At yesterday’s press conference in Perth, Australia, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer boldly stated, “We have to aim for better than fourth.”
While acknowledging United’s current level is outside the top quartet, the United boss pin-pointed several reasons why his side can meet the challenge: the quality already in the squad, hard work, focus and consistency. He also mentioned something about signing the right players.
Last week on the club’s in-house TV Channel, Solskjaer claimed that United had done well so far in the summer transfer window. That is not a view shared by many, but I suppose he’s not likely to openly criticize, especially given what the media platform was, and anyway, it’s not really his style.
You would hope however that he’s contributing to some tough, influential, discussion behind closed doors, because this squad, as things stand, looks no better than top 6 material.
From last season, Fellaini, Herrera and Valencia have departed. In have come Daniel James, a 21 year-old Welsh international winger with no Premier League experience, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, also 21, after a very good season with Crystal Palace in which he was voted that club’s Player of the Year. James cost 15 million pounds and Wan-Bissaka, 45 million. Both fees have ad-on clauses dependent upon performance.
It’s really not enough to strike fear in to mid-table teams, never mind those in the upper reaches.
Pogba apart, United have not been in the mix when it comes to getting the deal done in pursuit of world stars since Chief Executive David Gill retired, at precisely the same time as Sir Alex. Their efforts in the transfer market in subsequent years have been horribly inept. Not only have they consistently missed prime targets, but they have been played by other clubs, paying significantly over the odds for players, that have proven, plainly, just not good enough.
Paul Pogba’s attitude and demeanour for much of his time back at Old Trafford has not been what you’d expect from a leader. But then is that so surprising, since leadership is not one of his inherent qualities?
He’s sulked, his body-language has been all over the show forcing you to wonder if he’s hormonal, sometimes he looks not bothered at all, and on a few occasions he’s come up big. But not too often, and when he has, it’s not really been in key games.
Clearly there is a huge talent in there. The problem is United players look up to him. With his outrageous garb, hairstyles and the social media circus that surrounds him, he’s the leader in the locker-room. Before him successful United sides had proper leadership in abundance. Keane, Schmeichel, Cantona, Robson, Scholes, Neville, Ferdinand and Vidic, but for each of them and more, respect was earned because of what they did on the pitch. And therein lies a huge difference.
At Juventus, Pogba did well, but he had bigger personalities around him that could help keep his feet on the ground: Buffon, Chiellini, Evra, Khedira, Mandzukic. No-one has the presence to do this at Old Trafford in a side that lacks leaders.
Pogba is good enough to play internationally with distinction for his country and win the game’s top honour, so he (as does his agent Mina Raiola) realizes that he could be playing in a more successful club that competes perennially at Europe’s top table. This season he faces the ignominy of the Europa League, the continent’s second division. He’s angling for a move.
Pogba can craft an argument that United have failed him, in that they have been miles off the pace, both on and off the pitch.
United have just this morning won their second pre-season friendly in Perth, a comfortable 4-0 victory over old-rivals, Leeds United in front of over 57,000 fans.
There are ten midfielders amongst the United tour party: Andreas, Chong, Garner, Gomes, James, Lingard, Matic, McTominay, Mata, and Pogba himself. Fred, involved with Brazil at the Copa America, was not named. But look through that list and you clearly see why Pogba feels Manchester United has let him down.
And in that list, which doesn’t bear comparison to midfields in the top Premier League clubs, never mind the Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s or Bayern Munich’s, you see why Manchester United cannot afford to offload Pogba.
No, he hasn’t done the business anywhere nearly consistently enough, but take him away from that lot, and what’s left?
The fans are disgruntled at opposite ends of the equation. There’s a huge lobby that want to see the back of the gifted Frenchman; he has not respected the shirt, he has let the club and fans down, he doesn’t deserve to be there, and so on.
Many others, although they appear to be in a decreasing minority, take the opposite view and one publicly shared by the manager, that Pogba should be retained with a team built around, to suit his style.
All however, agree on one thing though, that United needs to do much better in planning, organization and in its ability to attract the world’s elite players. The infrastructure appears to be in a mess, where confusion reigns, with no-one knowing who’s job is who’s or where the responsibility lies when it comes to targeting and signing players. Gone are the days when Sir Alex had control over everything.
Huge football clubs these days, probably cannot work under a model like United had under Ferguson such is the way the game has developed, and if Solskjaer is going to restore the club to former glories he must be strong enough to put the club’s money men in their place from time to time.
United need to get back to signing players who can play, that have character and who can lead, and not simply onboard big name players due to their social-media prowess and the publicity those activities bring to the club, keeping it at the forefront of football’s profitability list.
Solskjaer, one of the club’s favourite sons, has a huge job on his hands if the ‘Baby Faced’ Assassin is not about to become quite simply, ‘Baby-faced’.