Ole: We need that trophy-winning feeling
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken of the importance of his young Manchester United side getting their hands on some silverware, ahead of the restart of our Europa League campaign.
The Reds take on LASK at Old Trafford on Wednesday night already five goals to the good, following the 5-0 away victory back in March before coronavirus hit.
With a quarter-final spot within touching distance, Ole told MUTV's Mark Sullivan that it's important United get the job finished in strong fashion, with the boss focused on going all the way in the next stages of the tournament in Germany...
Ole, it’s an interesting tie this one given you’ve already got a 5-0 first-leg lead. How do you and your staff work on getting the players focused and maintaining their professionalism given the situation?
“Well, I don’t think their professionalism is in question anyway. It’s a game of football that you want to win. All these players want to fight for trophies and we want to go to Germany with a big squad intact and in form. They’ve had a few days off, they’ve looked after themselves and had a few days' training now, and they’re getting ready now for competition again.”
Given qualification for the Champions League is now secure, does it change your approach at all to the tournament? Can you relax and enjoy it more without that pressure of having to get into the Champions League?
“No… you’ve got a trophy to fight for. Some players enjoy that pressure of having to do something. Of course we want to get to the next step on this journey with this team and win things. We’ve been to the semis in the FA Cup and into the semis of the Carabao Cup and third in the league, but now we want to kick on because all these players want to win trophies and this team needs to know that we can go past the semis and get to a final.”
Is that something that’s really important to a young squad’s development – having that first trophy to build upon?
“I think it’s important and we’re always hungry to improve all the time. And we’re hungry to win. When you’re at Man United, there are two things that matter: improving and winning. We want to lift a trophy, of course. The time that you do it is a great occasion for everyone, getting your hands on any trophy, and some of these need to get that feeling.”
Should we get through the second leg against LASK unscathed, it sets up this mini tournament in Germany – what’s the mindset and approach going into what is an unusual format for a club competition?
“We’ve all been part of tournaments, maybe World Cups and different types of tournaments like the Euros or Under-21 tournaments, so it’s territory that we’ve been in with national teams more or less, but now as a club side we’re looking forward to it and hopefully we’ll last until 21 August and then we’ve had a 12-day stay in Germany. First we need to get through the LASK game. If we don’t do that, we don’t deserve to be in Germany anyway. When we get there, there’s one focus and that’s lifting a trophy.”
“Normally you go away in July/August on a pre-season tour, [so] it’s a different setting as it’s about going there and winning. We’ve got to go and perform in every game, it’s not like you give minutes to players just to get ready for the new season. It will be strange to fight for trophies in the middle-to-end of August but the group has grown together this season, the atmosphere is good and the culture in the group is improving all the time. Of course, we still need to improve and get the consistency with our performances. We’ve had some highs and we want those highs to be even higher than they have been this season, so it’s a continuing process really.”
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You’ve named your 30-man squad for the Europa League and included some youngsters. There is no Luke Shaw or Axel Tuanzebe due to injury – what’s the latest on them and can you tell us a bit more about your squad?
“Axel and Luke will be out until the start of next season, out for this month for sure. Hopefully they'll be ready to go at the start of September. Phil [Jones] has been training here, he's not been not match-fit, but he's been getting closer, so maybe he can join in in Germany. We'll see how he progresses over the next few days. The youngsters coming in [to the squad] give us a bigger training group and hopefully we can see the start of a career there.”
Will any of the youngsters get a chance on Wednesday night?
“The team tomorrow won't change too much from what we played last time we played LASK. We know it's not as easy as the 5-0 sounds because we played very well ourselves. It was the first time without the crowd and we scored our second goal round about the hour-mark and we scored three goals in the last six or seven minutes, so there's not a 5-0 difference between the teams. So we know we have to perform. There are players there who will get the chance to get match-time and fight for a place for the rest of the tournament.”
It's fantastic news that Brandon Williams has signed a new contract keeping him here until June 2024, with an option for a further year. What can you say about his development this season?
“He’s been exceptional. His season started in the Reserves, he didn’t come with us on pre-season tour, but when he made his debut against Rochdale he came on and showed his character and his personality and of course his qualities. From then on he’s just kicked on and improved all the time. Throughout the season he’s shown his winning mentality and it’s great to see him improving and he will do that more and more because he’s still a young boy. He’ll grow into his body soon.”
He’s always been a United fan and has come right the way through the Academy here, and he told us he just wants to work hard and continue his development…
“He’s got a great personality, he’s a winner and he gives everything absolutely every time. He can play left side, right side and can even play in centre midfield if need be. Brandon is very versatile and we’re looking forward to developing him.”