Man Utd aiming ‘further up’ than fourthsento
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United will be aiming for “further up than fourth” in the Premier League next season.
The 46-year-old was appointed caretaker manager on 19 December following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho.
He won 14 out of 19 games before being given the job permanently on 28 March.
After that Manchester United only won two games out of 10 and finished sixth in the league, missing out on qualification for the Champions League.
They are currently in Perth, where they will play their second pre-season game against old rivals Leeds United at the Optus Stadium on Wednesday (12:00 BST).
Speaking to BBC Sport, Solskjaer gave his thoughts on a range of topics, including Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba and his target for the Premier League next season.
Manchester United finished sixth last season, is the top four good enough this season?
We have to aim for further up than fourth. I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge. We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.
What did you say to the players at the start of pre-season?
We talked about what is required, the standards we have to live up to every single day. The little margins that get you wins. The little tactical tweaks. The first couple of weeks have been encouraging. Of course, you always expect people to come in for the first couple of weeks with fresh energy and focus. We have been pushing the limits. They have not moaned – maybe that is a bad thing. Maybe we have not worked them enough. But I think we have worked enough so we are fitter and more robust when the season starts. The more sessions you miss out on, the further behind you get.
Did you talk about standards off the pitch as well? In particular social media?
That is what you sign up for at this club. You are always under the spotlight. I am a big believer in self-discipline and discipline within the group. I would never have made it as a footballer if I didn’t have that discipline and made the most out of my talent.
Is Paul Pogba key to getting this side back to where the club feels it belongs?
Paul is a fantastic player and a fantastic human being. He has always been a great professional. When I was at Molde, I said, ‘if he’s in your squad, you’d build a team around him’. I would say the same now. Manchester United fans know their football. We know Paul has been criticised by a few but he’s loved by loads more. You know, it’s the best feeling you can have to be at this club when we’re successful. The ones that might want to leave now haven’t been here when it’s been successful. Hopefully they want to be part of that. I want to be part of it.
Alexis Sanchez has such a big expectation, salary and reputation. At no point has he been able to get a consistent run of performances for Manchester United…
That gives me great belief because we know what he’s capable of. We have to find a way – me with Alexis, with the team – because there’s a top player there. If we get him firing, he can get us 20 goals easily. You saw it in the Copa America. The consistency hasn’t been there because he’s had some injuries, you just hope that he’s going to get the consistency back into his game.
Manchester United’s transfer strategy – are you the man who decides?
There won’t be any players here I don’t want. No. We are still looking at one or two options but it depends on outgoings. It might be more because if suddenly two or three go, then you have to replace players.
You know better than anyone what it takes to score goals at the top level. What does Mason Greenwood have?
He’s a natural finisher, a natural footballer. Right-footed, left-footed. I don’t think he knows if he’s more predominant on his right or his left. He takes penalties with both feet and free-kicks with both feet. He finds space naturally. He’ll always end up with chances. He’ll score goals this year, I am 100% sure of that.
Is too much read from the outside about Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence on you?
I worked for him for 14 and a half years – 11 as a player, three and a half as a coach. I spent the biggest part of my football career under him. It’s natural that I’ve learned from him. Of course, I speak to him after games. I go up to his lounge. But loads of things have been said which are not true. He’s been to the training ground twice since I’ve been there. We send texts to each other. I might ask him for something. He asks me for a few favours. It’s great but he’s at a different stage of his life now.
Have you got to ask the Manchester United fans to be more patient or does that send out the wrong message?
You’ve got to be patient. Building a team or rebuilding a squad takes time. I am not going to ask for too much time because as manager you’re also under pressure straightaway, maybe not for results but the way we want to play football. I hope with the way we approach games, the fans will see what we’re trying to do and the results will come. I definitely still regard it as an honour and privilege to do this job. I can’t talk about how others view management but for me it is about consistency and the long term. You have to have short-term gains and results but there is no chance this is going to be about anything other than improving the club. We want to make steps so we are closer to getting to the top, where we believe we belong.