Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and goalkeeper David De Gea spoke to the media on the eve of our return to action in the UEFA Champions League.
The pair answered journalists’ questions at the pre-match press conference in Bern, where the Reds will begin the club’s latest continental campaign by facing Young Boys in Group F.
During the briefing, the boss spoke highly about Tuesday’s opposition, his own players and the experience that multiple European Cup winners like Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane can offer his team.
Here is every word from Ole and David…
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER
You’ve been to two quarter-finals but for a club like Manchester United that’s not good enough, really, is it? You would look to improve on that, I suppose, this season and in the coming seasons?
“Of course. As you say, we have had some very, very good nights and memorable historic nights at the club and they are the biggest nights at the club. For me, the aim when we go into this tournament now is of course to go all the way. But we know it’s going to be a difficult one, it always is. We have added some experience, some quality and some youth in the squad and hopefully we’re better prepared this year for what’s to come.”
How important is it to have the experience of the new signings, in particular Cristiano [Ronaldo] and Raphael [Varane]?
“I think, sometimes, you know, you can go far with youth as well but in some games experience will of course play its part. In other games you need that youthfulness, that courage, that fearlessness. Tomorrow it’s going to be electric in there, we need to have players with that experience to calm it down and manage the game properly.”
Ole, we often talk about how teams need to accumulate experience, and needs to have disappointments in the Champions League before they finally make that step. Do you think the squad that you have got now already has that within it?
“We’ve had enough disappointments, that’s for sure. We had some big moments, of course. But this team now has grown and matured over the last few seasons. I have to say, that was always the plan three years ago, back in the day when I came in, that we could have a squad with the experience and quality to challenge. With players like David next to me here, Harry’s had a couple of years here now. We’re getting a spine in the team with experience and quality. Of course, with Raphael and Cristiano, they add… not the last bit of course because you can never say it’s your last bit but it added something extra you have to buy, unless you win it four times yourself. We’ve definitely learned. The group is special, I have to say. As a unit, they look after each other, the atmosphere is really good and that will stand us in good stead, definitely.”
Ole, we all saw what Cristiano can do on the pitch but apparently off the pitch he’s having a bigger influence. Lee Grant was saying in an interview that all the players refused to have dessert at the team hotel on Friday night. All joking aside, does that show the impact he has off the field as well? The way he can influence players?
“That was obviously a joke by Granty in a setting with some mates or ex-players. Or course, it’s not that we had junk food before Cristiano came and he changed it all… Of course, he has proven over the years how to look after himself. I think he will be an example for a lot of players on how to adapt yourself, how to prolong your career. I said it myself, when you retire, you look back to the best time of your life, so stay in the game as long as you can, stay professional, have a good attitude and when you’re done, then you can let yourself go, like I have!”
The huge aura around Cristiano, and people knowing they’re going to play with him, that’s going to enhance the prospect of success. Do you think his presence can influence the likes of Paul Pogba to stay here and persuade him there’s no better place over the next few years for him?
“Yeah, well, it’s up to us to get results to prove to ourselves that we can win trophies. I think everyone who signs for Manchester United wants to win trophies. That’s the most magical feeling in the world, to be a part of a winning Manchester United team. Yeah, everyone’s focusing on doing their best, let’s see where we go.”
Ole, what’s the situation with Edinson Cavani and his fitness?
“He had a slight strain during the international week after the in-house game that we played. He’s working hard to get back.”
Ole, how impressed have you been by Young Boys, from analysing their matches against Ferencvaros?
“It’s not just the Ferencvaros games we have analysed. I thought the Zurich game was really impressive with the start Zurich have had to the competition. They were very convincing, energetic, athletic, attacking-minded. Some players have now broken into the Swiss team, who have been really impressive. We know it’s going to be a difficult game. Also, of course, being from Norway, I know astro turf is always a little bit of an advantage at home but we should be able to deal with the pitch really well.”
On Paul [Pogba], he’s had seven assists already this season, more than he had last season and the season before. What do you put that down to? Is it something he has done, is it something you’ve done to get the best out of him?
“Paul’s come back in good shape. He’s worked really hard over the summer. He came back lean and fit. But… what’s an assist? A square pass to Bruno and Bruno hits the top corner or when Paul plays a great pass through and Mason runs past [the defender]? Paul’s always been a top passer of the ball, we know that. He’s one of the best passers in European football. He’s probably not got the assists from his best passes this season, so… I don’t count assists at all. That’s just a social media thing, for you, the media. Paul’s played well that’s for sure. I would give Anthony Martial an assist for Jesse’s [Lingard’s goal v Newcastle]. The way he leaves the ball, like Yorke and Cole… there are just so many more important stats in football.”
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The Swiss national team had a good European Championships, beating France. Recently, they had four players from Young Boys in the national team squad. What is your opinion, in general, on Swiss football?
“I was very impressed by the reaction in the game against France when they were 3-1 down, how they turned that game around. But also in the whole tournament. Myself, I’ve been a manager for Molde and we have played Basel and they’ve been better and better of course. The game against Italy now was impressive as well. You’ve got some very good players playing against us tomorrow. I’ve been impressed by the young boy in midfield, he’s got… I’m sure he runs about 15 kilometres every game. He’s got energy and quality.”
You’re away in the Champions League and then you have to perform at the weekend in a big Premier League game. Do you feel you now have the numbers, the squad and the quality to be able to do that, to mix the team up at that level?
“Yes. I cannot look at the squad and say “we’ve played a game in midweek” and “we’re tired”, no. We’re fitter now. We’ve been very robust over the years and improved a lot, I have to say. How we’ve dealt with the pandemic situation, with the games coming thick and fast, I was really pleased with. With the ones we’ve signed as well, it’s easier to rotate, definitely. I trust the members of the squad. There’s nothing like getting into the rhythm of playing, recovering, playing, recovering. That’s probably the best time with the best football, when we get that rhythm playing.”
David exuded confidence as he answered the media’s questions.
DAVID DE GEADavid, you’ve been a player that your team-mates have looked up to for a number of years. Cristiano Ronaldo has now come to the club. How much of an impact has he had on the dressing room so far?
“It’s great to have Cristiano back at home. He showed already on the first day at Old Trafford the impact he has by scoring two goals, very important goals for us. You know his qualities and the experience of Cristiano is amazing. It’s great for us, he’s a legend here at the club already. It’s great to have him back and it’s massive for us.”
We’ve seen your competition with Dean Henderson. Does that drive you on, does it make you a better goalkeeper? Have you found your levels lifting since he came back to the club?
“I’ve been here with many great keepers during my career in Manchester – like Sergio [Romero], [Victor] Valdes, Anders [Lindegaard], there have been great keepers always in the club. I don’t think the fight is always between keepers, it’s between the players. We always try to bring the best players so there will always be people fighting for positions. That’s Manchester United, we try to be ambitious. That’s football and is everything.”
You started the season in great form and you obviously want to start every game. How are you feeling?
I feel very well and strong and confident. I feel very happy at the club and with my team-mates and the staff. I’m training 100 per cent every day, I’m putting my focus and experience for the team and young lads and trying to help all the time. I feel very, very well.”