Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took time out from Manchester United’s tour to speak to Sportsmail
Q: How does this United tour compare to pre-season at Molde?
A: Of course, it’s different. When you’re at Manchester United, everything is different, but I’m used to this from before. But, of course, it has moved on since I left as well. Everything, the fans, and football in general, it’s bigger, there’s more media interest, so it’s nice.
Q: Do you sense the camp is revived now after the disappointing end to last season?
A: It was disappointing, the last few months, obviously. But they’ve come back and it’s been really encouraging. You didn’t expect anything else though. You expected them to come back with a little bit of grit, but it’s only two weeks into the pre-season and it’s been very encouraging.
Q: Has it been as encouraging as you had hoped?
A: Yeah. Sometimes you expect players to be more negative and maybe we’ve been too kind to them, because they’ve not moaned enough. Maybe the pre-season hasn’t been hard enough. I can still remember when I wasn’t able to walk down the stairs. You had to walk backwards and all this, but I don’t think we’ve had them there yet.
The Norwegian is preparing to take charge of his first full season at the Premier League club
Q: You’ve been clear about playing front-foot, attacking football. Do you feel that going into the season you will have a squad of players more physically able to meet your expectations?
A: I would think so and that’s obviously the aim now, to put the fitness in to everyone and get everyone fit for August 11. But it’s after the first international break, that’s when the games come thick and fast.
You can almost call it pre-season, the first month of the season, because with the first four or five games there are no midweek games, so there’s still time to build a foundation.
We needed it because the stats have shown we haven’t been up there, but there’s been a big improvement. Like Scott (McTominay) said, they haven’t had sessions like this the last few pre-seasons.
Q: Can we expect a transformation in the way United look on the pitch?
A: You’ve got opposition that wants to play as well. But we have a clear aim and we want to look a certain way. We know it’s going to take time. It might not be a transformation like (clicks fingers) ‘wow, that’s a new team’.
But I think most of us saw the intention on Saturday (against Perth Glory). We want to play on the front foot, but you can’t do that for 90 minutes in 38 league games, that’s hard in the Premier League.
Solskjaer is currently with his side Down Under as they prepare for the new domestic season
Q: Towards the end of last season there was a disconnect between the players and fans. Have you got a job on your hands to win back the trust?
A: I think it was a mentally draining season, and physically. But mentally because there were ups and downs, and especially when you change manager right in the middle it’s also difficult.
We got a boost with the first few games, won a few, then got a few injuries and towards the end it was flat. It was flat towards the end and there are many reasons for that. We’ve just got to make sure we get more consistency.
Q: Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, two of the biggest coaching names in football, didn’t make a great success of the job. What makes you can think you can succeed?
A: It depends on what you think is success. They won trophies. I’ve admired Jose, Louis and David (Moyes). I admired them because I was still a player when they were successful managers. We’re all different. I think they were more on the pitch, really on the pitch. That type of coach. I’ve got some great coaches that will do most of the coaching work. We’re all different and we’ve all got different management styles.
The 46-year-old took over at Old Trafford following the departure of Jose Mourinho last year
Q: Only two players in and two out so far. Did you expect more change by this stage of pre-season?
A: I know it’s hard getting players in and over the line. We’ve been doing our jobs. We’ve been finding and identifying players, scouting them. But they have got clubs.
It took time with Aaron (Wan-Bissaka) and it took time with Dan (James) but they got it over the line. It’s not like we’re going to sign 10 players. It can’t be a quick fix.
As I’ve said to you, we’re working on one or two and we’re still hoping, but I also understand that the market has changed. Prices have soared.
Q: Is there a Man Utd tax? You always seem to end up paying more for players because the resources the club has.
A: We have been linked with so many players. I am sure you don’t believe every single player that we have been linked with. Sometimes, because of the wealth, maybe we have had to pay more, a bigger premium to get players in. That’s just the world we live in. We have taken our time and we are not going to over pay, but we have to get the right people in, the right players.
Daniel James, who signed from Swansea, is one of two new players to join so far this summer
Q: Is there a maximum of four players in?
A: No there’s never any maximum. There are players here that are coming into pre-season as well that (I think) ‘I might just have a look at him again because if he has changed as I think he has and it looks like, he might have a career here’.
Q: You said after the Everton game last season that you will be successful at this club but some of the players wouldn’t. Are you reconsidering your opinion of some of those players now?
A: No, on certain players yeah you do reconsider because there are only 11 players on the pitch and there are only 25 players that you can get into the squad.
Let’s see three or four years down the line where we’re at, if I have been successful and who’s there. It’s going to take time for players to buy into this and to see, ‘hmmm I’m not part of the plans, I might have to go’.
