Thursday 19 September 2019

Aidan O'Hara: 'If Ole's meant to be at the wheel, he shouldn't be asking the players how to drive the bus'

Analysis

Solskjaer: Paying penalty. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Solskjaer: Paying penalty. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In the playground, there is often a "makers takers" rule when it comes to penalties. It rewards the child who has been fouled to win the spot-kick and cuts down on the squabbling that would otherwise inevitably follow. It seems unusual, however, that it now looks to have made its way to the Premier League and one of the richest clubs in the world.

Last night, with Manchester United looking to become just the third team to take maximum points from their opening two Premier League games, Paul Pogba produced the type of leadership which his critics regularly accuse him of lacking when he drove into the Wolves box with a surging run with just over 20 minutes remaining.

At that point, it seemed Marcus Rashford would step up and attempt to repeat last week's effort from 12 yards when he fired a penalty past Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to set United on their way to victory in their season opener. Had he done so, it would again have proven his ability to deliver under pressure, just like he did in last season's Champions League last 16 clash against Paris Saint Germain when, with the eyes of the world on him, he buried the ball past Gianluigi Buffon.

Instead, at Molineux last night, after a brief discussion, Rashford threw the ball to Pogba.

This wasn't like Christian Benteke taking the ball from designated penalty taker Luka Milivojevic before missing for Crystal Palace back in 2017 or Kevin Mirallas doing the same to Leighton Baines before seeing his shot saved back in 2015.

Both were cases of insubordination from a player who was castigated for missing the kick having been selfish enough to ignore team orders. From a club and managerial perspective, however, last night's episode with Pogba and Rashford was worse.

Short of running onto the pitch and dragging Benteke and Mirallas away, there was very little that either Roy Hodgson or Roberto Martinez could have done to prevent the moment of selfishness from the player.

Yet, after the game last night, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed that not only was he happy with the scenario, it was actually policy to let whichever one of Rashford or Pogba fancied it to take the kick.

"The two of them are designated the penalty shooters and it's up to them there and then who feels 'this is mine'," said Solskjaer.

"Sometimes players just feel they are confident enough to score - Paul has scored so many penalties for us and today Rui Patricio made a good save. The two of them have been very confident. I like players with confidence and the feeling that 'I can do this'."

The obvious follow-up questions, however, are what happens if both of them feel confident at the same time? Why would somebody who scored last week not be designated to take it this week, particularly when he has a far better record? And, for the future, what happens the next time United get a penalty?

"Paul wanted to take it - it's that simple," added Rashford, who, like Solskjaer, seemed rather puzzled that there was even an issue. "Everybody can miss a penalty."

It's hard to imagine many goal-hungry strikers saying what Rashford did next - "I took one last week so for me it's no problem for him to take one this week" - but it's a decision that should never be left up to players in the heat of battle.

At any level of football, teams leave their dressing room knowing the basics of whose job it is to do what. They know if there is to be one or two players on the posts defending corners and who they are; they know which player will be in "the hole" in front of the near post to clear a mis-hit delivery and who will be on the edge of the box to prevent a ball breaking for a free shot.

It seems incredible for a team at United's level that there is even the slightest doubt over whose responsibility it is to take something as vital as a penalty and, in this case, it probably cost United two points and the chance to maintain a 100 pc record before games against Crystal Palace and Southampton before the international break.

Had Pogba scored, the reaction wouldn't have been as severe but, at some point, Solskjaer is going to have to make either Rashford or Pogba unhappy by making a decision. Leaving it up the players might sound like good management, in reality, it's the type of cop-out that shows weakness. If Ole's meant to be at the wheel, he shouldn't be asking the players how to drive the bus.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport