Ole Gunnar Solskjær insists he can emulate Sir Alex Ferguson and “fight back” from his precarious position as Manchester United manager to win trophies there but admits he has no guarantees regarding his job security.
Facing the media five days after Sunday’s 5-0 loss to Liverpool a weary-looking Solskjær said his team had been “punch-drunk” in that humiliating defeat. He will take United to Tottenham for Saturday’s late kick-off and was defiant but honest about his position.
“I’ve had communication with the board and I don’t expect them to come and give me assurances,” he said. “When you have a performance and a spell like we’ve had, that’s not what I call [the hierarchy] about and say. My job is to put things right and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not here to ask for assurances.”
United have taken only one point from four games, their last Premier League win coming at West Ham more than a month ago. Ferguson came close to being removed in 1990 after more than three seasons without a trophy but survived, winning the FA Cup in May that year, which started a 23-year spell of unprecedented success.
Solskjær was asked whether he could do the same and whether he had spoken with the Scot when the latter visited the training ground on Tuesday. “Yes, on both accounts,” he said. “I’ve been through some very bad moments as a player here and when I’ve been a manager I’ve dealt with setbacks. There have been two or three crises at least since I became manager here and one thing I can say is I’ll always give it a good shot and fight back. We had a commercial day [on Tuesday] and we spoke for a brief moment because he [Ferguson] was with Cristiano [Ronaldo].”
Solskjær said that during the week home truths had been exchanged with his players. “It felt like we were a boxer being punch drunk, getting knocked down in the first four minutes or first round,” he said of the Liverpool game. “We conceded a goal, we wanted to sort it out and went a bit too open and frantic. You see Tyson Fury when he gets knocked down a few times, it’s remarkable how composed he is when he is on the floor – he counts to six or eight and then he is ready to go again. So minds have to be better.”
Solskjær was asked about reports that stated some of the squad doubt his managerial abilities. “The players come in and they are proper professionals – good people,” he said. “We have an environment where we have loads of respect for each other. When you come in for criticism it’s like you go into the trenches with your teammates – that’s the reaction.
“Whatever this club has been through before – it’s [all about] courage, self-belief, sticking together and this group has done that. I think it [criticism] affects everyone around.”
Harry Maguire’s display was particularly poor against Liverpool, the centre-back making errors that contributed to some of the goals, as he did in the previous 4-2 league loss at Leicester. Solskjær said the captain was droppable.
“I’ve got to be careful what headlines can come now: ‘Ole is ready to drop Harry’?” he said. “In a squad like we have with top quality players everyone expects to play, and I expect every one of them to expect to play but they’re also ready because they know they have good teammates around them and no one is undroppable – of course they’re not. But it’s up to me to pick the right team for the games and see who is in the right frame of mind for Saturday and then Tuesday [at Atalanta in the] Champions League.”
Maguire said he and the rest of the players owed Solskjær a performance. “We let the manager down against Liverpool,” he told Sky Sports. “We let the fans down, the club down, us as players. So we have to take huge responsibility for that. When you look back at the result and the performance it was embarrassing. Nowhere near good enough for this club.
“It’s been a tough week. I’m not going to say we’ve moved on easily. It’s one of the lowest I’m sure all the players have felt in their career. You go home and you don’t sleep much, you’ve got thoughts running through your head – ‘if only I did this or this’. If I’m being honest I went home and I just looked at myself and what I can do better and take full responsibility on my shoulders.
“I hope every player in the dressing room is looking at themselves, taking full responsibility on their shoulders and not pointing the finger and blaming anyone else. Do we owe him [Solskjaer] a performance? Of course we do.”
During the Liverpool defeat the visiting fans taunted Solskjær by singing “Ole’s at the wheel”, the song heard from United fans when their team are playing well. Solskjær shrugged this off. “I don’t think I’ve ever been affected by any opposition fans really either as a player, a coach or a manager,” he said.