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Why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs Europa League glory to cement his hold on Man United job

Paul McGrath


Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Reuters

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Reuters

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Reuters

IT’S hard to believe, but true.

If Manchester United don’t win this season’s Europa League, they will have gone three seasons without winning a trophy, and that’s something they haven’t done since the start of the Alex Ferguson era in the late 1980s — when I was playing!

So there’s pressure, big pressure on Manchester United’s players when they take on Copenhagen in Cologne in the Europa League quarter-final.

This is a one-off match, not the normal two-leg affair at this point in the competition.

That’s a boost for the Danes, as the longer a contest goes on, the more likely the bigger, stronger force is to win it.

Can Copenhagen catch United cold in north-west Germany? Yes, of course they can. Should they? I say no.

Rather like Ireland, the best Danish players do not play in their domestic league, so much of United’s task will be to break down Copenhagen’s spirit.

Still, they will be hard to beat and Copenhagen will fancy their chances of nicking something over a straight 90 minutes, but really this is a match United should win.

Indeed, United should win the Europa League too.

Looking at the teams left in the competition, the only one you’d really worry about is the Inter Milan, managed by Antonio Conte.

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The Italian side have former United players – Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young and Alexis Sanchez – in their squad. And other ex-Premier League players in Christian Eriksen and Victor Moses

So between those players and the manager’s spell in English football, they would know exactly what United would bring to any showdown in the final, which is the only place the clubs can meet.

Having finished third in the Premier League, United are playing without the huge external pressure of having to win this match to get into the Champions League.

But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be applying internal pressure.

Demanding of his men that they at least end this troubled and strange season with a lump of silverware.

The future is bright for Manchester United. There are good, and young, players on the roster and the arrival in January of Bruno Fernandes seems to have lit a fire under Paul Pogba too.

Mason Greenwood has really stepped forward this season and looks to be something special — a gifted young man, coming through at Manchester United in the way so many good players have done.

It seems that the Red Devils are closing in on Jadon Sancho too, and he would be a big buy for them.

If they could sort out issues in goal and at centre-back, United will certainly close a chunk of the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City next season at the Premier League summit.

Not the whole gap, that’s too wide to be done in one go. But they could make a start.

I notice the guy I’ve been telling everyone about in this column for the last year, Kalidou Koulibaly, is edging closer to a move to England from Napoli.

The two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal all badly need a commanding centre-half.

Now let’s see who gambles by opening the chequebook in these financially difficult times to get him.

Liverpool probably don’t need the giant stopper.

But with the goalkeeper and full-backs they have, adding Koulibaly to play alongside Virgil van Dijk would make the Scousers almost impregnable.

I’d go for him, it would cement Liverpool’s place among the very elite of English and European football for the next four years.

However the club that dropped out of paying big bucks for a young man in Timo Werner is unlikely to pay Napoli similar big bucks for the 29-year-old Koulibaly.

To go back to Solskjaer, winning this Europa League would give him a bit of breathing space – it would certainly knock back any notion that the job of managing Manchester United is too big for him, at least for another season or two.

For now, there’s only one man I presume Ole would like to see getting a job in football – and that’s Mauricio Pochettino.

Every passing day shows what a brilliant job he did with Spurs and his teams play easy-on-the-eye football.

And if he did become Manchester United manager, surely it would increase the club’s chances of signing Harry Kane.

I’ve met ‘Poch’ a few times and he has really impressed me as a football man and as a genuine lover of the game.

Fortunately for United’s boss Solskjaer, the other guy who would shake up Old Trafford, if the board wanted to really take a punt, is not likely to ever take the job and that’s Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid.

Look at the draw across the page for the Champions League and you can see that he has a great chance of reaching the final for the third time with the club.

But Simeone is identified with Atletico in the way Fergie was with United and Jurgen Klopp is now with Liverpool.

And the other thing about Simeone is that he has never taken the time to learn English, French or German. It speaks of a man who is happy where he is.

And United fans will be happy with Ole if he can win this Europa League.

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