Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has talked about the club’s new signings. The Norwegian said he was happy with the transfer window, and that it had gone well. He also discussed his goals for the Premier League season.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke to the media on Thursday about his team’s summer signings, goals for the Premier League season, and more.
5:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Dawson, Rob Correspondent
ST. ANDREWS, SCOTTISH REPUBLIC — So far, Manchester United and their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, have had a pleasant summer. Solskjaer has agreed to a new long-term deal, while major transfer targets Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane have been signed ahead of the next Premier League season.
Last season concluded with a shock loss to Villarreal in the Europa League, and the relationship between fans and Old Trafford’s owners, the Glazer family, hit a new low following the club’s failed bid to join the European Super League. United hasn’t won a trophy in four years, and their last championship was in 2013, but there’s reason to believe Solskjaer’s squad will be serious contenders this time.
With just over a week until United’s first game of the 2021-22 season, a home match against Leeds United at Old Trafford, Solskjaer sat down for an in-depth interview at United’s preseason training base in St. Andrews to discuss the summer so far, his new signings, his rivals’ spending, and his expectations for the new season.
– Watch ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (available in the United States only) – Don’t have ESPN? Get immediate access
ESPN: You couldn’t have asked for a better summer, could you?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: My name is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and I’m It all depends on your perspective. Of sure, it would have been nice to bring back a couple champions [from the Euros and Copa America], that would have been great. In terms of transfers, we’ve completed our tasks ahead of schedule. [Varane] hasn’t had his medical exam yet, but that’s OK. I’m extremely happy with what we’ve accomplished.
Because of the short turnaround between seasons, you had little time to prepare last summer, but this time you’ve had a few friendlies and two camps: one in Surrey and one here in St. Andrews.
OGS: Last season was a one-of-a-kind experience. [Before the start of the season], we spent five days with everyone]. We haven’t gotten everyone back yet; a few are still missing. It’s tough every year when there’s a [summer of international football]. Luke [Shaw], Harry [Maguire], and Fred, to name a few, will have just the Everton game to prepare for on Saturday.
It’s not ideal, and I believe that teams with fewer players in tournaments have an early edge, but we’re as prepared as we can be. They should be ready since Fred played nine games over the summer and has had three weeks away from us — and then two weeks to be ready again.
Last season, United struggled to get off to a good start, losing to Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal in their first six league games, but is there any chance this season?
OGS: Every season is divided into blocks, but the first six or seven games are critical in establishing momentum and giving you a chance. Pep [Guardiola] once stated that you can’t win the league in the first eight games, but you can lose the opportunity to win it, which is exactly what happened to us last season.
We seemed to lose too many points early on, in my opinion. We only lost one league game from November 1 until the Leicester encounter in May. That’s the kind of consistency we’d want to see more of.
Is it possible that [Jadon] Sancho and [Raphael] Varane will face Leeds United?
OGS: They haven’t trained with us yet, and I need to check up on them. I don’t think they’ll be available for the match against Everton this weekend, but maybe they’ll be well enough to sit on the bench against Leeds.
Manchester United/Getty Images/Matthew Peters
This summer’s transfer window seems to have gone much more smoothly. Was this a factor in John Murtough’s appointment as football director and Darren Fletcher’s appointment as technical director in March?
OGS: John and Fletch are doing well. The system as a whole has functioned. We’ve recognized the players early on, and we spoke about Jadon at least a year ago. The addition of John and Fletch has been very beneficial.
Since taking over as manager, you’ve mentioned the necessity to rebuild. Is this the group you envisioned when you began the process?
OGS: When you’ve had the experiences I’ve had as a player at this club, you develop a vision for how we’ll be on and off the field. We’re a family, and no one is larger than the team, which is really important to me. You must recognize that you are a member of a group.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, and others to discuss the most recent news and debate the most important stories. ESPN+ has a live stream available (U.S. only).
The only time these young men can be themselves is when they are playing football. It’s a huge deal wherever they are, whether with their pals or in town. When they come in here, though, they are just one among many. That’s how I felt when I was playing for Sir Alex Ferguson. We all stayed together; we were all in it for the same reason, and that reason was for the team to succeed.
You’ve said that the club couldn’t have given you any more support this summer. Is it going to put you under more stress?
OGS: There’s always a lot of pressure to win the league and trophies here. It’s the pressure I put on myself, as well as the pressure the players put on themselves, to do your best. The fact that the board also wants to extend my contract shows we’re on the right track, but we need to keep moving forward.
You must be delighted that the club has decided to extend you a new contract so soon?
OGS: Of course you’re delighted when they come up to you. I had a year remaining, plus they had an option, so there were still two years left, but I believe the signal of consistency is essential for the players to know that this is how we want to do things.
To remain in my opinion, you must do well enough. It makes no difference if you have a 10-year deal or a one-year contract: if you don’t perform properly, you’ll be fired.
Do you still feel the pressure that if you don’t start well next season, your future may be jeopardized?
