Ole: The full pre-season interview
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken extensively about our pre-season plans ahead of the 2021/22 campaign as preparations continue at Carrington.
The Reds have some interesting friendlies lined up for the weeks ahead, all live on MUTV, before our Premier League kick-off against Leeds United at Old Trafford on 14 August.
During his chat with Gemma Thompson, the boss discussed the upcoming warm-up games and a variety of other topics, including England's performance at the Euros, the fine margins involved in achieving success, a new coach and breaks for the international players. Plus, for him, as we expect to welcome full crowds back to Old Trafford, he declared: "Manchester United with and without fans are two different things."
“I was at home. Obviously, we know the feeling the whole of England had after the game. One kick decides the whole mood. An even game, maybe Italy bossed possession a little bit, of course, but when it comes to penalty shoot-outs, anything can happen, as we know from our own last game. It’s hard on the boys but that’s football sometimes. You just have to deal with it and move on. I know the whole atmosphere in the country has been so great and, of course, it’s an anti-climax. I know that.”
For those who missed in the shoot-out, they’ve got to bounce back and learn from the experience…
“Yeah, you do. You know the thing is when you step up to take a penalty, I think you’ve already won. You’ve taken on the responsibility and I’m sure many of the players are hoping I don’t want to take a penalty. So I think it’s a great character trait to step up and say I will deal with it, the consequences. You might be the hero or the one who misses. That’s football, you learn from it and definitely come back stronger. I’ve not seen many people, at this club anyway, who lay down and say I’ll not take a penalty anymore. I know Marcus is going to put his hand up and say he wants to take one for us.”
We’ve got to mention Luke – what a strike that was!
“I’m so happy for Luke, I was watching it and ‘what’s just happened?’ He started the attack and we’ve encouraged him to get into the last third. We know how technically gifted he is and skilful he is and he hit the ball very, very sweetly. He keeps his eye on the ball, straight laces and it’s margins again – off the post and in not off the post and out. That’s football for you. Luke deserves all the luck he can get. He’s had a tremendous couple of years with us.”
“Well, pre-season is always a fresh start, a new start with new opportunities to look forward to the season. Some of the players have just started their holiday so we know it’s a depleted squad but it gives the young kids a taste of what it is like to have a proper pre-season with top professionals like Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata in the first team, Lee Grant, Tom Heaton is back. They’ve done it so many times. Mason, Aaron, Axel are first-team players who will bring these boys along and it’s a good opportunity for them.”
We have a new member of the coaching staff on board, can you tell us more about him?
“We’ve been fortunate enough to convince Eric Ramsay to come and join the best club in the world and in the country. He’s a very highly rated coach who is going to be working with individuals and in charge of set-plays as well. We’re excited. He’s young, fresh and with new ideas, an innovative coach we know from before, Kieran knows him really well from Loughborough so we’re very pleased with that.”
We’ve seen some young players joining the club and some loans have already been set up…
“Yeah, of course. We’ve got six weeks together before the league starts and a couple of training camps here in the UK. It’s the most sensible thing, we felt, being in and round here. You don’t get the, how do you say, aggravation of are we green, red or amber? It’s just the way the world works at the moment. The young kids will definitely be part of the Derby game and then we’ve got another couple of games coming up and they can be part of it. Gradually, more and more players from the Euros will join in. They’ll get a taste of some football. Then roundabouts early August, some will go on loan. We’ve already lined up a few and some of them are still in discussions between us and the players about where is the best place to go.”
Training camps, even if we’re usually on tour, are they a great way of team bonding?
“It always is and, as I said, loads of young boys have not been on a tour, well a camp, with players and live and eat together all the time and do different things together. They will learn like Juan, Nemanja, Lee and Tom – the more experienced ones will be the leaders of that group. They’ll take charge and I am sure there will be singing…”
Ah the initiation ceremonies! We’re kicking off the first game away to Derby and all the games are on MUTV, before coming back to Old Trafford so how excited are you by that?
“Hopefully, we’ll see as many as our supporters away from home as well, maybe Derby and QPR, and then at Old Trafford against Brentford and then we’ve got Everton. Big games, important games for us to prepare for the first game then, it’s like we get the first chunk of work in and then we start preparing for the first game. Then as long as we keep [going] gradually, at least until the first international break, we’ve got to look at pre-season and start the season better than we did last season. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb as it was a difficult start. Hopefully, this year, we’ve cracked the gradual improvement.”
