Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he’d ‘rather have a hole in the squad than an a**hole’ and has no time for ‘personal agendas’… so how has the Man United boss dealt with Lukaku, Sanchez, Pogba and other players who have caused issues?
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed his ruthless streak in a recent interview
- Man United manager said he wouldn’t tolerate ‘bad apples’ among his players
- Norwegian wasted little time in showing Romelu Lukaku the door last year
- Solskjaer continues to maintain that Alexis Sanchez will be a success at United
- He has a big dilemma ahead in deciding whether Paul Pogba is worth the bother
- Leaving Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira out the squad sent a strong message
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is regarded as one of the most mild-mannered men in football but the Manchester United manager has left his players in no doubt where they stand.
As he continues the slow and steady process of rebuilding United back up into a title-challenging force, Solskjaer made clear ‘personal agendas’ within his squad won’t be tolerated.
In an interview with the fanzine United We Stand, the Norwegian said: ‘I’d rather have a hole in the squad than an a**hole. Personality is so important. We’re a team in a team environment.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed a ruthless streak when he spoke about ‘bad apples’ in the squad
‘You want players to have a bit of ego and edge but they have to be able to adapt.
‘There were things I didn’t like last year, some personal agendas which couldn’t be sorted out until the summer.
‘There will always be players who want to play more in football, but if a team is to be successful then players have to be available at different times.
‘I feel in this group we don’t have one bad apple.’
Solskjaer’s United side had started to play well before the Covid-19 shutdown but the Norwegian has made it clear he won’t tolerate ‘personal agendas’ in his squad
But Solskjaer has already had to deal with a few ‘bad apples’ during his time as United boss, feeling it essential to stamp his authority and not allow egos to take over the dressing room.
And, to borrow the manager’s own words, it has sometimes come at the cost of leaving ‘a hole in the squad’.
We take a look at Solskjaer’s various run-ins with his players since becoming United’s manager back in December 2018 and who came out on top.
Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku had been one of the headline signings of Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Old Trafford, setting them back £75million when joining from Everton in 2017.
His first season was prolific, with 27 goals in 51 appearances to help United finish runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League.
And Lukaku started the 2018-19 campaign well too but Mourinho’s sacking in December changed everything. Solskjaer left Lukaku out of his first two matchday squads and demoted him to the bench.
It was quickly clear that Solskjaer had no place for striker Romelu Lukaku in his plans
It was abundantly clear from the outset that Solskjaer wanted United’s forward line to play a different way – direct and with speed rather than looking for Lukaku as a target man.
Though Lukaku played a major part in United’s astonishing comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, he was by no means a guaranteed starter anymore.
Assured by their other attacking options, United decided to cash in, with Inter Milan paying them around £60m to sign Lukaku last summer.
Solskjaer was blunt about the reasons for letting Lukaku leave: ‘When you have players, [they may have] great potential, but Romelu’s head was not here for us working forward as a group.
‘I have got lots of respect for Romelu but his time was up here.’
Lukaku was sold to Inter Milan last summer but his departure left United short in attack
Letting Lukaku go was seen as an indication of Solskjaer’s ruthless streak and the direction he wanted to take United in.
As Lukaku acknowledged after his move: ‘It was just done. For me, it was done. I had to make a decision where I have to go somewhere where I can learn other aspects of my game and work with somebody that wanted me as well.’
But for most of this season, it appeared Solskjaer’s decision had backfired. While Lukaku was banging in the goals for Inter in Serie A and the Champions League, United failed to replace him and were desperately short in attack.
Solskjaer came in for much criticism when Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial both suffered injury problems at the start of the season, leaving the likes of Daniel James, Jesse Lingard and teenager Mason Greenwood to fill a gaping void.
‘I can say [I am a striker short], but that was the decision that I made and I made it happily,’ Solskjaer said at the time, reflecting just how much he didn’t want Lukaku in his squad.
The Belgian had some good moments under Solskjaer but didn’t fit into his style of play
Alexis Sanchez came to symbolise the colossal amount of wasted expenditure United have been guilty of over the past few years.
Though they didn’t pay Arsenal a transfer fee for the Chilean, his extortionate wages of £400,000-a-week for virtually nothing in return were viewed as Exhibit A of how a once great club had declined.
Having been maligned and sidelined under Mourinho, Solskjaer’s arrival was meant to be a fresh leaf for Sanchez but his performances in an injury-affected second half of the season were poor.
By last summer, Sanchez had repaid his immense salary by scoring just five goals and supplying nine assists in 45 United matches, so few eyebrows were raised when Solskjaer loaned him to Inter.
Solskjaer sanctioned Alexis Sanchez’s loan move to Inter Milan last summer but maintains that the Chilean will return and become a success at United
Indeed, United were so desperate to get shut of this expensive mistake – for a year at least – they agreed to foot three-quarters of his weekly wages while at Inter.
‘I think Alexis needed to go. Because at the moment we know he has been here now for 18 months and it’s not really worked out for him,’ Solskjaer explained in August.
‘For him as well to restart and get himself playing regularly, getting himself scoring goals, that loan will benefit everyone in the end.’
Sanchez has since scored just one goal in 15 outings for Inter where, inevitably, he has spent much of the season out injured.
Sanchez has become a symbol of poor decision-making by the Old Trafford hierarchy
Yet despite this, Solskjaer maintained back in January that Sanchez ‘will come back in the summer and prove you all wrong.’
It was an unexpected remark that caused dismay among United supporters and as Solskjaer continues to rebuild, it really is incredibly difficult to see where Sanchez fits into his plans.
Solskjaer’s remarks probably best illustrate the fact Sanchez is contracted at United until 2022 and it’s going to be a herculean task to find anyone willing to buy him and pay his wages this summer.
This is one issue Solskjaer is going to have to find a solution to when the end of the season finally arrives.
Lukaku and Sanchez have been team-mates at Inter Milan this season, with varying success
The biggest and toughest decision Solskjaer has on his horizon is what to do about Paul Pogba.
Here is a player who has often underwhelmed since his world record £89m return to United in 2016 and who openly clashed with Mourinho.
The Frenchman has continued to agitate for a move away to Real Madrid and his agent, Mino Raiola, started a war of words with Solskjaer earlier this year.
In what is the penultimate year of his United contract, Pogba has barely featured because of ankle injuries and his rehabilitation to full fitness has only just been completed.
How to reintegrate Paul Pogba into United’s team is a big headache awaiting Solskjaer
And yet United had been doing fairly well in his absence, with a settled midfield of Fred and Scott McTominay improved in January by the purchase of Bruno Fernandes.
Prior to football’s shutdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, United had gone 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions and a bright finale to the season looked likely.
Pogba’s return to fitness presents Solskjaer with a headache. Trying to shoehorn him into a winning side will inevitably upset the balance and force someone to make way. Leaving him out risks causing disruption.
Solskjaer has chosen his words carefully when it comes to Pogba, even though the player has surely taken the mickey out of his manager at times during his injury lay-off.
When he posted an Instagram video of himself playing basketball with Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler back in November, Solskjaer didn’t criticise.
Pogba played basketball with Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler despite his injured ankle
Solskjaer refrained from criticising Pogba but now has to decide whether he stays at United
‘We don’t play basketball. I don’t see many basketball players tackling ankles, twisting and turning with studs. He’s not ready to train,’ the manager said.
The following month, Solskjaer claimed Pogba was suffering from an ‘illness’ and unable to play against Everton. But video then emerged of Pogba dancing at his brother Florentin’s wedding.
And another row erupted in February when Pogba was linked again with Real and Solskjaer said: ‘Paul is our player and not Mino’s.’
Later that day, Raiola took to Twitter to say: ‘Paul is not mine and for sure not Solskjaer’s property. Paul is Paul Pogba’s…. I HOPE Solskjaer DO (sic) NOT WANT TO SUGGEST THAT PAUL IS HIS PRISONER.’
Solskjaer has maintained all along that Pogba is desperate to get back playing football again but it remains to be seen whether there’s still a place for him in United’s plans. Solskjaer may think he isn’t worth the bother.
Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola openly criticised Solskjaer in a war of words earlier this year
In an astonishing rant, Raiola posted three photos on social media expressing his view
Raiola insists he has the right to express his view and says Solskjaer should ‘inform himself’
The super agent also pointed out that the Red Devils boss has other things to worry about
Anthony Martial has chipped in with 16 goals in 34 appearances for United this season but the French forward can sometimes be infuriatingly inconsistent.
This is less of a run-in more a gentle cajoling on Solskjaer’s part to try and get even more out of Martial after moving him from the wide forward role to centre forward this season.
Former striker Solskjaer went onto MUTV and made clear exactly what he expects from Martial.
‘If you’re a wide forward, you’re facing forwards more and running at people. Now he’s in a different position, where it is more physical and you’ve got to be stronger with your back to goal and be more patient.
Solskjaer continued to cajole Anthony Martial to try and get the best out of the forward
‘It’s your job to be in the box when the ball arrives. I’m still at him. I demand more of him.
‘Sometimes, the ball is squared across the six-yard line and it’s where he should be. I just nudge him and say: ‘It should have been a goal for you.’
‘Scoring 25 instead of 15 is a big difference for a No 9.’
To be fair to Martial, given the hot form he was in before football’s suspension, 25 is a reasonable target should the season be able to resume.
The United manager expects the Frenchman to be scoring 25 a season playing centre forward
Quite a few have questioned whether Jesse Lingard deserves to play so often for United and his game time has certainly reduced since Fernandes arrived.
And Solskjaer certainly didn’t hold back when Lingard made one mistake too many in the second leg of United’s Carabao Cup semi-final with Manchester City.
The Sky cameras caught Solskjaer shouting ‘Jesse, one more time and you’re f****** off’ after he misplaced a pass which led to a City chance on the counter.
Solskjaer was caught on camera blasting Jesse Lingard against Manchester City in January
Solskjaer warned the 27-year-old that he would be taken off if he made the same mistake again
Indeed, Solskjaer did take Lingard off a few minutes later as United were unable to overturn a first leg deficit.
In February, both Lingard and Andreas Pereira, regulars in the first half of the season, were left out of Solskjaer’s squad for the 3-0 home win over Watford.
Asked why, Solskjaer offered an answer that wasn’t exactly music to their ears: ‘We’ve picked a squad of 18 that we felt it was the right 18 here.
‘There’s more and more competition for places. Your standard has to improve.’
it was certainly made clear to Lingard and Pereira their places could no longer be taken for granted.
Solskjaer put an arm around Lingard and attempted to console him when he was taken off
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