Gary Neville: Manchester United evolution more important than Premier League finish
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Last Updated: 22/09/19 11:07am
Gary Neville believes the development of Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be more important than their Premier League finish this season.
It has been an up and down start to the season for Man Utd, who began with a 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea, before draws against Wolves and Southampton sandwiched a shock home loss to Crystal Palace.
But they got back to winning way last weekend, beating Leicester 1-0 at Old Trafford, and Sky Sports pundit Neville believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is moving Man Utd down the right path.
"I think that's the one thing about this United team this year, there's no doubt that they all look to be facing in the right direction," he said on Monday Night Football.
"A big debating point between Manchester United fans at this moment in time is whether what is happening now is lowering expectations in the sense they've not gone huge in the transfer market in terms of net spend. There's a feeling that they've lost Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku and yet they've signed three players who are young and improving.
"There's a sense that they gone backwards and only invested £60m to £70m net. From that point of view, there's a feeling that they should have bought another centre forward and another central midfielder because the midfield is weak.
"I applaud what Manchester United have done this summer in a way because they have made big mistakes. I have been critical of them in the transfer window, paying over the top for ageing players, they've reacted to other teams looking like their signing players and panic bought. They've got to stop that, so there has to be a plan and a strategy - there hasn't been for the last seven years at the club.
"What it looks like now is that they've gone back to a strategy of signing emerging British players, bringing academy players through and identifying international talent. At this moment in time, United's average age has come down to 24, there are eight academy players in the squad, but there's a sense among some Manchester United fans that expectations are being lowered and that this is not good enough.
"I actually think United have taken a step backwards but a step in the right direction to go forwards because enough is enough of all these 30-year-old players coming in, not suiting the style. They've got to stop that because it's not worked for the club.
"What I'm saying is they've changed direction. Whether you like it or I like, it's a change of direction. In Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, they've got younger players who have hopefully got a future at Manchester United for the next 10 years. The three of them have started well.
"There's a sense that Manchester United have got young players - are they good enough or are they not? I look at the young players in the team against Leicester and there's Wan-Bissaka, Perreira, McTominay, James and Rashford. I say to myself are they good enough? At this moment in time, no. They've still got to prove themselves. They all look promising and they are working at their maximum in every single match.
"Top four and winning a trophy would be a successful season. That's where Manchester United are at. That is unacceptable in terms of where United need to be, but they are incapable - after six or seven years of poor recruitment - of going from seventh, sixth or fifth into first. They are nowhere near that at this moment in time.
"They are going to have to have three or four good transfer windows. The most important thing in the last window wasn't just adding two or three players of the right type, it was making sure they didn't make any further mistakes. I don't think they've done that. I think Man Utd this season would be stronger with Herrera, Fellaini and Lukaku, but in the long term, they won't be because those players will never get Man Utd where they need to be.
"Of course, Man Utd have to win the Premier League title. That has to be the barometer and should never change, but you can't go from not liking the team with average football to winning the league. There's a step in the middle of getting better football, liking the team and them you can start moving up.
"There have been clear examples. Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, he achieved Champions League success after four years without a trophy, but everyone at the club could see that he was on the right track. Frank [Lampard] and Ole have to convince their board and fans that they are on the right track.
"I think being on the right track this season is more important than fifth, fourth or third. People have to start liking the team again."
West Ham vs Manchester United is live on Super Sunday from 1pm; kick-off 2pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.