Ahead of Manchester United’s game against Newcastle on Saturday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke to the press.
Marcus Rashford MBE. How proud are you of the work he’s doing and the way he conducts himself as a person?
OGS: We are extremely proud that, once again, Marcus receives these recognitions. I’m sure his family and Marcus must have enjoyed that. For me, as his manager I know how great he is as a person and how much he cares for others. So, extremely proud and just want him to carry on his good job on and off the pitch.
The players called that Spurs defeating embarrassing. I know it’s only three games in to the season but what would you say to the fans who are concerned about the way you’ve started the season?
OGS: We know we’ve started the season badly and that game ended really badly. We started well and after the sending off with 10 men we couldn’t hold on or get back to getting a result. When we got the 3-1 just after the sending off I think the extra hope went and we know we have to perform better. But then again, we’ve now had two weeks to think about it, work on it, with the ones who were here, while the ones on internationals had both positive and negative experiences.
Obviously pressure and scrutiny comes on yourself when there’s a big loss like that and on the players. How has the reaction from the players that you’ve been around been?
OGS: We’ve been in touch with the ones that have been away and it’s one of those things you have to get over as soon as you can, we know any little chance from outside people want to create division. I think Bruno spoke well the other day. We are united and have to stay together, we can’t listen to everyone outside, we have got to get on with it. Bruno’s now lost two league games since he came to the club and he came in February. But it’s been two in quick succession and he’s not used to losing league games for us but welcome to Manchester United, this is what happens when you lose a couple. They are going to try and create a division between us but it’s not going to happen, because this is a group that wants to work together and stick together.
What are your reflections on incomings in the transfer window and when Manchester United fans might see the new signings?
OGS: We’re looking forward to integrating them into the group. Facundo (Pellistri) has been in training for two days, very exciting, young enthusiastic player with some attributes we don’t have, of course he’s maybe one for the future, not just now, still only 18. Alex (Telles) came in yesterday, did his recovery after a long, long flight from Sao Paulo, having come on twice for Brazil so we’re looking forward to integrating him. Edinson has still not been with the group because of his quarantine, so all three of them have got something different to what we have and they’ll definitely come in and help us. I think the group, as well, are looking forward to having them join in.
The week has also seen the Big Picture proposal, put together by Manchester United and Liverpool, and I wondered about your thoughts? Fans have talked about a need for reform. Smaller clubs are struggling and fearful about the future. What are your thoughts as manager of Manchester United?
OGS: It’s a definite that we, as one of the bigger clubs, have a responsibility to protect the football pyramid and smaller clubs. I think we have seen lately the effect this pandemic has had. The key thing for me is we want to get the fans back in stadiums, which will help other clubs, so I’m just glad we’re looking in to this and the talks have started. Let’s make the powers that be do that.
Harry Maguire had a difficult night on Wednesday. There are various opinions on him. Gareth Southgate thinks he could play through his difficulties. Rio Ferdinand thinks he would benefit from a rest. What’s your view of how you handle your captain?
OGS: With football you’re in the spotlight all the time. When Harry is part of the England team that beats number one ranked Belgium that’s just a normal day and you get the headlines when you get a sending off, that’s just football for you, ups and downs, and we’ve have to deal with it, individually and as a group. Harry has got great resilience, and I know he’ll bounce back and he wants to play and work his way out of the last couple of games that he’s been criticised. He picked up a knock just before he came off so I’m just hopeful he’ll be fit. We’ll have a look at him and give him a test today.
Paul Pogba said when on international duty that all footballers would love to play for Real Madrid, it’s a dream for me. Was that frustrating to hear your midfielder say that after a 6-1 defeat to Spurs?
OGS: Paul’s our player. He’s going to be here for another two years. I’m sure he’s focussed on doing his best for us and I want to see the best of Paul. In the next couple of years I’m sure we’ll get the best out of him.
After the Spurs game do you demand from your players when you face Newcastle?
OGS: “We need a response as we always do. After you lose a game you just want to win the next one. We want to go out there and dominate and control the game. The result is very important, but we want to see positive body language and mindset being positives again. You don’t get anywhere being negative. We are going togo out there and go for the win. We want to see players who want to work for the points.
How much of a low point was the Newcastle game last year?
It was a disappointing game last year. We should have won it but then Longstaff scored and we didn’t have a response. I think we have come on quite a bit since then, we have done well getting to third last season but now is about getting the three points in this game because we have started badly. I know Brucie and Newcastle have started well and it has looked positive for them. For us, we need to go there and dominate. We have to show that we can handle set backs.
