How Ole will manage player welfare
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says the health and wellbeing of his Manchester United players will be uppermost in his mind as the boss plots the team's course during a hectic next few weeks.
The Reds face 12 games in just under six weeks, in three different competitions, before the end of 2020. That run starts with a Premier League clash against West Brom at Old Trafford on Saturday evening as United look to secure a first domestic home victory of the season.
During an exclusive chat with reporter Stewart Gardner, ahead of the meeting with the Baggies, Ole reflected on a positive international break for many of his players and explained how he plans to manage his squad over the coming period...
Firstly Ole, that’s it for international football for four months. Will it be good to have everything focused on United for that time now?
“Yeah, I would like to say so. Now we’ve got a chance to create momentum and the players’ focus is on the club and the roles and responsibilities here. Of course, it’s fantastic for them to go away and play with the national teams but now there is a different mentality. It almost feels like the season is going to start now because we’ve got time together.”
There was lots of international football to take in but I suppose Scott McTominay has got the biggest smile of all, hasn’t he?
“Yeah, it was brilliant. A penalty shoot-out with all the nerves… but Scotty put a good penalty away. For any international to be able to play for your country in a major tournament is massive. We had loads of positives from this international break I felt. We got goals from Harry, Donny, Edi, Dan James scored a fantastic goal and Dean Henderson made his [England] debut, which is great for him and us as a club and the Academy. Of course, Paul and Anthony have qualified [with France] and Spain have qualified with David for the Nations League tournament. So it’s been a good spell and the ones who have been here have trained really hard and, of course, we had some days off too. It’s been a good two weeks and now we’re ready to go.”
As you’ve said, you’ve had players spread far and wide – are there any casualties?
“Of course, we have test results coming back after the normal tests we have to do before the Premier League games. All the tests from the internationals were negative, which is all good.”
Players who didn’t travel like Marcus Rashford who took that knock at Everton – how is he?
“He’s worked in gym and has got treatment. He joined in the session [on Friday] and I hope he'll hold his hand up and say he's ready. That will be up to him. I think he feels okay. The session was really good actually, so loads of players to pick from.”
How is Mason Greenwood doing?
“He's fitter. He had eight or nine days away from us which is a long time. He's been training hard this week in the gym and out on the grass. He'll be back soon.”
And how is Alex Telles after his travels and test news?
“Yeah, he travelled and wanted to play for his national team then I think there was a mix up with the tests - positive/negative and there was loads of talk about if he was going or not, first of all to the first game and then to second game. He's come back and has been training a few days and is looking good.”
What about the lads who have been out for a little bit long like Eric Bailly and Jesse Lingard?
“Eric and Marcos [Rojo] are back training with us. Jesse and Phil [Jones] and Luke [Shaw] are not on the grass yet.”
I suppose you’ve had a small group to work with because the different bubbles mean youngsters can’t really come in – has that been a bit tricky?
“It’s strange. The international breaks used to be a window of opportunity for the kids to come and train with us. Maybe we’d drip feed two or three in for a couple of days and then a couple of others would come in. But now, with the rules and regulations, you can’t do that. We could maybe play a game against them but that’s as far as the regulations and laws allow us; we can’t mix teams. I feel for the kids because there are so many youngsters that we would normally put in and give them a little glimpse and have them get a feel of the first-team environment. That will come back though, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
There are 12 games left in 2020 before New Year’s Day. Does that mean you have to be very careful in terms of resting players?
“You’ve got to try to use some common sense. It’s a strange season and a strange year and it’s been difficult for everyone. We’re lucky as footballers, we can come and meet our colleagues and play football outside, well I don’t play, but at least they can. Still though we have to look after them, especially with the season being shorter with more games. Player welfare has to be in the front of our heads as managers and people. Of course, there will be players disappointed to not be playing one game because they want to play every game. But we make the decision about when they should be left out and rested, and we look at when it’s possible because it’s not always possible.”
The EFL are taking that on board in terms of welfare and have gone back to five substitutes and that’s also happening in Europe. Do you think eventually the pressure will tell in the Premier League?
“Well, we had a managers’ meeting the other day and the vast majority know why we should have five subs. There are not many now who would have voted against it, if we’d have had a little bit of a managers’ vote between ourselves - if there was a vote now, it would go through with five subs. We, as managers, try to look after the players and hopefully the authorities can make that happen.”
What sort of challenge will West Brom pose at Old Trafford?
“We played them in the summer in June. I called Slaven [Bilic] – I’ve played against him and coached against him many a time so we’ve kept in touch and we played two games at Old Trafford. They gave us a big challenge and they got promoted after that, so well done to them. It’s not easy with the situation now with COVID because you’re not able to have a settled team and I know he’ll get it right, but hopefully after Saturday.”
They got a draw with Chelsea and have been unlucky in some other games. It just shows you it won’t be as easy as it might look on paper?
“Paper never decides football games, you have to earn the right to win. We’ve prepared well with the ones who have been here and most of the others have come back in a good mood so hopefully we’re ready to start the game well.”
Did you know Sam Johnstone when he was at United?
“Yes, I knew Sam. I had him here before I left and I’ve been delighted with his progress in his career. It’s fantastic to see so many of our Academy players playing at different clubs. He’s made a very good career for himself.”