Watch Manchester United vs Arsenal on Monday Night Football from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League; kick-off is at 8pm
Sunday 29 September 2019 13:18, UK
In a revealing exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer outlines how he is building a new culture at Manchester United, and why he believes it’s going in the right direction.
What's going on at Manchester United?
It's a phrase thrown about with the frequency of Manchester downpours. In the 30 minutes spent at Carrington to speak with the Manchester United manager, torrential rain preceded autumn sun and torrential rain again. The view of United from outside the club swings like the weather, too. The 4-0 opening-day win against Chelsea was the perfect start, but having scraped past Rochdale in midweek, following a run of one win in five Premier League games, it's currently negative.
While that mood flaps back and forth, the plan inside is clear, and they feel progress has been made. Look closely, and there is proof of that. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt the culture of Manchester United needed changing, and he is achieving that aim, with those inevitable "bumps in the road."
"It's not like the situation we had last year," Solskjaer tells Sky Sports. "There's no lack of desire there. For us it's about building a new culture, building a new team, bringing everybody together. Is it the job I expected? Yes. I never said this was going to be a quick-fix job. It's step after step after step."
United don't have to look far for a hopeful comparison, and from an unlikely source.
"Solskjaer is working more with a squad like the one Jurgen Klopp picked up at Liverpool than the one Pep Guardiola inherited at City," said Gary Neville in his podcast earlier this month.
Indeed, it took time for Klopp to get it right. In his first 17 Premier League games with Liverpool, the German picked up just 23 points from a possible 51. He lost against Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Watford, West Ham, Leicester and United. Remember? Probably not, given their success since. The signs were there, and Klopp was given time. Solskjaer knows this is what he needs, and United should give it.
"Of course, we've hit a few bumps in the road, I never said this was going to be a quick-fix job. Rome wasn't built in a day. We need time, and the attitude of the boys has been great. [We must] keep working on improving the understanding and relationships between all players, and the style we want to play."
It's not like the situation we had last year. There's no lack of desire there
Despite just two Premier League wins this season, and Arsenal up next on Monday Night Football, there are reasons for optimism at United. Their three summer signings - Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire - have impressed. It's been a while since United were three-for-three with new recruits.
Their expected goals against is just 4.28 for the season, the lowest in the Premier League, and - ahead of the weekend's games - only Leicester and Liverpool had conceded less. Their injury issues have also been relentless. Damaging, yes, but an excuse for their struggles up top. Solskjaer has already had success in rebuilding from the bottom up, starting with intelligent work ethic, the often-overlooked fulcrum to any winning team.
"I think hard work is important, but you have to do the right work. I think we've got further in our shape work when we haven't got the ball than when we do have the ball. To create is more difficult than to stop. If you look at Aaron and Dan, 21-year-olds, they're coming in and doing a good job. We're not expecting them to be leaders, but they'll have longevity, and they'll stay in the club and the team for many, many years.
"Harry is a different player; he was the one centre-back we wanted, and the one we felt was the missing jigsaw in that defence. He was for now and the future, because he's only 26. I'm delighted with those three, both for now, and for the future. It's not just signing players for the sake of it, you have to sign the right ones. The injuries we've had have mostly been to forward players, so it has been more difficult to settle that front four or five."
As with any rebuild, fans need signs of improvement and minor successes. Since that heroic night in Paris in March, United's Premier League form hovers above the drop zone. They've won four in 15, and Solskjaer's Premier League record in his 27 games is identical to Jose Mourinho's last 27 games - W14 D6 L7.
Why wouldn't you be angry when you lose a game? Of course you're angry within. That's one thing; you put pressure on yourself, and you're competitive. I want to win every single training session. I wanted to beat Roy in cards on the team coach!
Of course, building takes time, and lots of optimism. But it doesn't stop the bad results hurting. Sunday's 2-0 defeat at West Ham was one of those. Speaking on Sky Sports afterwards, Roy Keane had recognised fury in his old team-mate's eyes. Was Solskjaer livid? It's clear the Norwegian has an angry side. His former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson had the patent on the hairdryer, after all.
"Why wouldn't you be angry when you lose a game? Of course you're angry within. That's one thing; you put pressure on yourself, and you're competitive. I want to win every single training session. I wanted to beat Roy in cards on the team coach! But I don't show it to everyone.
"Maybe the ones who know me the best will see how I feel. I can't go out [like that], I manage my way, and lead the players my way, and I lead these players the way I deem to be right, and what's said in the dressing room is said in there, and it stays there."
Monday Night Football pits two peculiarly opposing teams together: a solid defence with a barren frontline against a dodgy backline with a frightening attack. Failure to win against Arsenal would rank as United's worst league start since 1989, but Solskjaer is relishing the occasion.
"I think it will be an open game, two teams that want to attack, and the next game is always the perfect occasion to prove yourselves. Every game here is a game you want to win, and have to win. We are looking forward to it. I've watched Unai Emery over many years, and system-wise he can come with any shape, he knows it all."
So what is going on at Manchester United? Look beyond the won, drawn and lost columns and the positives are there. Perhaps most importantly, their manager's mind and message is clear and collected.
"We have a saying in Norway. You trust yourself, back yourself, you do it your way. As a player, was I good enough? Someone else has to say.
"As a manager, will I be good enough? I trust myself to keep doing it the way I'm doing it."
Watch Manchester United vs Arsenal on Monday Night Football from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League; Kick-off is at 8pm