This week has been dominated by the Super League fiasco, what were your thoughts on the competition when you heard about it, what were your thoughts as the week unfolded and what do you say to those fans who are understandably still very angry about all of this?
OGS: First of all, I’m very happy that the fans have voiced their opinion and that we’ve listened to them. In a strange sort of way, it’s brought the football pyramid or community together. I think that’s important. I’m a supporter myself and there’ll be a day that I’ll come back and watch Man United and I want to watch a Man United team with a fear of failure. That’s what I thought about it. I didn’t like the concept anyway because it has to be on sporting merit. I want to earn the right to play in Europe. We know we have been pioneers, we have been in Europe for many years, with the Busby Babes. That’s one part of it. We want to be part of a successful European campaign again. One of my best nights have been something that we’ve worked really hard towards. To get that feeling, that fear of failure, you can’t give it because your name is such and such, you have to earn the right to be there. To get the best possible performance, I’ve always felt and I’ve always believed you have to step out of your comfort zone, it spurs you on, living on the edge a bit. For me, I’m very happy that all the clubs have admitted their mistake, that this was a bad idea and the way it came out as well. Just when we talk about getting fans back into the stadium and we get this, we were looking forward to bringing the fans in for the last two games of the season, and we weren’t able to look forward to it. We have a banner at Old Trafford – ‘football is nothing without fans’ and we’ve felt that for more than a year, it’s been a difficult year. But now when we’re just going to welcome back in, we get this. So the preparation for Leeds was a little bit different but that’s a part of being in this industry and this club as well. Man United is the biggest club in the world and we want to be part of European football but we want to do that like my players did last season. I think they were excellentthe players, because when I talk about this fear of failure, they were afraid of not making it to the Champions League because we were so many points behind. They pulled themselves together, we came together as a team and achieved third which was a very good achievement. This year we’ve worked hard, we’re striving towards trophies and we’re second. I back my team to be in the top in Europe but I still think that that fear of failure is helping us do that. Being a sporting competitor as I am, my nature is not being handed things, we cannot be handed a place, that’s my opinion. That’s long enough on one! Let’s talk about this weekend because talking about exciting football games… Leeds away is an exciting game for us!
What kind of game and atmosphere are you expecting at Elland Road, Ole?
OGS: Well, inside the stadium there won’t be any fans unfortunately. Obviously it’s important we focus on our game. You know fans between our clubs have always had a rivalry and it has to be healthy rivalry. That’s important as well, in a period like this, that we don’t want to incite or brew anything up. We play football. That’s important that we’ve listened to the fans and I’m so, so happy that the fans have been heard, and let’s go onto the game of football.
In terms of the match, Ole, you had a brilliant result and brilliant performance against them at Old Trafford. Do you think Leeds will have a bit of a point to prove against your side?
OGS: You know, that game, we started unbelievably well, we scored in our first two attacks, and it was never a 6-2 win. We’ve look at it, we’ve obviously analysed it ourselves, and I don’t expect the same scoreline because the difference between the teams was not four goals. We were clinical. We scored some fantastic goals. We had some great saves by David at important times. Just before half-time, it could have easily been 4-2, just after half-time they had chances there as well. So we know we will be stretched physically and mentally in this game. It’s a completely unique game of the season.
I just wanted to ask you about your upbringing, your links to Kristiansund, born and raised in a place where no one would expect a team or a player to achieve great things. How important is that dream for a player, obviously linked to what’s happening this week, but especially for you, you’re born somewhere where you don’t expect a player to make it to the Champions League, it says it all doesn’t it…
OGS: You don’t expect Kristiansund to make it? You don’t know the mentality of the people. That’s completely out of order [laughs]! If you work hard for something, you can achieve it. Aim high and dream high and you never know what you can achieve. And that’s what the football pyramid is built on as well, my dreams! I’ve scored thousands of winning goals in the FA Cup and European Cup final when I was on my own up on the pitch just above us. You have to dream big. To be an example of that is great for me, of course, coming from Kristiansund. I hope other players from Kristiansund, boys or girls, can make it around European football.
I appreciate there’s a big game this weekend but given the seriousness of the European Super League this week, can you genuinely say that Joel Glazer, who didn’t communicate with the fans for 16 years, hasn’t been to a game for over two years and didn’t put a single cent into the club – genuinely cares about the club?
