Exclusive: Ole outlines season aims
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to see a strong start and consistency from his Manchester United players this term, as the Reds look to build on an excellent finish to last season’s Premier League campaign.
In a wide-ranging interview with MUTV’s Stewart Gardner, on the eve of our new season kicking off, Ole spoke of the importance of further improving upon the great strides made by the team in the last 12 months and also took time to praise our 2019/20 award-winners, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Read the full Q&A below…
Firstly, Ole, Bruno has been voted the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year for last season. It shows the remarkable impact he had given he only started for us in February, but I guess that tells the story of what the fans make of him?
“Yeah, of course. He had fantastic impact. He came in at a time when we needed a spark. We were building a good team and we needed Bruno’s qualities and his whole persona. It’s not just about his football with his qualities, but also his personal attributes warmed to the fans. I think they see a winner and someone who really cares and who’s got exceptional skills as well. He’s had a fantastic impact and it’s well deserved.”
Anthony has won the Players’ Player of the Year award and he very nearly won the fans one too. Is that spot on as well after his season?
“I think it’s the most prestigious one for the players. When your team-mates really respect and show you how they feel you’ve performed for the team and for everyone then that’s a big one for Anthony to get. I think it’s a great statement towards how Anthony is developing as a player and also as a person.”
Do you take particular pride in that one, because when you arrived his career didn’t really seem to be developing that much, but that has changed radically since you arrived?
“No, I think Anthony has done all the work himself. I asked him if he saw himself as a no.9 and if he wanted to play there and take the shirt back and do what that means, because there’s a responsibility [with it]. Anthony has gradually worked at the task and enjoyed the responsibility and the pressure of a striker. I’m not sure he enjoys me being at him all the time about being in and around the box and not just showing his skills on either flank, but that’s where the goals are and I think Anthony has proved to all his team-mates and the fans that he is one that really works hard for the team.”
Marcus Rashford won Goal of the Season from about 40 yards at Chelsea – would you have voted for that?
“It’s probably the one goal that stands out the most, yes. What a fantastic strike in a big game against a big team and good club. It was a great moment in the game too. He’s got the capability of doing that. His striking of the ball reminds me of other players that we’ve had so hopefully he can get one or two of those again. I’m still on Marcus as well for the tap-ins and the simple ones, because they count just as much you know!” [Smiles]
It’s been a uniquely short pre-season – are the players are ready?
“We’re as ready as we can be. We’ve had a strange pre-season. We’ve had players away on internationals, we’ve had some players working here and some players are just getting back fit, so it’s been a strange pre-season, but it’s been a good one for the ones who have been working hard. We played in the Europa League until 16 or 17 August, so until about a month ago, so that will stand us in good stead. That was almost like our pre-season.”
How are the players, as I guess some of them have only really had a few training sessions?
“The players are at different stages. Mentally, I think everyone’s ready. Physically they’re at different stages, some of them have played more games than others. So we’ll have to be clever and good about when to play players because we know this period now until the first international break is a hugely important one. We need points and the players need games, but some of them haven’t trained enough or had enough football and some of them have been in quarantine. It’s just one of these situations which we’ve adapted to really well before, and the players have done well.”
What's the latest team news?
“Phil Jones is still out. Axel [Tuanzebe] is not 100 per cent back with us yet, but he's on the grass running which is a positive. Apart from that, we don't have any serious injuries but, as we said, the players are at different stages of their training programmes.”
How’s Donny been settling in and is he ready for the mayhem of the Premier League?!
“I think so – well I know so! He’s been at a fantastic club and very well educated there, of course. He’s a very grounded boy who is a smashing personality, always positive. He’s a very, very good player with different qualities to many of the others that we’ve had, so I’m delighted with that transfer and delighted with how he’s fitted into the group. He’s a big breath of positive energy.”
Is Teden Mengi now part of the first-team squad?
“He's jumped up. He’ll probably play some U23s games this season when it's possible for him. He needs games at that stage regularly. But he’s done absolutely brilliantly in training and he came on for half an hour against Villa and didn't put a foot wrong. He's with us every single day.”
What do you look at as achievable for this season and what are the aims?
“The boring answer is we have to keep on developing! [Smiles] We have to keep on improving and have that culture going forward of trying to improve every single day. I think we’ve earned the right to go into this season feeling positive and with confidence. The way we finished the season was strong but also we finished it with a bit of a bitter taste because of the last game we lost to Sevilla in the semis – a game that we played really well in and could have won. So we’re getting closer and closer to challenging and winning trophies and we need to take it another step forward. I know there are loads of other clubs really looking to improve and everyone always wants to do that every season. We need to be better than last year. We’re a year older too. Everyone is, but we were the youngest squad in the Premier League last season and the year's experience that these boys have had now will stand us in good stead, I’m very sure of that. We’ll have to start the season better than we did last season. That’s the aim now: that we get a good start and, from then on, kick on.”
The second half of last season was as good as any team's. Is the key now to make that last for a full campaign?
“Yes. You need to be consistent to be challenging at the top. We need to close the gap and get closer to the top of the league. Of course we know that. That comes with consistency and also with [the] experience that these boys have had. And the couple of new players we have in the squad will help. Dean Henderson has come in and he’s making this goalkeeper department a joy to watch. The level in training has been unbelievable. We’ve spoken about Donny van de Beek, the level he’s showing and quality he’s showing. And don’t forget Eric Bailly, because he missed up until February and missed more than half of the season. He came back stronger and stronger and towards the end of the season he looked really strong, so I think we’ll see a lot of Eric. He’s looked really strong in training as well.”
Crystal Palace were one of very few teams to have success at Old Trafford last season – is that a warning that they did well a year ago?
“Of course it’s a warning, but it’s also about learning. I know that if we played that game last season 100 times we’d lose that one, and that’s the one we lost. It was freak result. But don’t underestimate that performance, because they’ve got some individual players there with loads of qualities, especially going forward. We cannot switch off, we have to be aware of the individual qualities, and the way Roy always organises his teams means they’re hard to play against, so we know we have to play well.”
Get ready for this season. Our 2020/21 home and away kits are available now from United Direct.