Sunday 25 August 2019

Ole wants Harry's game to transform his United

England international Harry Maguire was the number one target for Ole Gunnar Solskjær after impressing against United last season. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
England international Harry Maguire was the number one target for Ole Gunnar Solskjær after impressing against United last season. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Jamie Jackson

Ole Gunnar Solskjær is looking for "a massive impact" and "another dimension" from Harry Maguire as the England centre-back joins his new-look Manchester United side.

The Norwegian says he decided to target Maguire after he impressed in United's 1-0 win at Leicester on February 3. Fast-forward to Chelsea's visit today for the season opener and after an £80m payment to the Foxes, Maguire is expected to be in the XI and start his role as the key man in the new Solskjær project.

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The manager has already had half a year in charge but wants to be judged from now on, having just completed a first close season in which Maguire's is seen as pivotal to rebuilding the squad.

"I'm delighted we have got Harry in because he's going to be great for this club," says Solskjær. "He was always my number one target. Of course it took some time but it does occasionally. I more or less made my mind up when we played Leicester that if it was possible to get him we should get him, or at least try to. He is so composed on the ball and gives the team another dimension."

Since Alex Ferguson stepped down in May 2013 United have struggled for on-field leaders. Maguire, again, can help solve the issue.

"He has already shown what a presence he will be. He's a leader, an established international, a goal threat and a very good defender - but also a very composed ball player," says Solskjær.

Harry Maguire. Photo: Getty Images
Harry Maguire. Photo: Getty Images

The obvious comparison is with the successful £75m investment Liverpool made when buying Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in January 2018. "I don't want to compare us," says Solskjær. "But I know Harry is going to have a massive impact on us, yes."

In the years since Ferguson left the club as champions United have struggled, finishing seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth, second and sixth.

Yet despite Solskjær's 2019-20 vintage appearing to have scant chance of challenging for the title, he is upbeat.

"Let's make sure that we surprise a few people," the manager says. "We haven't challenged properly these six years so of course it's not where we want to be. But I feel we are on the right track and feel we have a better squad, better team and better foundation this season to improve."

Maguire is joined by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James as Solskjær's other recruits. While James, a £15m buy from Swansea City, may not be alongside Maguire in the starting XI there will be surprise if Wan-Bissaka (who cost £45m from Crystal Palace ) is only on the bench.

Instead a defence that reads David De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Victor Lindelöf and Luke Shaw should take the field in what looks an upgrade on recent rearguards, even if the last of these can still underwhelm.

Solskjær does look at least a midfielder light following the departures of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, though the 22-year-old Scott McTominay is another of the younger talents in whom Solskjær intends to trust. As well as McTominay there are James, Wan-Bissaka, Marcus Rashford (all 21), Anthony Martial (23), Shaw (24) and the 17-year-old forward Mason Greenwood - who may be a substitute against Chelsea today - in the manager's youthful core. He sees no risk in this.

"You can call it a gamble," Solksjaer says. "I am just staying true to what I believe in. If we don't make these decisions now, they will have to be done in 12 months or 18 or 24 because at some point these kids will have to be a part of Man United," he argued.

Romelu Lukaku's £70m sale to Inter has, for example, cleared the path for Greenwood. "That is the upside and downside of who you want to keep. For us, to give our kids the best chance, we decided this is the right way. They have impressed over the last six weeks and in the months before the summer. That is why they went on tour and that is why we have given them so many minutes.

"It is not fair on them to be regulars in this team. Of course, we have got experienced players, but they will come in and give us something extra."

With Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard - both 26 - plus De Gea (28) and the 31-year-old Nemanja Matic, Solskjær has experience to counterweight the youth. What the Norwegian hopes is for them all to create a fast, hard-pressing United, though he played down expectations of seeing a complete display against Frank Lampard's side.

"I'd like to think you will see what kind of team we want to be, the intensity we want," he says. "We have had six weeks [in the close season]. It's a long time but it's not going to be functioning perfectly straight away. Hopefully you should see the signs of the team I would want to be in, say, 12 months. But it is step by step and we have made good strides this season."

If Solskjær is to have any chance of success he will need understanding from the club's hierarchy that the upcoming season could be bumpy. The ride starts at 4.30pm at Old Trafford this afternoon.

Observer

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