OGS: I’ve said what I’ve said about the Super League. I’m so happy that all the owners, all the clubs involved, agreed that this was a mistake. I’ve always had a good working relationship with the club and the owners. Of course, behind the walls of the building, we speak, they listen to my opinions and we’re working to move Man United forward. And it’s important that we all want to be better and improve. That’s what my job is, to improve the result and the performance of the team. This weekend is a good chance and it’s a big game in our history, we know that.
On the strength of fans this week, do you think the fans deserve more of a voice in football?
OGS: As I said, football without fans is nothing. That’s why we have to listen to them. I’m happy that the voice of the fans, players, managers, were heard. We’ve all been voicing our opinions this week. And it’s important. As part of my job as well, to speak to the Man United supporters and fans, showing them that we want to be a better team than we are now and that’s my job, to get them up the table and start challenging for trophies.
Apologies for being predictable, but Ed brought you back to the club, I just wondered about your thoughts on his move to resign, how aware you were of what was going on and whether you even considered your future because a lot of people have said a lot of emotional things this week?
OGS: Well, football is emotions and emotions run high in football. I’ve had a very good working relationship with Ed. The club will have to move on without him, I’m sure Man United will always move on and we’ll work. I’ll work as long as Man United want me to work here and hopefully we can end the season successfully and Ed is part of that.
Leeds against Man United is a huge one in the English game. What can you tell us about your views about the rivalry and what does these games mean to you?
OGS: They mean a lot to me. We know the history about the Leeds of the old days, Super Leeds, that was the generation before mine. That was my dad’s generation and he’s grown up with seeing them winning the league. I’ve played in some massive games against Leeds. We had a proper challenge from that team in early 2000s, with for example Eirik Bakke played for them. We as a team got stretched against them, we looked forward to those games and we had some fantastic games. There was respect for the level, they stretched us. I feel the same now with Leeds team coming up this year. They’ve shown their quality and they’re going to stretch us. We have to be ready for this game, physically and mentally.
You mentioned before not wanting to incite the situation and clearly there’s a rivalry off the field. But what’s happened this week couldn’t have incited the situation any more, the anger of the club’s that’s not in the top six is there for everybody to see. Are you concerned that that could have an effect on Sunday, fans might turn up to voice their opinions about Manchester United as a football club?
OGS: I’ll repeat myself but in a strange way, this situation has brought football together as well and fans together. Everyone understands, the players, the fans, they haven’t been a part of this. A Man United fans, a Leeds United fan, they have the same opinion about this topic, so I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. When you play against top teams anyway, when you play against your rival, you expect fans to support their own team.
A part of you job is to speak to fans. I just wondered what your meeting with the group that came down to Carrington was like yesterday, and do you understand that they have a right to protest and air their grievances?
OGS: Yeh, of course. I will always listen to the fans and I thought it was the only right thing was to go and listen to them and speak wto them and have a nice discussion with them. A peaceful discussion. It’s important that we respect each other and each other’s views. I said a few things about what I think will do in the future. What we spoke about, I don’t really need to discuss that but it was a good 10 minutes. I was happy with that, of course. We didn’t shake hands, we gave a fist bump and then we parted.
In 2013, Fergie left and David Gill left at the same time. It was a real transition period after this. You’ve done so much to improve the club but it’d would be a shame with Ed going if all that was torn up. Are you confident that you’ll be able to carry on the same path after he’s left?
OGS: Well, I’m pretty sure we will be able to move on and move forward. We have to deal with Ed’s departure. We’ve had a good working relationship, he brought me in here, he supported me. I’ve not been involved in discussions with the successor. But if they ask my opinion I’ll voice my opinion for what we need. I’m sure the club is capable of moving forward.
Following up on this subject, would a candidate like Edwin Van der Sar be the ideal? Like you, he’s an ex United great, won the Premier League and Champions League. It’s all about the United culture. Would you be open to that sort of appointment?
OGS: It’s important that we employ the right man. We can’t employ on sentiment, but to have Man United’s best interests at heart is one of the criteria of course. But I’m not the one who writes the job description. My job is to focus on the results but I’m hopeful that I can have a good relationship with whoever comes in and that I can provide results.
The Glazer family have been at Old Trafford for 16 years. Obviously the Super League was a plan for them to look after the club going forward. Are the Glazers still fully committed to United? Do you see them having long-term ownership of the club?
