How tough have the last few days been, in terms of digesting the result, moving on and then refocussing on what lies ahead?
OGS: You have to get on with it quickly and just accept that we’re out of Champions League. There’s no shame in going out to Barcelona and we know that we’re behind over the two legs. Then again, the disappointment on the night is we had a go, had a great start and couldn’t take advantage of the first 15 minutes where we seemed to surprised them with energy and enthusiasm. Then bang, bang, two goals and it’s game over. The attitude and effort was good. You have to stick together. You know you’re 3-0 down over the tie and you now you’re out. For the next 70 minutes, the lads worked together and stuck together and made sure we can go in to these three games in a decent state.
Does it help? At this stage of the season games come thick and fast, so now, having dealt with the disappointment, does it help with them being so much riding on these next few games?
OGS: It’s great to have games to look forward to and the focus has changed straight away. We spoke about it after the game, forget about this, we’re out, we want to be here again and to be back at these stadiums we need to be in amongst the top four. It’s a fantastic week to look forward to, the players are in a good state mentally and they’re strong mentally and we know at Goodison it’s going to be a hard game. Other teams have seen that as well.
With Everton in mind, how are you in terms of team news?
OGS: We’re looking good. Ander’s back in training, we had no one out from the Barcelona game so we’ve got a good squad in training this morning, 22 or 23 players.
There will be a lot rumours between now and the end of the season, in terms of in-goings and out-goings, but is this an opportunity for players to prove they’re in your vision going forward?
OGS: Every day in training, every game when you’re playing there’s no hiding place and everyone can see what your level’s at. We’re also working on training here with a fantastic staff to create this culture that we want, for players to take ownership of what’s happening here as well. But it’s the performances on the pitch which will determine where they’re at in their careers, if it’s short term or long term, it’s every single day. That’s what we spoke about at Barcelona, when you’re at big stadiums, there are no hiding places, you’ve got to step up, make good decisions and I’m looking forward to this period.
Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are all still in Europe. They’re your top four rivals. Does that give you a boost?
OGS: It will probably give them a boost playing those games, that’s what you want as a player, we’d have loved to have a semi-final to play in but that’s not the case, so we’ve got to focus on the games we’ve got. These three games are our short term focus and shouldn’t think about anything but having a great week.
Since you got the job on a permanent basis, you’ve lost three and won two, and the two you’ve won you weren’t that convincing, by your own admission. Do you think the players have subconsciously or otherwise allowed their level to drop since you’ve got the job permanently? Has that had an impact do you think?
OGS: I don’t think so no, I think that’s football, margins. We’ve lost two league games, Watford and Arsenal, those games we shouldn’t have talked about losing. We won games that we maybe didn’t deserve, it evens itself out. But players know what’s going to happen, we know what I expect, as a club what we want to do. That’s football. When we came in 19 Dec and where we’re at now, I think anyone would have took that. Now we’ve got five games to see if we can finish it off.
Last summer was a very frustrating one transfer wise. The manager then didn’t hide the fact he was frustrated with it. It’s obviously going to be an important summer for you. Are you confident you won’t suffer the same frustrations?
OGS: Yeh because I’ve been speaking to the club, we know that we have to be realistic and we know there’s a job to be done here. There’s no quick fix. It’s not like buy seven players and we’re in the right shape. We are where we are. We have to take step by step and there’ll be signings made in the summer but there also has to be thoughts about players. We’re going to sit down, we’re going to have a pre-season, I can’t wait for it to come. There’ll be some additions, the players have got to come back and know what is expected of them from the first day of pre-seaosn. It’s not like it’s come back in the 90s overweight and start to work. They’ve got to take ownership of that over their holidays. It will be great to see who’s coming back ready and, as I said, first of all this focus has to be on Everton. Then City and Chelsea.
Do you feel like you’ve learned more about these players over the past few weeks during this poor run than you did in the first 16 or 17 games?
OGS: I’m not too sure about that because I’ve learnt a lot about them over the months here now and you get to know them, most of them have really impressed me in their attitude and there are some that need to get a reality check of where they’re at. But most of these know they can improve if they keep working as they do.
