Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calls on Roy Keane to help his Manchester United revival… but he admits: ‘We can’t keep living off history’
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has sought advice from his former team-mate Roy Keane
- Keane has been estranged from the Manchester United family since 2005
- Keane had a falling-out with Sir Alex Ferguson that led to an abrupt departure
- The former captain claimed there are ‘too many bluffers’ in the United squad
Of all Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s assignations as Manchester United manager, a recent visit to the home of Roy Keane, club legend-turned-arch TV critic, is perhaps the most revealing.
Keane has been estranged from the Old Trafford family since 2005 when a bad falling-out with Sir Alex Ferguson led to an abrupt departure. It says everything about Solskjaer’s genial personality that he is one of the few still warmly greeted by both men.
‘I keep in touch with Roy and have been at his house for a cup of tea,’ says Solskjaer, who was the Irishman’s United team-mate and neighbour in Bowdon for nine years. ‘I always listen to Roy and his opinions. I value them very highly.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently visited the home of former team-mate Roy Keane for advice
‘I know Roy did an interview saying there are many people that claim to be his friends. But I feel we are quite close. We have become friends. He was a fantastic leader. I loved having him as captain.’
Given Keane claimed there are ‘too many bluffers’ in the United squad and that they ‘threw Jose Mourinho under the bus’, you can only imagine what he advised his Norwegian mate behind closed doors.
To be fair to Solskjaer, his eyes are very much wide open as he tries to rouse the biggest club in Britain from their post-Fergie trauma. United finished 32 points behind champions Manchester City last season and Solskjaer needs new players, a new attitude, new fitness levels and new leaders to close the gap.
The delay in naming a new captain only emphasises there is not an obvious choice, never an issue for Ferguson when Keane was about.
‘We had Robbo [Bryan Robson], Gary [Neville], Giggsy [Ryan Giggs], Keano. Anyone would love to have them as a leader but that’s society nowadays, there aren’t many left of them,’ says Solskjaer.
Keane claimed there are ‘too many bluffers’ in the current Manchester United squad
‘Vincent Kompany leaves Manchester City, it will be hard for them to replace. There are different ways to pick a captain. You can have club captains, you can have players choosing. You can have me being like a dictator.’
Solskjaer, 46, looks far more youthful than his birth certificate would suggest as he sits down in a meeting room inside Singapore’s national stadium to assess United’s prospects.
He is not an obvious alpha-male and sits in the toughest chair in football without the stellar c.v. that Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp bring to United’s biggest rivals. And yet scratch beneath the surface and he has more in common with them than you think.
Like a lot of continental coaches — Solskjaer was in Norway before returning to United — you sense he feels British players do not train hard enough and expect too many days off compared with, say, their counterparts in the Bundesliga.
He worked them the moment he walked in the door to replace Mourinho in December. He now thinks the demands he placed upon the squad caused an end-of-season decline when United failed to win their last six games.
Keane had a bad falling-out with Sir Alex Ferguson (L) that led to an abrupt departure in 2005
This time, having been at the wheel from the first day of pre- season, Solskjaer believes United’s squad can cope with a greater Klopp-style intensity and allow him to stay with his natural instinct of sticking to a winning team — bad news for Alexis Sanchez if he expects to walk straight into the side having missed pre-season because of injury.
‘I’m gradually forming the team that will start our first Premier League game,’ he says. ‘The first four or five games, you have a week in between so it’s not like you have to rotate too much.
‘It’s about players grabbing their chances because you can’t leave out players doing well. That is the way I fought my way into the United team. I scored goals and made it more and more difficult for him [Ferguson] to leave me out.
‘I was criticised last season for playing the same team too often, being too hard on them and asking to run more. We ended up with a few injuries so maybe I should have rotated. But pre-season is about laying good foundations so they won’t need to have that rest.
‘The stats say my first game in charge, at Cardiff, was the second-highest in intensity of pressing in any Premier League game last season. That work rate hit us in the end but now we have a chance because of what the players have done in three weeks of training.
‘They had their programmes over the summer and it seems like they did them because they were fit when they came in, most of them.’
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have tried and failed to follow in Ferguson’s footsteps. At least Solskjaer knows the club and that Ferguson’s philosophy was not just about a conviction in youth, but also demanding that a club of United’s stature attracts and keeps some of the best in the world.
Recruitment standards have dropped off which is why they have been so reluctant to allow their biggest star, Paul Pogba, to leave. They have signed for the future in Dan James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka but Solskjaer would like to recruit the ready-made as well — Leicester’s England defender Harry Maguire if the two clubs can agree a fee and a top-class midfield player.
Yet football deals these days take an inordinate amount of time as clubs haggle over fees, agents over percentages and accountants over image rights. Luckily for United, Solskjaer describes his natural personality as ‘patient’ and will not throw his toys out of the pram Mourinho-style if targets are not delivered, although he knows he’ll have to deliver a first trophy quicker than Klopp did at Liverpool.
‘It’s natural for me to leave negotiations and business to the ones who have that responsibility,’ he says. ‘I am quite understanding. The club know my views on what I need. I have my targets but won’t bear grudges if I don’t get them.’
Solskjaer (left), the current Red Devils boss, with Keane (right) in a Champions League fixture
A simpler task is to rebuild the siege mentality around Old Trafford that served Sir Alex so well. Solskjaer knows a couple of bad early results will dominate the agenda whatever others do.
‘When we finished second in the League, that was seen as a crisis! I can handle that pressure. I know we’re under scrutiny. Everyone apart from United fans wants us to be failing,’ he says.
‘We have got to batten down the hatches and stick together as a team. I am sure we will improve. The final two games against Huddersfield and Cardiff were disappointing but overall it wasn’t as dark and bad because we were closer to winning games than results showed.’
United have been Britain’s biggest club for 50 years with only Barcelona and Real Madrid comparable in global terms. But popularity can wane among younger fans if they stay out of the Champions League for more than a season. Solskjaer believes maintaining their status as No 1 for finance and popularity requires three factors.
‘Results are one thing, the way we play football is another and the way we behave and greet people is important. It is a more competitive league than when I played and more difficult getting players. That is a realism we have to get used to. You can’t live on history.’
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