Every word from Ole before Europa League final
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shared his thoughts ahead of our UEFA Europa League final against Villarreal.
The Reds travel to Poland for the continental final in Gdansk on 26 May in what will be our boss’s first final as United manager.
In his pre-match press conference, Ole explained to reporters what winning the trophy could mean for his side and provided insights into the tough decisions he has to make when selecting the starting XI against the La Liga outfit.
The Norwegian also provided an injury update on captain Harry Maguire, who is facing a race against time to make the squad for the final.
Without further ado, here’s every word from the manager…
Europa League final: Ole's first press conference
Find out what the United boss had to say in a special media briefing, 10 days before the Europa League final...
Congratulations on finally getting to a final, I’m sure you’re delighted and satisfied but I’m sure you’re aware that everybody wants to play this game. That is probably the hardest task, picking your starting XI...
"To be fair, when you get to a final and you have most of them fit, I’m in a good position. The hardest thing is to win. They’ve had a long season, everyone has played, contributed, and of course we have to pick the best team that we think is the best one to play against a very good Villarreal side."
Europe means a lot to Manchester United, what does it mean to you to be the manager of the team in a final?
"Manchester United has meant a lot to me throughout my life as well. Of course, to be able to lead the team out in a final is going to be a proud moment for me. It’s going to be great to see the players we have worked with for two-and-a-half years now, and we’ve taken the step into a final after the near misses we’ve had. To get to a final is one thing, when you get to a final you need to win it, or you want to win it. You don’t get a prize for attending. We're all focused and I can't wait to see the players walk out on that pitch."
Does the Europa League feel like good preparation for the Champions League next season, given the quality of the teams that you have had to face and the quality that you have to face in the final? It hasn’t felt like a normal Europa League campaign.
"You're right, we've played against some very good teams, either from Spain or Italy. Of course, you can’t really say it is the Champions League because it isn’t, but we’ve felt that we’ve had to play really well to get through. We haven’t been able, so to say, to play weakened teams that you sometimes could do in the Europa, and we really did get tested. The whole season has been a test for our squad to see how far we’ve come. Of course, we see the finalists in Chelsea and Manchester City, in the Champions League. We’ve played some really good games against both teams so we know we can be close when we’re at our best, but we've got to be consistent on that level."
You were told before a big European final that you weren’t starting and that you were on the bench. You’ve said before that the hardest part of being a manager is telling players that they are not going to play. How do you go about that for a final like this, particularly for your goalkeepers? Both have played such a big part this season but only one of them can play. Is that going to be a hard conversation with one of them?
"It's always difficult. The human side of you, you want everyone to get this experience, but then you can only pick 11. That’s just the perks or nature of this job, that you basically have to make some tough decisions. You have to stand by them. We still have a couple of games in the league to finalise what the XI in the final will be. We’ll have to sit down with the individual. I remember Sir Alex, he came to my hotel room to explain why I didn't play in the semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen [in 2002] and we sat there for five minutes and we had a good conversation. I still felt I had a contribution to make, that I was important for his team. All my players, they know that they have been important for us this season. We couldn’t have gotten to a final, second place in the league, without everyone’s contribution every day, because that’s the culture we’re in. They’ve been competitive but very supportive as well."
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How much do you need this trophy in order for your team to push on to the next level?
"Of course you want to win it. For the team, for the fans, for the club, we want to win. Those nights when you win a trophy brings everyone together, it’s a celebration. When you lose a big game it’s disappointment. When we won in 1999, of course it made history but it didn't make me a better player. It didn’t make us individually better players but as a group we believed we could go on to win more stuff. We comfortably won the league the next couple of seasons. We couldn’t repeat the Champions League, but still it gives you a lot as a group. We will only know and time will tell what it will do to the team. Like I’ve said sometimes, trophies will hide other facts. We've felt we’ve come a long way. We’ve done it the hard way, lost four semi-finals and now we’re in a final and I think we're ready for the next step."
We’ve seen the importance of Harry Maguire in the last two games because of his forced absence. A) How’s he’s recovery going and B) at what stage do you have to make a decision on him in terms of fitness for the final? Do you give it until the last minute or do you make the decision in the days ahead of the game?
"Well, hopefully, we can have the news as early as possible, but we’ll give it as long as it takes. Of course, he has shown his importance. We've known it all along but maybe some people notice it more when he’s not playing. I certainly felt I became a very good player when I was injured. People suddenly realised what I could do as a sub or how I was as a player. And now… Harry’s been our leader, he's the captain and since he came in he’s been more or less ever-present. Of course, he’s a big miss at the moment but hopefully he can speed up the recovery and be ready for the final. But I’ll give him as long as he needs until he says yes or no."
Given that you have the responsibility as the manager, which is very different to a player, will this mean more to you than all those trophies you won as a player?
"The next one is always the most important, no matter what. But yes, of course, you feel more responsible when you’re making decisions. As a player, you just do more or less what you’re told; you do the best for the team. At the moment I've got to make difficult decisions. Sometimes Sir Alex left me out and he explained to players… He said so many times: 'Wait for the time you're the manager yourself and you’re going to make these decisions. They’re horrible to make.' But, of course, it means a lot and it can mean a lot if you make the wrong choice so, for me, definitely, this is my role and responsibility at the moment. This is what I focus on and I don't think about what I did as a player. I only want to do my best for the club as the manager now."
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The boss says Harry is quietly confident he will be fit for the Europa League final.
Just on the two goalkeepers again. They’ve played a big part in this tournament. You got some tough calls to make for the final but is that the toughest decision tough?
“I think there's loads of difficult calls to make. I think the whole squad has contributed so much. Probably a different scenario with the ‘keepers from what it’s normally been this season because they’ve shared… I don’t know how many games we’ve played this season, 57, 58, 59, close to 60 and both of them are around 30 make and both have done well. So, it’s going to be a difficult call, of course, but I’ll have to make two or three more difficult ones as well.”
Just a follow-up on the question about Harry Maguire. Is he making good progress? Are you sort of more optimistic now than what you were last time we spoke to you which I think was last Tuesday. Is he coming a long better than you’ve hoped?
“He's making progress but we've consciously taken the route of not testing him out too early, too quickly because we don’t want to aggravate something. Harry is, how do you say, adherent? He wants this so much so he doesn't want to make any risks either. When I spoke to him this morning he was quite positive but, naturally, the day after it happened we were all down. We saw early on, we decided that we had to focus, had to be positive and think that you will make it until you have to say no. I’ve always been an optimist, so we’re positive.”