“It was great but it was strange, in the same sentence. It was 10,000 people but I couldn’t imagine it was 10,000 creating that much of a buzz and energy within the stadium, I think in that big a stadium anyway which is only 1/7th of its capacity. The atmosphere was top. I can’t wait for us to play football, hopefully we’ll play some good football, and the atmosphere will be good again.”
It’s the first time Brentford have been in the top-flight for some time – what have you made of them last season under Thomas Frank?
“They had a clear plan. They had a philosophy they work from, the Danish owners back home in Midtjylland, they have done great in Denmark and now with Brentford. It was thoroughly deserved as they’ve been so close a few times and I’m very happy for Thomas. The Scandinavian link that I, of course, enjoy. That will be my first experience to play against them and they’ve got a new stadium so I’ll enjoy the away game as well. All newcomers in the Premier League are welcome because it creates another feeling and gives us something new.”
Have you come up against Thomas Frank before?
“No, I haven’t. It’s the first time I have a team to play against him but, of course, I know his philosophies and how he thinks.”
“Definitely. We all need to start on the front foot and kick off at the right tempo because, when the season starts, we know how little can decide the season being a successful one or not so successful. Every single game of those 38 counts equally. Yeah, there are bragging rights for some of the games, of course, but you only get three points every game and you’ve got to take one game at a time.”
Everton are coming to Old Trafford, are you looking forward to another good test with Rafa Benitez being back?
“Yeah, Everton are one of the teams that you can envisage challenging for European football. They’ve done great under Carlo [Ancelotti] and we all know Rafa and his qualities. I’m sure they will be challenging for the higher positions in the league.”
What has impressed you most about Everton’s progress?
“You know, the calmness and the leadership of Carlo. There’s a plan you can see the players play with freedom, also with confidence. There is a clear way of playing, he trusts his players, which I feel is important for any player to feel. Rafa inherits, or takes over, a squad full of quality players.”
And Rafa is a manager we all know very well as he’s so experienced in the Premier League…
“Very well. I’m sure he’s looking forward to coming back. There’s no better place to work.”
Is it the perfect start with the away games before coming to Old Trafford as you start building up to the Premier League?
“Yeah, I think so. We’ve planned the pre-season as well as we could under the limitations we had. When we had to make the plans, we had to be on the safe side. We had these opportunities that will challenge us, starting with Derby. We normally start with easier opposition in the first pre-season game, so we’ll be straight in.”
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Impress the boss and learn from the senior pros: that's what these United youngsters are out to do.
“You’ve not experienced Manchester United until you’ve scored in front of the Stretford End. Of course, Edi scored in front of some of them, and they’ve both scored in that end, but now, when it’s a full stadium, it will be different for the two of them. Manchester United with and without fans are two different things. To be reunited with them will be top.”
Will you be gradually introducing the international players back in, maybe in time for those Old Trafford games?
“Players, you know, need some downtime and some rest. Of course some need less or more than others and, when you’ve got to the final like Fred, Harry, Luke and Marcus have done, you have to sacrifice maybe a week while the other can get up to a month, while we’ve had five weeks with the ones who have started already. I think everybody will be fresh for the new season. Last season, as we know, was a long one and a challenging one and I can’t wait for it to start.”
How excited are you to get going and build on last season?
“Yeah it is building and improving. Of course, we need to improve on a few things. We’ve looked at it and evaluated it but, as I said earlier, it’s fine margins in football. If you win a penalty shoot-out, that’s a successful season. If you lose it, it’s just doom and gloom. So, well, I’m sure the players will have recharged and know what’s up and we’re a team on the up, improving all the time. The coaches will be demanding as ever because standards need to keep going up. I’m sure other teams will be too.”
Finally, Eric and Amad have had call-ups for the Ivory Coast squad for the Olympics – we’re hoping they do well aren’t we?
“Definitely. I think everyone, when they grow up, watch the Olympics and can see Usain Bolt or Ryan Giggs, I saw him play in the Olympics! When your country calls you up, I think I can’t stand in the way of that boyhood dream being fulfilled. Of course, Eric is over-age but I think they can see the value of him and that’s why they brought him in. Amad is a young, exciting prospect. It’ll be good to see them. It’ll be their pre-season but they’ve got to come back with a medal. We need a nice feel about the place when they come back!”