Q: You’ve got a three-year contract. How long will it be before United are title challengers again?
A: I am always an optimist and let’s see how we start off and how close we get this season. A successful season is if we win a trophy at this club. That’s a good season. You have got to aim for trophies.
You want to say Premier League, you want to say Europa League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, maybe in that order, but I am not going to how do you say it? Discard? I am not going to say that we can’t, but it’s not what we expect straightaway.
David De Gea, who has been linked with a move to Real Madrid, is now set to sign a new deal
But these players, if we get the consistency and get those margins hopefully we can get David (De Gea’s contract) over the line and signed and we might be contenders, who knows?
Q: With the Europa League, is that a trophy you really want to win and how will you approach it? Will there be a chance for the young ones?
A: Yeah, I think that it’ll be a chance for some of the young ones, definitely. Then again, it’s a great chance of qualifying for the Champions League for next season, so I think you’ll see quite a few of the young ‘uns you’ve seen already.
They are exciting and we need to blood them in the right tournament. It depends on who you play and on the stage of the tournament. It’s always a puzzle. Every weekend is a puzzle, you can’t plan three months down the line.
Q: Is the Europa League just as good a route back into the Champions League as the Premier League?
A: It is a route but in cup competitions you never know, it’s the luck of the dice, it’s post and in, post and out. It’s over the season and if we can get the consistency in the league and get a settled team in the league, I’m sure we’ve got a chance of getting closer to the top two. Let’s see how close.
The Norwegian is looking to take United back into the top four after a disappointing season
Q: After six difficult years, are fans more accepting that you won’t be right at the top again within 12 months?
A: Our fans know about football. Many have followed as you say, successful years, but there have been many who have been before that as well. Probably them you don’t see on Twitter or social media, so you don’t hear from them as much. The young ones that have just had the success are maybe like, ‘where’s that?’
But the Premier League has changed. You have to say City how good they were last year, Liverpool won the Champions League, Tottenham in the final, Chelsea and Arsenal. When I played there were two – us and Arsenal – for a long, long time and then Chelsea came in.
Q: Do you feel like you’re a long way behind City and Liverpool?
A: It did feel like it towards the end of last season but it didn’t feel like it in the beginning when I came in. In the 21 games we had when I came in, we were still third in that 21-game period. That is including the bad spell at the end. It was only those two that were consistent, so we’re still third in that respect.
Q: In the game against City were you just trying to find a way to stop them?
A: They were better than us, definitely. But there are chances and listening to the coaching staff we were closer than we were in the years before. They felt that was a better performance than a couple of times before. But they were exceptional last season, I have to admit that.
Bernardo Silva celebrates during Manchester City’s victory at Old Trafford back in April
Q: You’re used to meeting challenges and winning them at United. When you look at City and Pep Guardiola, is that a challenge you can win?
A: I think we have got to focus on ourselves. I don’t think I can look at Liverpool or City and think ‘they are doing it this way, we’ve got to do it that way’.
We have got to focus on us, and I believe in these players. They have shown me what they are capable of. They have also shown me some negative sides, which we have got to work on; get better habits and get the consistency in training which will get consistency in the games and results.
So, yeah, you look at those two clubs, (Jurgen) Klopp and Pep, and as I said about Jose and Louis. I have no problem saying good things about people, and they are good coaches, good managers. But we have to find our own way. We can’t do it their way, we have to focus on what is going on at this club.
Q: United hierarchy have been impressed by the discipline you have brought back. On the negative side there have been some incidents like Jesse Lingard’s holiday video which attracted a lot of controversy. Did you feel the need to speak to him about that?
A: That has been dealt with internally. I am old school, old fashioned, quite big on discipline. I am quite big on self-discipline and I can’t spoon feed all these players, they have got to do it themselves.
Of course, I have had many, many years at this club and I have seen which players have been successful and those characters. You have got to be a strong character to play here. It is not like I can tell them to pass from A to B to C to D. They have to make their own decisions, and in life as well.
Q: You have said that United could do with a player and leader like Bryan Robson. Is that something you feel like you’re missing?
A: From the talks I’ve had with many managers and coaches from my generation, when we played, I think it’s a general society thing as well that there are less Robbos and Keanos around.
Solskjaer recently said that United could do with a player and leader like Bryan Robson
It’s the same in Norway. We’re all too comfortable. Life is so comfortable. It’s easy now when you’re an academy player you make so much money (and think) ‘well I’ve made it’. And the parents live through their kids.
I admired Robbo. I’ve heard Gary (Neville), Becks (David Beckham) all of them talk about Robbo. I played with Keano (Roy Keane) and I think any manager in the world would say I would love to have that type of leader.
