I want to explain to you exactly what happened at Manchester United with so much publicity surrounding manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer. The United board accepted the bad run of results over the past few weeks however the 0-5 thrashing by Liverpool changed everything at Old Trafford. Losing to their most bitter rivals so convincingly shocked everyone at the club.
After the 2-4 defeat to Leicester Solskjaer kept his team back in the dressing room for 45 minutes discussing what went wrong. The discussion resolved nothing. Reports coming from the club after that defeat indicated a lack of morale in the dressing room. The board however publicly stated their support for the manager.
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After the Liverpool defeat, Solskjaer gave his players and training staff last Monday off as a rest day but he arrived at the training ground at midday and stayed for around 2 hours. He had a private meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson in a discussion about what is going wrong. Back at Old Trafford chairmen Joel and Avram Glazer held a transatlantic conference call with Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward and Managing Director Richard Arnold. Solskjaer’s position was the only topic discussed.
The main areas of concern under Solskjaer are United’s failure to press opponents, Cristiano Ronaldo not getting the service he requires to keep up his scoring record, Solskjaer’s very poor choice of substitutions which do not address the team’s in-play problems but most of all what has happened to their defence which has fallen apart so badly? That defence cost £200 million and its frailties were highlighted when Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire bumped into each other and Liverpool scored. Solskjaer looked shocked and ashen faced and Sir Alex Ferguson, sitting in the VIP area, held his head in his hands. United fans love Solskjaer and will not turn on him because of his golden history with the club but at the end of the Liverpool defeat they did not boo but did something even stronger – they did nothing except remain silent and the feeling at Old Trafford was eerie. Following the meeting of the directors one thing saved Solskjaer from further embarrassment and possibly the sack last Monday. Sir Alex Ferguson advised the management to give the Norwegian more time and they listened to him.
His influence at United is immense and every word is respected. On Tuesday he attended training along with Ed Woodward who monitored progress. Both Woodward and Arnold sided with Ferguson and supported Soslkjaer. The Glazers listened and delayed any decision to fire the manager. This weekend away at Tottenham will tell if this week’s training plan worked however Solskjaer’s position at the club is definitely hanging by a thread with Antonio Conte watching the situation and already telling friends and his family that he would take the job if offered. So far the board have not spoken to him and all the speculation of his arrival has come from the media. The Glazers are businessmen and have made over £100 million profit on their investment to buy United but entry into the Champions League next season and a good run of results are essential ingredients to make more money and ultimately that will decide Solskjaer’s future. Defeat at Tottenham might make it impossible for Sir Alex to defend the manager again.
Rodgers must keep Tielemans
Leicester were alarmed this week to hear that their top midfielder Youri Tielemans is being linked with a move to Europe. His contract runs out at the end of this season and his current devastating form has guaranteed that he is one of the first to be selected for manager Brendan Rodgers first team. Barcelona are the team in question and my Spanish sources tell me that the interest from the Catalan capital is genuine. Rodgers said, “There will obviously be talks with the club in terms of his contract but I continue to work with him and help him improve as a player. That’s my main focus. He is an outstanding player, one of Europe’s top midfielders. He is integral to our game and a joy to work with and he is also a super professional.”
Who does what at Man United?
Just to set the record straight because I have read some inaccurate reports about who does what at United. Mike Phelan is assistant manager to Solskjaer but he does not take part in training sessions. He carried out a coaching role under Sir Alex Ferguson but not Solskjaer. Darren Fletcher is Technical Director and he does attend training sessions. Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna oversee coaching sessions which take place at United’s Carrington Training Centre. Goalkeeping coaches are Richard Harris and Craig Mawson who were recruited by Solskjaer as was another coach Martyn Pert. The manager said this week, “The coaching staff are absolutely amazing, the attention to detail, the sessions they put on, the preparation we have there, I don’t think I could ask for better staff.”
Fonseca fans favourite to boss Newcastle
Newcastle boss Amanda Staveley waved an annual salary of £11million in front of Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag in order to tempt him into replacing Steve Bruce as manager. Hag has indicated that he has no interest in taking over and is content at Ajax. A poll of 25,000 fans this week revealed that fans favour Paulo Fonseca (who I told you last week is the bookmakers favourite) to take over. He met the new club management last week and scored 23 per cent of the fans votes with Antonio Conte in second place with 20 per cent. Eddie Howe, Roberto Martinez and Steven Gerrard have also been considered. In a local survey 86 per cent of fans thought it was right to sack Steve Bruce. Newcastle tell me that caretaker manager Graham Jones will be in the dugout this weekend against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Smith Rowe helped by senior players
Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe has a burning desire: to score more regularly and force his way into the England team. He has hailed manager Mikel Arteta as the inspiration for his current run of impressive performances and both senior players and Arteta have been spending time with Emile working together after training sessions, staying late and improving his scoring technique. He said, “The coaches at Arsenal have been helping me so much. That is really important for my game – creating and scoring. We’ve been practising a lot in training, after training and we get the support from the experienced players and they are always helping us. I feel that we are really coming together at Arsenal as a team, it is like a family and that has also helped us off the pitch.”
Hawk-Eye to replace VAR?
Offside rules are usually the most controversial and cause more fan reactions than anything else during a game. Technology capable of detecting offside positions is on course to be used in the 2022 World Cup. Hawk-Eye’s system combines cameras and computers to track the ball and players’ movements from the moment the ball is kicked. It is similar to the technology already used in tennis and cricket. I am told it will be more accurate than VAR and if successful in the World Cup it could be in operation in the Premier League by 2023.
Hazard struggling at Real Madrid
I am told from Real Madrid that all is not going well for ex-Chelsea player Eden Hazard. The Belgian international was a sensation in the Premier League but has not had an easy transition to Spain and La Liga. His coach Carlo Ancelotti has told Hazard that he has to work harder in order to be considered for the first team. He said, “Hazard began the season struggling with injuries and it is taking some time for him to reach his best form. He has everything to be a Real Madrid star but will have to hold on because, right now, he has a problem. That problem is that his coach prefers other players to him.” Brazilian youngsters Vinicius Junior who is only 21 years-of-age and 20 year-old Rodrygo are those two players.