Is Anthony Martial is one of those that needs a reality check?
What do you feel about his form since the end of January? What’s he got to do to start delivering consistently as a forward for Manchester United?
OGS: I’ve spoken to individuals and they know. Anthony is one I’ve spoken to. I’ve spoken to all of them individually about what we expect from them. Anthony’s got a massive talent, signed a new contract he knows we believe in him, so just keep working.
When you see the likes of Mane, Firmino, Salah and see what them delivering…
OGS: You mentioned just three Liverpool forwards.
Or at City or Spurs, whoever in the top six. Does he need to deliver more consistently? Because his highs are very high, but then he drops off.
OGS: I think anyone that plays for Man United has to deliver to stay in the squad and stay in the team and Anthony is no different to Rashy or Rom or Alexis or the many forwards we have to choose from. That’s the great thing about it now it’s down to players as well, the ownership they take coming back pre-season but I don’t wanna talk about pre-season now because we have a big week coming up.
Are you confident that the structure in place at the club at the moment is good enough to recruit well in the summer, because there has been a lot of criticism about the recruitment in recent years?
OGS: I know there’s been loads of criticism but I don’t know if all these critics know what’s happening. We’ve got scouts scouring the planet for good footballers and we’ll sign players that we think are the right fit, personality wise, price wise, quality wise, and can you have longevity at this club and I’m confident we’ll get the players in.
Are there enough goals in this team?
OGS: Well, we’ve scored more than two goals in a game in the league since I’ve come in and conceded less than one. I think that’s not bad. We want to score more goals, we always wanna see a 4-0 win, but if you can get it less than one every game we play and more than two I think it’ll end up quite high in the table.
Is there an argument to suggest Paul Pogba, you should just play him as a no.10 and be done with it? When you talk about wanting to build a team around him, it’s the position you would build around as well. Lots of people have suggested he would be better off being further up the field from the start opposed from starting further behind.
OGS: Everyone’s got an opinion on Paul. And of course, together with Paul, we have sat down and discussed his positioning. We know he can play as a 10 or a six, we know he can play in probably his preferred position as one of the three in midfield — high, like he did for us in the beginning, like he has done with Juventus. With France he has played as one of the two sitters, or one of the two central midfielders with Kante. So that’s the great thing with Paul, he can do both. What we have to to do with all the players is adjust to the games, what that game needs. Some games have needed Paul to drop back, sometimes it has needed him high up the field. You can see teams now thinking more about what Paul’s position is and trying to stop him in that position. He is no different to others in that we tweak his position a little bit for the team’s benefit.
You spoke about the players getting a reality check. Have you had a bit of a reality check, in terms of knowing the scale of what the job is? You spoke earlier about there not being a quick fix.
OGS: We know there’s no quick fix. We know where we were when we came in. It’s not like overnight, suddenly, you ask players to do things completely differently. We have to take it step by step. I want this team to be the hardest working teams in the league, the fittest team in the league, and that doesn’t happen over night. We need a pre-season, a long period of doing that. We want to set style. We don’t want to go in to games adjusting to the oppositions. We want to stamp our authority. There are so many things. It’s gradual. They’ve had some fantastic managers, Mourinho, Van Gaal, Ferguson, Moyes, some of the best managers that there have been in England. I’m new, so me and Mick, Carras and Kieran, we want to play in a different way. That takes time.
There’s a big difference between finishing in the Champions League places and the Europa League places, not just in terms of prestige but also financially. Where you finish this season, does that impinge on your transfer plans? You’ve said you’ve spoken to Ed Woodward, do those plans remain the same whether you finish fourth or fifth?
OGS: We have a short term and a long term aim. The long term targets and long term ambitions won’t change. But we plan to be in the top four. We plan to be in the Champions League next year. We want players who can keep us in the Champions League and move us up the table.
It’s been pretty much a lost season for Alexis Sanchez. Given your ambition, your vision, and the immediate objective to close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City, can you afford to carry players who aren’t really delivering in a consistent way?
