Several of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's former team-mates have been outspoken on Manchester United's spending, but the manager insists he has been backed - Watch Manchester United vs Tottenham live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Super Sunday; Kick-off at 4.30pm.
Sunday 4 October 2020 17:34, UK
Roy Keane. Gary Neville. Rio Ferdinand. Paul Scholes. Darren Fletcher. Patrice Evra. Quite a mob.
All have been outspoken on Manchester United's transfer window spending - or lack of it - in recent weeks. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's ears must be ringing.
Helpful? Well, it seemingly doesn't catch the United boss by surprise, from Keane at least.
"He does that directly to me as well!" Solskjaer tells Sky Sports. "I'm still very close to Roy. There's nobody as honest as him, and he always says it how it is, how he feels."
Despite more football than ever, so much of the game is still being played off the pitch. Clubs are increasingly judged on their expenditure, and despite United tapping their card to the tune of £148m last summer, memories are short.
|2. Man City||£147m|
|5. Man Utd||£39m|
They topped the spending charts last summer, but topping them every year would be a clear sign that recruitment has been poor. Nevertheless, they've signed just one player in Donny van de Beek, and sit fifth in the 'big six' spending, more than £150m behind Chelsea and £100m behind Man City. The saga for Europe's hottest property, Jadon Sancho, has exhausted fans.
They are concerned this window may have passed them by, just as the club were on the rise on the pitch. Pundits, fans and pundit-fans may want to see more, but Solskjaer isn't bothered by other clubs' spending. In fact, he believes the process has worked well so far.
"When I came in and was given the job, I gave my view on what the team should look like and how to get there. I feel when we had these conversations, the club understood my view. In all honesty, results are always the key here. But the club also see what we are doing with the club, and what we want to do with the club.
"I'm not looking at other clubs in that way - of course I look at them in terms of keeping up with what's going on - but other clubs have a way of running, we have our way of running our club.
"And of course, I'm very happy working with the players I've got. But also, the part of the job is to improve the squad all the time, and so far I've been backed. We are working hard to be competitive again, amongst the best.
"I think football now is different from what it was six or eight months ago, and these times are very unique. To get deals done you need to monitor a player for a long, long while, and monitor your target, and I feel the process there has been working well."
Solskjaer's not wrong. In his former team-mates' playing days at United, a small handful of clubs could compete financially. Now, sixth place are just as likely to spend £60m as the leaders, global pandemic or not.
If United are to miss targets this summer, Solskjaer is adamant it's not through lack of planning.
Asked how much of his week is taken up by transfers at present, he says: "You plan and plan, that's just the normal day of a manager's life in the normal season, and it's not just the transfer window. You plan ahead, and you do have targets, and you have players you follow for a long while.
"You don't just jump in suddenly now the window is open. We're not just working in the window, when it is shut we're still working on monitoring players."
In this most bizarre and unpredictable start to the Premier League season, conclusions are difficult. Champions Liverpool look strong, Everton and Leicester are three from three and have surprised a few, but we've learned very little about the blur of contenders below. They resemble a swamp of high-scoring games, mistakes and leaky defences, all punctuated by questionable fitness levels.
Nowadays it is easy to get swept away by the need for big spending and ignore the impact of fitness. Both are important, but the weight of attention on new personnel is unbalanced.
Fitness is harder to see, harder to celebrate, harder to get excited about. There's no Twitter announcement video for full fitness. No bragging between fans. No #AnnounceMatchFitness. Yet when United, or any club for that matter, look indifferent in two bizarre Premier League games, the post-mortem focuses almost entirely on spending. There's simply more to it than that.
The truth is Manchester United had a stunted pre-season. Just 34 days after losing to Sevilla in the Europa League, they were back in competitive Premier League action. Wolves (34 days), Chelsea (37 days) and Man City (37 days) have also experienced startling results. Only once in eight games (Chelsea at Brighton) have one of these four teams outrun an opposition who had enjoyed a longer summer break.
In their 3-1 defeat by Crystal Palace on September 19, it was clear Roy Hodgson's side had match sharpness on their side, with United's start delayed by a week to take into account the Europa League finish.
Solskjaer, whose side host Tottenham on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League, says United are still a bit away from where they want to be fitness-wise.
"Normally when you have a pre-season, you have one or two or three games where you build up, or at least two games where you are the dominant team and you get your match fitness from that.
"You build it up to another three or four games against better sides, so every player gets three or four proper games. Then you get the competitive edge in the first games of the season. So after about five or six games each you're looking something like what you normally are.
"Now we've got players who have played just two or three games at the top, so of course we're still a bit away. Sunday is going to be vital, and then in the internationals hopefully some players get games there.
"The start was not great of course, losing your first game at home in the league, it affects the mood around, the players, the fans, the club, the media, and of course that's not great.
"We've had a good response, three wins after that, but we're only two games into the league season so Sunday will be important for us in the matter of results already."
The feeling around the club, and his old team-mates, is that Solskjaer has done more than enough to warrant financial support and patience. He's brought a style of play which is closer to Sir Alex Ferguson's successful sides than any of his successors.
One of them, Jose Mourinho, returns to Old Trafford again on Super Sunday, with more of a stamp on Spurs than on his last visit in December 2019. The contrast in style between Solskjaer's United and Mourinho's United is stark, and attacking football, with stability, remains the principle for the Norwegian.
"Every manager has their own different views on how football should be played. I've always been very influenced by the culture here at Manchester United, and when I was asked to come in I put my view forward on how I want to play football. You can call it attacking, but you have to have your foundations defensively as well. Every game lives its own life.
"I think Tottenham now are playing some fantastic football, and are scoring goals. Every manager has their views on how they want things, and I have the ultimate respect for Jose, what he's done in his career and what he's done here, and I'm just trying to work the best I can, with my view, and my staff. We just want to improve Manchester United."
Gary Neville: "It's appalling that in this market which is probably the easiest in PL history to get transfers done that United haven't done more yet ! They must get Ole a CB, LB and Forward pre deadline! The others are managing to get things over the line why not United!"
Roy Keane on Sky Sports: "If they don't invest in the next week, then it's tough days ahead. The remit will be different for Ole this year. I think last year, it was about getting into the top four - I know they got to three semi-finals - but it will be higher this year."
Darren Fletcher on Sky Sports: "They will be frustrated - Ole, the fans, everybody around the club - by the fact that Chelsea and other teams can do their business early, and that other teams have spent a lot of money already while Manchester United look like they are going to leave it last minute."
Paul Scholes on BT Sport, August 2020: "We talk about quality, we talk about spending money on a centre forward and wide players. We talk about hundreds of millions these days to get these players, but these are the players that win you trophies, these are the ones that win you medals. We know all this Sancho stuff is going on, they need to spend more money. If they want to win trophies, they've got to start spending the money."
Rio Ferdinand, on BT Sport: "Liverpool, the best team int he land, had issues in goalkeeping areas, they got Alisson, big signing. Issues at centre-half, bang, Van Dijk, they dealt with it. Man Utd haven't done that, and this isn't a new issue. I want Jadon Sancho, he's a generational talent, but does he solve the fundamental problems I see with this team?"
The summer transfer window closes at 11pm on Monday October 5 with a feast of activity throughout the day involving the biggest names in football.
Some of the highlights to enjoy on Sky Sports News and across our Sky Sports platforms:
You can also follow the stories on Sky Sports' digital platforms, with our dedicated Transfer Centre blog.
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