Ole on Newcastle: I expect it to be electric!
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has previewed our meeting with Newcastle United on Saturday in an exclusive interview with club media.
Our Norwegian manager is eager to return to Old Trafford as we take on the Magpies for a highly anticipated Premier League clash. The match will be Cristiano Ronaldo's second debut for the Reds, following the Portuguese superstar's return to the club, which was announced ahead of our fixture away at Wolverhampton Wanderers in late August.
As well as talking about our no.7, Ole touches upon Fred's unavailability, provides a couple of injury updates and talks about Raphael Varane, with the Frenchman hoping to make his first appearance for United at the Theatre of Dreams.
Here's every word from the boss...
Ahead of our fixture against Newcastle at the weekend, how has the preparation been going?
"It’s been very good! There’s been internationals and you always cross your fingers that they come back fit. They’ve all come back with a good mood, they’ve had some good results, there’s been some goals and those who have been here have worked hard, prepared well and, of course, it’s an exciting game for everyone. I know that, with Cristiano coming back, that’s gonna take much of the headlines… But the team’s been very focused."
As you said, we have to talk about Ronaldo being back at Carrington. What has it been like having him in training? Do you feel like he’s settled in quickly?
"He can speak for himself but for us it seems like he’s come home. He feels at home here, it looks like. He feels happy to be here, of course, and is very focused. I have to say, he’s kept himself in good knick and wants to start helping this team. That’s how he feels. He’s a Man. United player and he’s always been a Man. United fan and his family has been, so, of course, it’s a big day for the club, for us, but also for him."
When we spoke to Ronaldo earlier this week, he said that he wanted to put pressure on you in order to make the starting eleven against Newcastle. Has he been doing just that?
"Yeah, by his performances and by the way he conducts himself. He comes into the club as, if not the, at least one of the greatest players of all time having played the game. He’s just slotted straight in. He wants the same as everyone, he’s a part of the team. It’s not like “what about me, what about me”. No, he does exactly what everyone else does and he’s still the same as when he left. Around the place he’s always in a good mood, he brings positive vibes."
Newcastle were on the receiving end of Ronaldo’s only Reds hat-trick back in 2008. Are you hoping he can have a similar impact on Saturday?
"Let’s see how the game goes. It’s not about Cristiano, it’s about the team. It’s about us continuing the good start we’ve had. It’s the best start since I’ve come in anyway. Seven points, of course we would have liked nine, but seven points is not a bad return after two difficult away games. We’re just ready to play in front of our fans again. The atmosphere was so electric against Leeds. I expect it to be even more so now…"
Has there been any discussion on who’s on free-kicks, penalties, now that Ronaldo has arrived? It must be great to have such amazing options at your disposal…
"I didn’t know you were going to ask but I expect everyone else to ask! That’s my decision, who takes the penalty in each game and that’s been communicated to them, so that’s all sorted."
Fred is now unavailable for the next two games and that’s a bit gutting especially as we have a lot of fixtures at hand. How do you feel about it?
"It’s a strange situation. Players lose out and the clubs lose out and the national teams lose out. It’s just been a farce from the start, we saw what happened in Brazil with the Brazil-Argentina game. It just cannot be like this. Even if he’d gone, he’d play at 01:30 Friday morning and would have no chance to play here. For me, the whole situation is a lose, lose, lose. Common sense might not be so common in football. I’ve said it a few times and this is just one of those situations that… We know we’re in a difficult time, pandemic, and we all work to stop the spread of the virus and the last 17-18 month have been the strangest periods in everyone’s lives, never mind football. But then, us in football should at least try to exercise common sense and for me it doesn’t make any sense players having to travel over there and not to come back and play for their clubs. Anyway, it is what it is. We’re prepared but we still hope that a sensible solution is going to be given to us but we’ve prepared with Fred not being in the starting eleven."
Sancho’s been back training after his knock with England. How has he been going?
"Yeah, of course, he’s disappointed having to come back with a small injury. Of course, he wanted to play for his country but he’s come back, worked with the physios and he’s trained with us a few days. He looks determined to come back and to play well when he’s asked upon."
Is there any update on Dean, Marcus and Scott?
"Alex [Telles] and Marcus [Rashford], they're working hard. They're not too far away from joining the team training. Dean [Henderson] has trained well and we're looking to give him games with the Under-23s, same with Phil [Jones]. Hopefully they can get into the first team very soon.”
Any updates on Amad after he picked up an injury before the transfer deadline?
"He’s still injured, still out for about a month, so maybe after the next international break he will be available for us which is great for us. It was bad timing for him to get that injury but he's working really hard and the kid is going to be a good one."
Everyone’s talking about Ronaldo’s return but Raphael [Varane] could make his home debut on Saturday. How much do you think the Old Trafford crowd will take to him and what are your first impressions working with him?
"Well, they enjoyed him walking out to the pitch before the Leeds game and I think that created some of the atmosphere, of course. I’m sure they’ll take to him, against Wolverhampton he showed what he was going to give us. He’s of course been away, played two games for France. Everyone knows his qualities, personality’s fantastic in and around the place, he’s a winner. To add him and Cristiano as proven winners in the group, with Jadon of course with his youth and enthusiasm… That’s been a big, big bonus. He’s impressed, he’s impressing every day."
Finally, there’s so many leaders in the dressing room right now. Would you say that it makes your and you coaching staff’s job any easier trying to install the United mentality?
"The United mentality’s here now. I see the group, we got a group now with a good mood but it’s a focused mood. We know that we have assembled a squad that’s a good squad, a strong squad. There’s competitions for places, which is always helping and now it’s up to us as a team to get the results."