OGS: As a club we cannot carry players. Everyone’s got to take ownership, keep improving, show that hunger that you want to improve and make the team a better team. I’m not just talking about Alexis individually. Everyone is under the same demands and standards we’ve set. But to go to Alexis, he’s not been lucky with injuries. Since I came in, he’s had two long-term injuries which hasn’t been beneficial to him. Some other players have had injuries as well. But I see the characters we have. We see in all of these who do we want to keep, who do I think should move on.
Is he one you want to keep?
OGS: Alexis has got a fantastic talent when he’s at his best level. We want him to perform for us.
Will that decision, on who has to go, how difficult will that be for you, at a club like this?
OGS: That’s what you sign up for when you come to Manchester United. You have to make tough decisions. You have to say to players ‘I don’t think you’re for me’. Say Mason Greenwood. He’s 17-years-old. Yep, you are for me. I want to give you the chance to become a top player at this club. Marcus Rashford at 21 and Diogo Dalot at 20. Of course we’re going to give these players are going to get a chance. And that decision affects players who are at the other end of their careers.
It’s been mentioned there could be six, seven, eight players going out, and five or six coming in. Is it realistic to expect that kind of a churn?
OGS: I don’t think you can expect six players coming in. No. I don’t think that’s in any club’s wishes and I don’t think any manager you asked would like to have that big of a change over. I’m realistic enough to think there might be less than six players coming in. I know there won’t be six players coming in. It’s one step at a time. It has to be the right ones coming in. It has to be right fit.
It sounds more like a rebuild than a tweak.
OGS: Yeh, it might be. When we’re sixth, as it was when we came in. Now it’s still sixth. But the last 16 and 17 games have shown we are capable of being better than sixth with the players we have. I think it’s only City who have a better points average than us since I’ve come in. But it is a rebuild. We know it’s going to take a few windows and we’re not going to get six or seven players in. It’s about the culture as well. Get the players to take the ownership themselves. I think they deserve to get that chance as well. Come in for a pre-season and show what they’re capable of. Are they fit enough? Are they hungry enough? Do they want this enough? Do they give enough to the team? Or do they think about themselves.
Not only a rebuild in terms of the playing side, but a complete rethink of the recruitment policy?
OGS: It depends, what do you mean recruitment policy?
You mentioned in terms, for instance, the right character. Not just buying a player to buy them which, with all due respect to the club, has been suggested that’s been happening in the past. The club have bought some players out of desperation.
OGS: I don’t know the reason we have signed all of the players here, but I do know that they were brought here because they have great quality and managers have seen that in players. And I look for different things than Van Gaal did, that Moyes did, than Jose did. I fancy different types of players and that’s just the way it is in football. But it’s not about me personally, that I like this and this. It’s do they fit Man United and the style I want this club to play. When I came in there was an understanding that we want to get Man United DNA in to the club and the team and the players.
You mentioned the culture there. Is that something that has been lost since you were a player here? You mentioned reality checks before. Do you think the attitude and mindset has changed?
OGS: What’s your definition of culture? That’s the way we do things here. I have my way of doing things, my way of expecting things to be done. We want to create a culture as a staff and club that we believe in. It might mean they have breakfast together or lunch together. I like my players to take ownership if their own careers because they are 100% owners of their own future. That’s a type of player I like. I’ve been impressed by many of them, not all of them.
Is that a consequence of the fact, you mentioned managers after Sir Alex have come from the outside and tried to bring their own culture to the club, whereas you were here as a player so you know how things used to work. Is it about getting back to that DNA?
OGS: We can’t live in the past. I’m not trying to make things as they were. The world changes. Football changes. I can’t say ‘we used to do this back when I played’. That’s being naive. We’ve got to move it forward and move it in the right direction as we think it has to be done.
There were qualities when you were a player that underpinned…
OGS: Definitely. This is part of what I’m talking about. The manager trusted us. We had to take that ownership ourselves as a team. He trusted us. If you stepped out of the boundaries, unfortunately, you don’t stay here for long, and that’s the way it has to be at a club like this.
The RoM Manchester United 2021-22 season preview is now available for just £6. It includes articles from the country's best football writers about our expectations for the season ahead and our brightest talents, as well as proposed transfer business and which youth players to keep an eye out for. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.