Ole Gunnar Solskjaer interview: Man Utd boss on Super League fiasco and his man management secrets

In an exclusive interview, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gives an insight into a whirlwind week at Manchester United and reveals his man-management secrets. Watch Leeds vs Man Utd live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was looking forward to a nice, quiet week. For the first time all season, Manchester United had a clear schedule between Premier League fixtures. At last, a chance to recharge and spend more than a day or two preparing for their next game.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite turn out that way. "You're looking forward to a week of preparation for a massive game against a rival," Solskjaer tells Sky Sports with a chuckle. "But then the bombshell of that news comes out on Sunday and everything changes."

The Super League fiasco turned a quiet week into one of unprecedented turbulence. Manchester United were in, then they were out. The project fell apart but the fallout continued.

Ed Woodward resigned as executive vice-chairman. The Glazer family issued a public apology. Solskjaer even found himself having to confront angry supporters at the club's training ground.

Manchester United joint chairmen Joel Glazer (right) and Avram Glazer (left) in the stands during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. 2:03
Manchester United owner Joel Glazer has written an apology to the club's fans admitting 'we got it wrong' over the breakaway Super League plans

"That's football management for you," he adds, speaking exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of Manchester United's meeting with Leeds on Super Sunday. "All the coaching courses and management courses you go on can't prepare you for all these scenarios."

The dramatic scenes at Carrington capped an extraordinary few days. "It seems like a historic period in football," says Solskjaer. "It has brought fans together, coaches, managers. They have all let their voices be heard and we all agree that the outcome is good."

That is not to say it has been easy. Solskjaer had to handle his own players as well as mutinous supporters. "They had a couple of days where I think their heads were going, 'what's going to happen with football? What's going to happen with us?'

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"Of course, it was difficult. When we met on Wednesday morning, you worried whether the concentration was going to be there. You wondered what kind of session you were going to be able to do.

"But we let them play and compete, and they were fine. It took some time in the warm-up, maybe, to get their heads on training. But since then they have been as good as gold."

Man-management secrets

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The chaotic circumstances were a stern test of Solskjaer's man-management skills but fortunately for Manchester United, that is an area in which the 48-year-old excels.

Since his appointment in 2018, players have queued up to praise his personal touch. It's what prompted Paul Pogba to compare him favourably with Jose Mourinho in conversation with Sky Sports last week and it's why Luke Shaw credits him for restoring his confidence.

Solskjaer sees it as one of his biggest responsibilities as a manager.

"I've never hidden the fact that I've got coaches who are better than me on the pitch. The main chunks of the sessions, that's Kieran [McKenna], Michael [Carrick], Martyn [Pert] and Fletch [Darren Fletcher]. They do them.

"But man-management is my passion. I've got other skills, of course, but you've got to look at what other people can bring to the table that you can't. For me, to get the best out of every single player, by hook or by crook, by praise or by stick, that's an art and a science."

I don't think anyone can perform at their best level if they are unhappy. This is not playing Football Manager on the computer. We are dealing with human beings
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Solskjaer learned "more or less everything" he knows about man-management from Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot shaped him as a player and has been even more influential in the dugout.

"We had a squad full of internationals and to get the best out of every one of them, to challenge them and challenge the group, you need to observe and learn what triggers them," says Solskjaer.

"Where do they come from? What's their background? How can you get the best out of them?

"Sometimes there are players who you have to praise and cajole but there are other players who need stick more than praise because they can get complacent and lose their concentration.

"You have to help the players be the best possible versions of themselves, which will then make the team better."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with left-back Luke Shaw
Image: Solskjaer has been a key in Luke Shaw's return to form

Pogba and Shaw have certainly looked like the best versions of themselves lately, the former shining in midfield having been ushered back into the fold despite an unhelpful intervention from Mino Raiola midway through the season; the latter hitting the best form of his career and winning back his place in the England squad.

The pair have benefitted from an arm around the shoulder but Solskjaer has been demanding of them too.

"I'm quite strong and strict on discipline and fitness because it doesn't cost anything to be the fittest version of yourself," he says.

"To work hard costs absolutely nothing. When you've got the talent of those boys and you are fit, you feel better about yourself, you play better and you do more.

"It's quite simple but of course, you also need to speak to them, and you need to give them a role that can maximise their qualities.

"You need to allow them to grow and perform in that role in a way that makes them feel, 'this is the best possible me'.

"Paul and Luke are two players who, when they play to their best level, are unstoppable at times."

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They are not the only United players who have turned their situations around this season, either. Jesse Lingard is another and his recent revelation that he was battling depression during last year's lockdown served to highlight the importance of mental wellbeing in player performance.

"I don't think anyone can perform at their best level if they are unhappy," says Solskjaer, who sanctioned Lingard's loan move to West Ham knowing he needed to play regularly again.

"This is not playing Football Manager on the computer. We are dealing with human beings. They've got a private life. They've got wives, they've got kids, they've got friends, they've got mums and dads who might be ill.

"There are so many things that you have to take into consideration as a manager when you pick a team. If a player doesn't feel right, sometimes you've just got to sit down and listen to them.

"Sir Alex was the best at that. Even though Silje [Solskjaer's wife] sometimes struggled to understand his accent when he rang, he still rang and spoke to wives and asked how I was doing and how she was doing. He's a role model for me in that sense."

Closing the gap to the top

Image: Manchester United sit 11 points behind leaders Manchester City

United's Glazer family owners may have seen the European Super League as a means of returning to the heights the club scaled during Ferguson's time in charge but Solskjaer is adamant they can get back to that level without it.

Indeed, while this week marks the eighth anniversary of the club's last Premier League title win, they are on course for a second-place finish having finished third last season. They have already matched their points total for the whole of the last campaign.

What, then, is now needed to build on their progress and close the gap to Manchester City in the seasons to come?

"We need to keep getting better at what we are good at, keep improving our weaknesses, and keep getting the relationships between the players more instinctive because we are a young team," says Solskjaer. "We've added some good players and we are gradually getting to know each other.

"We want to come back strong when next season starts and get consistency because consistency is key for any team that is going to win the league. You cannot be up and down, up and down, up and down, within days or within weeks or within months.

"You will have a little wobble for two or three games but that's the maximum. You cannot win the league without consistently performing at your best level.

"We're a year older than last year and next year, again, we'll have more experience. Hopefully we can finish this season with a trophy in the Europa League which would give us more belief and confidence."

United will embark on their next chapter without Woodward, who is due to leave his post at the end of the year, but they have already promoted Darren Fletcher to the role of technical director and hired John Murtough as football director. Solskjaer is working closely with the pair of them as they formulate plans to continue improving the squad.

"We've gradually built, layer by layer," says Solskjaer. "John and Fletch, I speak to them daily. We've had a very close and very good working relationship.

"Ed Woodward brought me here, backed me and supported me, so of course it's going to be a change for us all when he leaves.

"But we've had to move on before and, for me, we've got to move on again. Manchester United is always bigger than individuals."

A week of unprecedented turbulence has offered a reminder of that.

Watch Leeds vs Man Utd live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm

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