players have taken to him and he’s a very good character. A very good, smiley boy who works really hard. He’s doing his sessions and getting used to us of course. There’s always a period of adjustment needed, but he’s settled in well.
You spoke about defensive momentum but where do you feel the team is from an attacking point of view? It’s just two goals from the last four games in all competitions. Are the forwards just a tiny bit off where they need to be at the moment?
OGS: I think this season we’ve scored more goals and created more chances than before. I think it’s only a matter of time before those, you know, margins that were against us at Liverpool tip our way again. We have players who can do individual bits but the team is gelling better, the relationships are working better. Of course, the foundation will always be the hard work and the shape and at Man United we’re expected to create chances from everywhere. We have the players to do that.
Ole, are you enjoying this job? If so, which part do you most enjoy and which part do you least enjoy?
OGS: Of course I do! I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t, if I didn’t feel up to it and if I didn’t feel like I was giving something back to the club. I can’t say there’s a lot I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy leaving players out. I think it’s hard for big games, you know, you have players who deserve to play. It’s a difficult job to tell them they’re not in a job on a Sunday afternoon but then Monday morning they’re back in their job. The chats before, explaining why they don’t play, that’s never an easy one when I don’t really have a good answer behind it, because I could give so many reasons for them to be playing. But that’s a part of what I love with the job as well, working with human beings. That’s the main job, getting the best out of individuals so we can get a strong team together.
Going a bit off topic here but your former team-mate Phil Neville has left the England women’s national team to coach in the U.S. and now the former player of the Norwegian national team, Hege Riise, is one of the favourites to take over as interim manager. So the question is really, Ole, have you started sort of a trend here with Norwegians being on top of the food chain of English football? How do you think Hege would suit a job like that?
OGS: It’s speculation again, but of course, I know Hege’s done really well with Lillestrøm. She’s had a fantastic career both as a coach and as a player. So, if that’s the case, if England decide that, they have got a good coach there and a very good human being.
This position you’re in now, there have been some down times as well, do you think this is a good example of patience being shown in a manager and the board backing your vision?
OGS: I think everyone in football, or life really when they want to be successful, know that continuity and consistency has to be there. If the plan is good and the people you bring in fulfil the criteria. Hopefully I’ve proven that I can help the club going forward and personally I’ve felt very strong back and leadership from the club. This has made the journey we’ve on, with ups and downs, clear. We’ve always sat down and had a long-term view on it. It’s up to every club how they run the team and how they look at it, but sometimes consistency and patience will be rewarded. Sometimes you might not deserve it, but that’s not up to me to decide.
Positions under yourself have been very good but they were criticised in the past, prior to yourself coming in. When you were buying players, were you selling that vision and looking in to their character to make sure they would be along for the ride with you?
OGS: Yes, definitely. Whenever you get the chance to speak to players and learn about their personalities, what you get through a chat is very important. We’ve been here, we know where we want to get to, do you want to be a part of bringing us back to the successful times? That’s always been one of the topics we’ve discussed. We’re not here for a quick fix. We have players who have a long-term role to play. Say in Edinson, at the age of 33, he still part long-term by who he is and what he does to the club and the players.
You mentioned about getting the best out of individuals and that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the job for you. You’re doing that with the likes of Pogba, Luke Shaw, Fred and Anthony Martial. I know you’ll be too modest to take all the credit but how do you man-manage them and get the best out of them? And how do you tailor that approach? Different players have different needs and respond differently. Can you give us an insight in to how you’ve managed to get the best out of those players, particularly those who weren’t fulfilling their potential before you came?
OGS: First of all, I’ve got very good staff around me, so it’s not just me. It’s the staff around me and everyone who works with them. We have set a culture and a way we want to behave. I think that’s helped them. Personally, I like to speak to them. I like to have individual chats. I’m probably more honest there than I am with you! And you always try to walk out of that room having a smile and in a good mood, or making them have a think about what they have to do to get back in to the team. But individual chats, I do really enjoy them. I think they’re really important. I remember my time with the managers and coaches I’ve had, when they took the time to really see me as a human being, the whole me, with my family and everything. That’s a big part of my style.