You said a few weeks ago how he’ll react or what’s going on inside someone’s head. Are we seeing that now, the mental toll of the last few weeks and what happened in the summer, play out. And why do you think it’s not right to give him a break when it looks from the outside like he needs one?
OGS: We’re all different individuals and we all deal with things differently. I’m not sure how you deal with criticism, I’m one that always wants to bounce back and prove myself. What you do with the individual is you speak with them, sit them down, look them in the eye and see where we go from here. Harry’s a leader, he’s the captain for us, and it’s still early on in this season. He missed the first internationals, he’s not had the pre-season, so I’m sure he’ll bounce back. He’s got great resilience, great personality. Tomorrow, I just hope he can play because he picked up a knock just before he got the red card. I’m not sure if he’ll be available yet. We’ve got training in an hour and a half.
I think it’s at least three times now that Paul has openly spoken about leaving the club on your watch. Is that frustrating for you? Do you have to talk to him and tell him to stop talking and just concentrate on playing for the club?
OGS: When players are away on internationals they might be affected by the questions, or the French connection with Zidane. I think that’s the angle the French media came with and Paul’s responded as he has. He’s got two years here on his contract anyway. I’m sure we’ll get the best out of him. We’re working to get the best out of him.
In terms of the squad in general, you finished third last year. Now the window has shut, do you feel this squad with the players you brought in is capable of making the next step to being closer to City and Liverpool in the league?
OGS: That’s the aim. This is a long-term project and we’re taking it step by step. I think maybe last season showed, in glimpses, that we do have potential to be challenging or getting closer to the two teams in front of us. Football now is strange. We see some results, the games, after the restart. It was all a bit new and the unknown and it seemed like everyone enjoyed it. Now I feel more and more games are getting sterile and like training games. The internationals seemed like there was no point to them really. Now, for us, we have to create that energy in our game again that we had. That’s the key for us that we bounce back and create that energy. It’s not going to be easy without the fans so hopefully we get the fans back in soon. But in the meantime we need to find that extra mental edge.
How easy is that, when you’ve got a Saturday night game, then PSG, then Chelsea, then Leipzig, then Arsenal. Games so regularly and in the training sessions you don’t have that much time in between.
OGS: Well if you play on a Saturday night and a Tuesday night you can only recover between the games and that’s going to be the whole season. Now they’ve had three internationals in the break, but it’s not a break, it’s relentless for them. In an ideal world you would get more time to train in between but we want to be in the big tournaments, we want to be in the Champions League, so that’s the demands of a Manchester United player. Find the rhythm, get back in to the swing of things. It’s not been easy so far because of the fitness. We’ve not had the physical preparation. Maybe we’ve not even had the mental preparation. But now we don’t have that excuse because the players are getting that fitness back. Now it’s about creating that energy in every game. We’ve got fantastic games coming up so the players must be looking forward to it.
When you come off the back of a big defeat, are you prepared for the spotlight to be on you opposed to your players? And would this be the toughest part since you’ve been manager? Is it a test of your leadership?
OGS: The spotlight should be on me because I’m the manager. I’m responsible. I hold my hands up. Last season was also hard. We won two of the first nine games, which was difficult, but if you are part of Man United, you are used to this. You have to be mentally strong. This period is another chance for us to prove to the players how much we believe in them. It’s about being focussed for the next game because I know they’re capable of getting results and moving up the table.
You said at the start of the season that you would keep an eye on him. What are you seeing in these early games? You’ve obviously made changes to the back four but has it crossed your mind to take him out of the firing line?
OGS: We rested Harry in one of the Carabao Cup games, which we don’t usually do, because we wanted him to do some training. He’s adamant that he’s ready to play. I know that he’s a lad that doesn’t want to hide behind a red card or a bad performance. He wants to go out there and prove himself. I don’t doubt his resilience. He’s very professional. He wants to put himself ready for selection and then it’s up to me whether I choose him or not. If I want to take him out of the firing line, I haven’t considered that without him coming to know on my door. I do speak to him regularly and he’s been very positive in his communication.
Why was Bruno Fernandes substituted at half-time against Spurs?
OGS: Many reasons behind substitutions and if I should explain every time I take a player off to the media, that’s not the right thing. I’ve explained to Bruno and he’s accepted that one no problem.
When you say ‘they want to create division’, who is the ‘they’ you are referring to?
OGS: It’s external pressure. For me, it’s just for us to make sure that we stick together. When you lose a game, the first thing you do is bounce back in the next one. We’ve got a chance to do that against Newcastle. I don’t know who they are, but false stories come out. That’s them. I don’t know who started them, but you can see Bruno’s reaction, and he’s clearly not happy. But welcome to Man United. You are everyone’s favourite target if something goes wrong.