OGS: You’re always under pressure. It’s not just about holding to your position at this club, with this duty; it’s about the responsibility that’s in my hands. We have millions of fans, players, a club, and a staff… and the focus is on achieving outcomes. As long as you get results and improve, that’s all that matters, and I believe we’ve done just that. As long as you can see progress, that is.
We’ve gone from third to second [in the Premier League], and we’re a lot closer in terms of points; we’ve gone from three semifinals to a final, and we’re one kick away from winning, so now it’s all about taking the next step. That is the problem.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer discusses the additions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.
Is this team now strong enough to win the Premier League with the fresh additions?
OGS: I’d rather be an optimist who is mistaken than a pessimist who is correct. Of course, with maximum work, maximum season, and maximum sacrifice, these guys can do it. Every day is an opportunity to move closer to our goal, which is to work as a team to give ourselves a chance to win every game. Every day, however, presents an opportunity to regress, therefore it is up to us as a coaching staff, as well as the players, to continue to improve.
Is it possible that additional signings will be made before the transfer deadline?
OGS: Everything after that is a bonus. I think we’ve strengthened where we needed to strengthen with the two acquisitions we’ve made. Let’s see how things go. In football, you never know what will happen. With ins and outs, anything may happen.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding what Manchester City will do in the transfer market this summer. Do you keep an eye on what your competitors are doing in this regard?
OGS: Of course you’re paying attention and seeing that there’s potentially a lot of money being spent elsewhere. You must stay on top of the difficulties. Anyone who finishes ahead of the winners from the previous year will be crowned champions.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s primary acquisition this summer was Jadon Sancho. Manchester United/Ash Donelon/Getty Images
Will any outgoings be seen before the deadline? Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, and Diogo Dalot are all back in the team after spending last season on loan…
OGS: We’ll need a large team. The beginning is crucial, as is the whole season, but you must come in April and May fresh and with plenty of choices. Some may be borrowed till Christmas, while others may be hired for a season, but I don’t want to be too light in any position.
Because you previously had David De Gea and Dean Henderson, and you added in Tom Heaton this summer, it seems that one of the goalkeepers will depart.
OGS: It depends on the personalities you have and how well they work together. It’s a good thing to have some healthy competition. I don’t believe you get the most out of yourself if you’re too comfortable. You need an edge, and you need an edge that says, “If I don’t perform, someone else will,” but it has to be healthy for the team and the group. It’s not good if it’s poisonous and energy-draining.
Last year, David was in a new position, and Dean was in a new one. Let’s see how things go this year.
Last season, Gary Neville said that as a defender, he like to know who the first-choice goalkeeper is…
OGS: I always wished I had one first-choice right-back while I was playing, but I never did!
Paul Pogba’s future is once again being discussed. He says he wants to win trophies, but do you believe the new additions convince him that United is the right location for him to do so and that he will extend his contract?
OGS: I hope everyone believes this is the place to be if they want to win trophies. When you join Manchester United, you must be willing to take on the task. Paul has returned, and he’s in great shape, and he’s always such a happy kid. All of my conversations with him have been good.
There will be a lot of competition for forward spots next season now that Sancho has arrived.
OGS: We need to come with fresh players in April and May. We need guys who can make a difference and have that X factor. Last year, for example, I may have overplayed Bruno [Fernandes], but it was because he was so essential to us. With Jesse [Lingard] returning, Jadon [Sancho] joining, and Anthony [Martial] regaining his fitness, we have a lot more to work with.
Have you been pleased with Donny van de Beek’s preseason performance? He seems to be much more powerful.
OGS: Yeah, he’s bulked out a little. He had the previous season to learn about English football, and he’s made good use of the summer. You never know how foreign players will arrive; some may take a year to adjust. You can watch Fred’s growth and progress, and you can also see other people who simply walk in and start playing right away; it all depends.
The Premier Competition is a great league with an amazing level of intensity. You see, the Champions League final pits Man City against Chelsea. You have Liverpool, who have been fantastic in recent seasons, and that is the competition for the league title. We were defeated by Sheffield United, who were at the bottom of the table. There is no such thing as a sure thing in the Premier League.
Julien Laurens deconstructs the reality of Paul Pogba joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2022.
Is this one of the most difficult Premier League seasons due to the challenge provided by Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool?
OGS: This season, I believe, will be one of the strongest in Premier League history. Of course, City and Liverpool have been at odds for a few years. I believe that we, along with Chelsea, have spent and worked hard, and that we should consider ourselves possible contenders, but just that. The first game is crucial, followed by the first block of games, and finally maintaining momentum.
The only hiccup this summer was the cancellation of a friendly at Preston due to a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Is there any fear that Premier League games may be harmed as a result of the lifting of limitations in the UK, notwithstanding the fact that the rates remain high?