OGS: I’ve had an open and good relationship with them. They’ve been supportive of me and backed me. We’ve shown that in the players we’ve signed. They’re committed to improve. There are other projects that we work on that we don’t always broadcast but it’s all about improving the club, the infrastructure, the facilities and the players. I’m very confident they will remain committed.
One of the key principles behind the ESL was finance and ensuring clubs like Man United, who quite rightly wanted to train on their name and their value and get a bigger slice of the pot, which is understandable. A lot of it seems to be based on clubs like United making money at a difficult time. Are you worried that this happened now that you won’t get the finance you might want to drive this squad forward in the next two or three years, particularly after a global pandemic? Secondly, we’ve heard reports from South America that Cavani wants to leave?
OGS: I can answer the second one first. We’re still in the same boat with Edinson. He’s not 100% decided. He’s not told me he wants to leave but I’m very aware that he might go back home with the difficult year he’s had. If that’s his decision I understand. He knows my view, he knows I’d love to see him play in front of the United fans when we can get them back in. It’s important he makes the decision with anything else in mind. He wants a successful end to the season and that might sway him. He knows I love working with him. The boys really love having him around. It’s important we give him as much time as possible. I think the whole situation with the pandemic and the country has been difficult, particularly with him not speaking the language and having his friends around. With regards to the finance and transfers after this year, it’s changed. I’m very positive and hopeful we can follow through with the plans we’re working on. I don’t think that will change at all. I think we still have a good opportunity to do what we’ve planned to do.
You mentioned before that the Glazers commitment for the club but you know the feelings of the fans, with talk of a protest before the Liverpool game. The way things are, there might be protests in the stands next season, which might have and effect on the team. How do you go about unifying everyone? Is that something you can play a part in?
OGS: The players are professionals. They are very good at playing football. That’s what the focus has to be on. We play as well as we can and get the supporters on side. I think the owners of every club that signed up to this proposal have got a job on their hands, of course they have. We’ve had an apology from Joel and I think that’s important. He’s told us how committed he is to help us go forward. Unity and everyone working together for one common goal is the best way forward.
Over the last couple of days we’ve seen a couple of your players show some real courage in making their feelings known about the ESL. It probably wasn’t easy for them to go against their employer. Are you pleased to have players who are strong in that way? You were talking about the need to listen to fans. Do you think football needs to listen to players if it wants to make changes?
OGS: Of course we need to listen to the players. It’s very important. We’ve had this discussion. I know this new format of the Champions League gives players more games. We have to look after the players and their chance to perform at the best level. I know there’s money in this but they are human beings. I want the best possible product, games of football. The magic of a semi-final or a final. Now we’re going to the end of the season, players are playing every few days. It’s hard to play at your maximum level for a long, long season with all these games. Of course they want to be a part of a final, the Euros, the World Cup, but are we preparing them to play at the highest possible standard? So we have to listen to them, of course. But everyone knows this year has been particularly difficult because of the pandemic. Football has been a release for everyone, for our sanity, for the mental health of the people, for the players as well. We’ve been privileged to play games. But the product will be better when the fans are back in, so we need to listen to them, but it would be better if we had more days between each game. This week has been fantastic for us because we’ve had a week for the first time since August 2019 without a midweek game, apart from midseason break a year ago and project restart. To get the best possible product there are many ways we can do that so listen to the fans, the players and us managers.
Do you think it’s almost inevitable that for ESL clubs they will face highly motivated opposition after what the clubs tried to do?
OGS: I think you’re underestimating players. They’re just as motivated in every game. Every time you play against Man United, the opponent is 100% motivated. If not, they’re playing the wrong game. I’d expect my players to be as motivated for every game because it might be the last one you play. The fear of failure has to be there. I want my players to be afraid of losing. I want them to perform, enjoy the game, work for something, but if you ask the games I remember the most it’s the one we’ve lost. The finals, big games in the league, I don’t want to feel that failure again. No I don’t think there’s more motivation, it should be same as.
A lot of players and hipsters say Bielsa is their managerial mentor. Where do you stand on that? Surely you can’t top the guy you played for?
OGS: I admire Bielsa for his ideas but my mentor is of course Sir Alex Ferguson. I played under him for 11 years, I worked under him for four years, I still speak to him. Of course Sir Alex is my mentor and role model. I’ve learnt so much about everything regarding football from him. I hope I’ve learnt enough to bring us some success.