Look at City. (Vincent) Kompany. Who knows what will happen? Because he was a fantastic human being, player and leader so someone else has to step up. And someone else has to step up for us.
Q: One of your big players is Paul Pogba. How confident are you that you can put this unsettled summer he’s had behind you and get him back onside for next season?
A: I’ve said many times about Paul that he’s a top, top boy and a great player and he’s never, ever been a problem. When we get him playing as he did when I came in, and if we get him playing like that again, he will win you over.
Q: Are there any circumstances where Pogba will be sold? What’s the situation now following the comments from him and his agent?
A: I’ve got to be careful. I can’t dive into all this and hypothetical questions and all that. But we’ve not had offers. I can say the same about whichever player. If we don’t get an offer for a player we would have to pay them out for them not to be here, don’t we, so we haven’t had offers.
Q: Last season after speaking to him you were convinced he wanted to be successful here, then he goes on holiday and says he wants a new challenge. Is that personally upsetting to you?
A: No. I’ve not been upset by anything he’s said because we’ve had many conversations and I know exactly what Paul is thinking. I can give him a new challenge.
Paul Pogba has been angling for a move away from United in search of a ‘new challenge’
Q: Is the attraction for Paul that he can be part of something really big?
A: Many of these players haven’t felt the winning feeling at this club, what it is to be at this club when you win. Yes David (De Gea) won the league, Ash (Young) has won the league and Phil Jones and Chris Smalling they have won the league here. But it’s not been consistent like we were. Then this club is a fantastic place to be.
Jesse, Marcus (Rashford), Paul (Pogba), Andreas (Pereira), the ones that have been in the academy when I was playing, when we went on that run early on some of them said ‘wow we have never had this feeling before’.
But, for me, the gaffer (Sir Alex Ferguson) would say, ‘we need to win ten straight games to win the league – that’s not much to ask is it? Ten games in a row?’ And it wasn’t.
That is the feeling I had all the time, we can win the next 10. And they felt in that period invincible. That is the winning feeling we want to create again.
Q: Marouane Fellaini, and Ander Herrera have left. Are you comfortable with the your midfield like it is? You’ve got James Garner coming through.
A: Jimmy is young, only 18, so you can’t expect too much from him, but you can see he is going to be a top player.
Andreas I expect a lot more from, Scotty I expect a lot more from. Those two between them had maybe 15-20 starts last season. You expect them to have at least 20 each this season maybe even more. That’s maybe two players into one that can replace Ander.
‘Jimmy is young, only 18, so you can’t expect too much,’ the manager said of James Garner (R)
Q: City have signed Rodri and have some exceptional midfielders available. How long before you can reach that level of recruitment?
A: I can’t say x amount of months or years before we are where they are. We’ve just got to focus on improving every day at this club. I know the difference between a post in and a post out. That’s not a lot but it means so much at the end with the points if you win or lose that game.
Q: Do you have a replacement in mind if you sell Romelu Lukaku or will you bring players through from within?
A: If we sell players, we will have to replace them.
Q: What’s your feeling on a technical director? Is it a bit of a drawback not having one this year?
A: I have a direct line to Ed (Woodward), Matt (Judge) and Mick (Court – technical chief scout). We are quite close in that respect. If there is someone in between us, technical director call it whatever you like, I’m happy with that either way because it’s not going to be too big difference. We do have our process on how we scout players now, but once in a while you have to act quickly.
Q: Recruitment been a problem for the club for a number of years?
A: It’s never a problem – it’s a challenge.
Solskjaer works with executive vice chairman Ed Woodward when it comes to transfers
Q: But compared to the rivals you’re trying to catch, does something need to change?
A: That’s your opinion. I can only talk from my period. I wanted Aaron and Dan James. They were very high targets. Aaron was a top target. We can’t expect Dan to be David Beckham or Ryan Giggs straightaway but he will be a top player. He’s not a £70million player, no, but he’ll be worth it.
Q: Can you get Alexis Sanchez back to his best?
A: I will have to help. I’ve just answered a question here that you can’t spoon feed them. They’ve got to come in and grab their chances and Alexis is quality and he showed it in Copa America. Then he got his injury. I don’t think it’s too bad so I’m hoping he will be available for maybe Kristiansund or AC Milan so he will at least get some football before the season starts.
Q: He got 30 goals for Arsenal as a centre forward?
A: The way we hope we are going to play, it doesn’t have to be a 6ft 4in striker, so Alexis can be part of that forward line.
Q: Are you planning for him to be here next season?
A: At the moment, yes I am.
Alexis Sanchez has struggled in front of goal since joining United from rivals Arsenal