You had that situation after lockdown where all your main strikers were in the goals which is the dream scenario for a manager. I know you’ve got a lot of confidence in that attack and I know they offer a threat, but none of the four are really in the goals at the moment. Is it just a case of needing one of them in? For one of them to hit the goal trail?
OGS: I think Marcus and Bruno are round about 30 goals together, so that’s not bad for a partnership. I know Edinson, Anthony, Mason will score more goals. We see that quality all the time. I’m not worried at all. I haven’t sat down the last few games things why don’t we score goals. I do know and trust the players to come good again.
Luke Shaw seems a player who has been rejuvenated, perhaps by the competition from Alex Telles, but also because he’s been on set pieces more than he ever has been. What brought about that change and what have you made of his progress this season?
OGS: Luke has immense quality. He’s good a very good technique. You saw a few times against Liverpool as well, he takes the ball and drives it forward. It’s something I’ve pushed him more to do because we know he can do it. It’s generally down to the boy himself. He’s mentally very good at the moment, he’s become a dad, he’s physically very good, he’s much fitter. He keeps beating his high intensity stats, his total distance stats. He’s consistently up there doing what a full-back should be doing. When you’ve got the talent like Luke, when that fitness and the mental bit is sorted, you’re always going to get good performances.
Luke’s confidence after the previous manager seemed to be a bit low. Is there anything you did particularly to lift that?
OGS: It’s about seeing everyone as individuals and human beings. I spent a lot of time talking to them. He’s a boy I enjoy talking to. I enjoy trying to help him. He wants to be better. It was about getting him enjoying his football. We know he’s talented, so trusting his fitness. Injury-wise, having players who can back him up so he knows he doesn’t have to play every game, so can play at full tilt, and I think both Brandon and Alex has given him a bit of a push to know that if he isn’t performing, we’ve got other good options.
First place could change hands a few times over the next few days, possibly. You’ve obviously been here quite a few times as a player. Is it a different kind of mindset when you’re out in front at the top? And what’s the key to staying there?
OGS: I don’t think it’s a different mindset for my group of players, where they are in the league, because I don’t think it really enters their mind. They’ve got a laser focus on just the next game. To get momentum, to get to where we are now, we’ve been very focussed on getting the job done day in day out in training. This season it’s changed so many times, whose been top of the league, but the only thing that matters is who’s there at the end. That’s not something we really discuss at the moment. We just want to keep our form with everybody ready to perform when they’re being asked.
You said it’s difficult telling players that they’re not playing, and obviously Mata hasn’t been used too much over the last month. With his contract situation, where you’ve got the option of a plus one, do you want him to stay next season or is the decision yet to be made?
OGS: The decision is very difficult every time with Juan. You know he’s got the quality. If he plays, he can score goals, he’s contributed this season. But then again, we’ve had other players this season who have taken his role as well. Mason and Paul recently. Juan really contributes in and around the group. He’s one of those I have discussions with all the time. It’s difficult to leave him out but unfortunately that’s where it is at the moment. No decision has been made there yet.
You could’ve beaten Liverpool and you’re top of the league. Have you made your biggest step so far in getting United back up there to be serious and proper contenders now?
OGS: The position we’re in now is down to loads of hard work from everyone. We’re halfway through the season and we’re up there, but it’s a really congested top of the table, so we know any little run of form can move you away from teams, and a drop of form can move you down. We just need to keep the consistency. It’s not about getting there once. That’s probably the easy bit, to go up the league, but staying there is the challenge. But that’s the challenge we’re looking forward to, focussing on every game, building this squad, and in the end we hope we can lift the trophy. That’s when you can talk about moving the team where it should be.