OGS: I believe that [the Preston game] was a testing error since all nine were positive and then were negative the following day when we performed a thorough PCR test, so it would be an issue if it occurred the day before the first league game. What occurred was not our fault, but it lost us preparation time and took us away from the training field for a few days. So when you say the summer has been wonderful, keep in mind that the world isn’t perfect; it isn’t an ideal world. We still live in a world with high [infection] rates.
Footballers have been fortunate in that we have been allowed to play football even when the world has been shut down. Now that the remainder of the area has opened up, we must exercise extreme caution because if they stay in one spot for too long, they may get a disease, therefore we must exercise extreme caution. But we have to make a sacrifice in order to play football.
As I already said, we are fortunate, yet their position is tough since their lives are not typical. I believe it’s been easier for us because we’ve been able to come into work together, exercise together, play games, and while we’ve had to live in a bubble, others have had to remain inside and not be able to see anybody. We’ve been fortunate, but right now our day is unlike everyone else’s since we can’t sign autographs for the kids or take photos like everyone else. That is difficult for us.
We want to interact with the supporters outside Old Trafford for the Leeds game, but we can’t because you believe if I catch anything here, it’s a four-game suspension. Literally. As a result, it’s a tough one.
Manchester United will improve and compete for titles again this season, according to Bruno Fernandes.
Have you had any discussions with the team regarding being vaccinated, or has it been left up to them to decide?
OGS: We’ve told them, and some of them are completely vaccinated, while others are unsure. But we’re going to have a larger meeting with them today because I believe it’s critical that everyone understands what’s going on.
You had to cope with a tense situation between the owners and the supporters last season. You must be relieved that the Glazers are taking measures to correct this?
OGS: It’s critical for supporters and the club to communicate, and I was there, and I have a great connection with both the fans and the club. Although the circumstances were not ideal, I attempted to make the most of a bad situation.
You’ve just signed a contract that will last until at least 2024. What do you want to accomplish during that time?
OGS: Our goal is to achieve success. We want to start winning trophies, and we’ve set the groundwork, which I believe has been done on the training field, on the transfer market, and with the work that the coaches and staff have been doing with the players. I believe we’ve strengthened [the players] and prepared them to handle the difficulties that come with being a Man United player. That’s not the same as being a member of any other team, and I believe everyone who has been or will be here understands the responsibilities and expectations are greater.
Is it easier for you to communicate that message to the players now that you’ve seen it firsthand?
OGS: You have to be psychologically tough and robust at times when you reflect back. You can’t be snobby in this club; otherwise, you may as well knock on my door and say, “This isn’t for me.” You must be able to deal with the ups and downs.
It’s not like you’re the greatest player in the world if you win, and it’s not like you’re the worst player in the world if you lose. Without being arrogant, you must trust and believe in yourself. On the field, I appreciate arrogance and confidence, but off the field, I don’t like arrogance because you’re playing football and you’re a fantastic player.
Is this going to make it more difficult to recruit here since it’s about more than simply finding excellent players?
OGS: That’s the difference, it’s all about character. There are a lot of talented athletes out there, but some of them struggle under pressure. Some of them do. Some people thrive under pressure, while others like it. Walking into the dressing room with Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Gary Neville… every day, we pushed each other, and now we’re getting more and more personalities in this dressing room, and they love being a Man United player.
You have to love it; if you don’t like being a Man United player, then play someplace else in the middle of the league.
Is this why patience is so essential in the transfer market? Instead of investing the money to bring in another winger last summer, you waited a year to sign Sancho.
OGS: Definitely, and that’s something the club and its owners have excelled at. We had an open discussion and agreed that if we didn’t get him, there was no sense in my signing someone we didn’t want when [Sancho], for example, became available again. We would have had a right winger if we had signed someone else.
It’s all about finding the proper cast of characters. Last year, I believe we demonstrated that with Edinson [Cavani]. Bringing him in was crucial, and he’s paved the way for many others.
Last summer, it would have been simple for you to say, “Just get me a right winger.” When Romelu Lukaku departed in 2019, you also declined to “panic-buy” a striker.
OGS: There was communication and discussion, as well as a strategy. We know this is what we need, and it may take a little longer, so signing someone just for the purpose of signing someone is pointless. Yes, we brought in Odion [Ighalo] on loan to give Anthony [Martial] a break in a few games that season, but it was crucial that we did so because Mason [Greenwood] continued to grow. You know what you’ve got, and if I sign someone who blocks the path of a young youngster, we’ll be without a striker or forward for the next two or three years.
I am the club’s manager. I don’t manage for myself or the players; I manage for the club, and that is the whole point of my job: to do the best for the club rather than for myself. That will never be the case with me.
Finally, what are your hopes for the next season?
OGS: We’re going to have a tough time getting through April and May. It’s tough in the league, tough in the tournaments we’re in, and maybe there will be another cup, a final. We’ve also lost in the semifinals, so we’re eager to compete for prizes. That is the goal.
- manchester united transfer
- premier league season length
- manchester united schedule