Tuesday 17 September 2019

'Fergie time' back as Solskjaer insists he won't be afraid to lay down the law

United's caretaker boss acknowledges influence of mentor and reminds players of standards expected on and off pitch

United they stand: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with coaches Emilio Alvarez, Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna. Photo: Matthew Peters/Getty Images
United they stand: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with coaches Emilio Alvarez, Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna. Photo: Matthew Peters/Getty Images

Jason Burt

If there had been any doubt as to the influence of Alex Ferguson in the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United caretaker manager, it was quickly removed.

It was early - 8.30am, the kind of 'Fergie time' the former manager used to insist on for his press conferences to deter the media from attending when the chips were down - when a beaming Solskjaer walked in.

"Big smiles," Solskjaer said before sitting down. It was dark outside but light when Solskjaer finished and the club will hope there is a fresh dawn under the 'Baby-faced assassin'.

With Mike Phelan returning from exile as a highly important assistant, there is a sense of reconnection. Solskjaer talked about it. Embraced it. Played on it.

"I've been in touch with the gaffer (Ferguson) quite a bit," he revealed. "Well, he signed me about 22 years ago, so he's been a big part (in my career).

Ideas

"I don't know what input he had (in my appointment) but, when I got the call, I texted the boss and I've been in touch with him and I'm going to enjoy a nice cup of tea back in his house and sit down and discuss a few ideas."

More than once, Solskjaer referred to Ferguson as his "mentor" and spoke about how that relationship tightened after the former striker suffered a serious knee injury in 2003 that kept him out for six months.

It was during this time that the Norwegian, already skilled at influencing proceedings from the bench, began to make "all the notes of what he (Ferguson) did in certain situations".

It meant that when Solskjaer walked into Ferguson's old office - now his office, at least until May - at United's Carrington training ground on Thursday morning, it was with a strange sensation of familiarity and old awakenings.

"I've been here as a player for 11 years, I've been a (reserve team) coach for three-and-a-half years. That's the best part 15 years of my life - it's a third of my life," the 45-year-old said, wistfully. "But it's the same when I signed as a player. I walk in, Nicky Butt (now the head of the United academy) is the first lad I meet.

"Nicky says 'hi' to me, you walk down to the dressing room, you're excited. But it feels like home."

It may last just a few months, after which Solskjaer will return to his "perfect life" managing Molde in Norway, but he certainly appeared a more confident, relaxed character than the one who briefly and disastrously took charge of Cardiff City in 2014.

"That first period in Cardiff was a huge step for me and I've learnt a lot," Solskjaer said.

"I've evaluated and reflected upon it. I made a few mistakes but if you don't make mistakes you're not going learn. Then again, they are in the Premier League now, so I don't think they are too unhappy about it."

Cardiff may disagree on that but, maybe, Solskjaer will be more suited to United as he referenced Ferguson's final match.

"The 5-5 against West Brom," Solskjaer said. "You don't want to concede five goals but that was almost the perfect end for him as a manager and the way he played football and I want the players to be similar, be the kids that love to play football."

Solskjaer insisted he would not afraid to "lay down the law" to United's players and revealed that has already spoken to them about the "standards we have on and off the pitch".

Despite the desire to bring back more enjoyment to United's football, and improve the atmosphere that had been so miserable around the club this season under Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer was at pains to stress that he can be tough.

"I'm not sure about you saying the power has gone to the dressing room," Solskjaer argued. "Football has evolved, of course, and the gaffer (Ferguson) was in charge of more or less the whole club.

"Football is developing. The structure of the club has developed. But the power is with the manager. He picks the team, the tactics, the strategy.

"The philosophy is in these walls. That legacy is more important than any player power."

After flying to Manchester on Wednesday evening, Solksjaer addressed the players the following day about behaviour.

"I am also not afraid of, if you like, laying down the law," the 45-year-old said. "You know with your kids, if they disappoint you, you tell them off. You don't give them some chocolate.

"So, you treat players similar to how you treat your kids, really, because you want the best for them, you want to guide them and help them.

Standards

"If I am disappointed - ask Elijah or Karna or Noah (his three children) or one of the players I had in Molde (the Norwegian club he manages). Once in a while you really have to tell them the standards we have got."

Solskjaer added: "We've spoken about what we expect, what standards we have on and off the pitch. I trust the lads to know what they're doing, to help the team. Everything we do is to help the team. The world has changed now.

"I'm not into this social media. My kids are. I'm that old that I'm not on Twitter or Facebook but that's just common sense for me, what I've spoken to them about. We move this forward."

The relationship with Paul Pogba, who drew criticism for an Instagram post soon after Mourinho was fired, will be key.

Solskjaer has previously said he would build the team around United's ostracised record signing.

"He's a World Cup winner," Solskjaer said, with the expectation being that he would bring the midfielder straight back into the team to face Cardiff, although he is expected to be without Romelu Lukaku who has been granted compassionate leave.

"Paul is a terrific lad and I had him (as reserve team coach) as a kid. He was always there, the happy-go-lucky lad. He hasn't changed personality-wise.

"He's a better player, of course, and he's one that I want to get the best out of for the team."

With United in sixth place in the league, Solskjaer said there was no aim beyond winning games and playing with a style more traditionally associated with United, who have lost their way since Ferguson retired in 2013.

"Sir Alex - and even going all the way back to Sir Matt (Busby) - installed that way of playing fantastic football," Solskjaer explained.

"They've had three fantastic managers since. I have to say I've got huge respect for all three of them. They've managed the club their way.

"On their own merits, you can't criticise Mourinho, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal. They've had many more games than me, even more experience than me in how to deal with players and a club.

"It's not down to me now to talk about the last five years. It's down to me to talk about the next five months and to work the next five months towards getting us happy, getting us smiling, getting us winning games. Because we're too far down the league. We're not used to being sixth."

United are targeting Mauricio Pochettino as their next permanent manager at the end of this season but, although they are prepared to pay what would be a world record amount of compensation for him - estimated at £42m by one source - it remains to be seen whether he can he prised away from Tottenham Hotspur.

United insist no agreement, and no potential compensation fee, is in place with Molde should Solskjaer prove such a success that they want to retain him.

The club have reiterated that they will run "a process" from now to identity and then hire their next manager.

However, Solskjaer gave a clear indication that he would like to stay in charge.

"I understand there are so many, so many managers who would love to be manager of Man United so, of course, I'm one of them, but it's not something we've talked about," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Cardiff v Manchester United, Live, BT Sport 1, 5.30

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