Man Utd and Chelsea qualify for Champions League with final-day victories; Gary Neville challenges Solskjaer and Lampard to build ruthless edge
Tuesday 28 July 2020 11:01, UK
Gary Neville has challenged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard to use the time bought by Champions League qualification to develop into ruthless managers capable of winning the title.
Manchester United and Chelsea navigated tricky final-day assignments against Leicester and Wolves as 2-0 victories secured third and fourth place in the Premier League and passage to next season's Champions League.
Speaking on the Gary Neville podcast, the former United captain said qualification marked an important milestone in the young managerial careers of Solskjaer and Lampard but emphasised the hard work had only just begun.
"Qualifying for the Champions League means a lot to Manchester United because it gives them a period of stability," he told Sky Sports. "If they hadn't finished in the top four there would have been big questions marks about the direction the club is going in, the manager.
"Finishing third in the league takes the weight off for a little while and tells everyone they are going in the right direction. I think they are going in the right direction, irrespective of what happened at Leicester.
"The only problem is that you need results to go with that, and, if they hadn't qualified for the Champions League, all the work they had done in the last six weeks would have been forgotten about. That's the nature of football.
"The reality is Leicester could have scored two goals, but they didn't, and the reality for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that he can talk about progression and heading in the right direction because the results are matching that progression.
"We know they are better, the performances are better, the fluidity and youth of the team is there and the recruitment has been better in the last 12 months. Paul Pogba is a big player for the club and looks more settled. Coronavirus means the big transfers that were potentially being mooted are gone.
"What Sunday gave Manchester United was an element of peace, at Manchester United you need peace sometimes to be able to grow. When Sir Alex Ferguson was building his dynasty, he needed to step up a rung on the ladder each year. In the first couple of years he struggled to do that but then he won an FA Cup, a Cup Winners' Cup and got nearer to the league by finish second, there was that step.
"The same applied with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, who were struggling to get into the Champions League at all. He qualified for the Champions League, did it again, then got to a final, then won the Champions League. There was progression and you could see the direction the team was heading in.
"That's what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed, he needed that result. Waking up on Sunday morning as a United fan I wasn't nervous about getting into the Champions League, it's better for them financially, of course, if they are in it and easier to attract players, but United can afford to spend if they are not in it.
"I was most nervous for Ole, and Frank Lampard for that matter, because of their development as young coaches because you know they are going to be judged on days like Sunday. People would say they couldn't hack it, they weren't good enough for the big time, they've not proved themselves, the team needs a more experienced coach.
"All of those things will have come Ole and Frank's way had thing not gone their way on Sunday, but now they can just relax into their jobs. Not too much though, because next season will come around quickly."
Neville added: "Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are at a different level as coaches, they are at the peak of their careers while Ole and Frank are at the very beginning.
"The projects are very different at those clubs, Jurgen has been at Liverpool for five years, Pep four years. Solskjaer and Lampard haven't had that time yet, but they are showing they are going in the right direction.
"What Manchester United and Chelsea need now is to not think this is OK. The big mistake these two clubs could make would be to think they are going catch Manchester City and Liverpool, they won't if they don't improve by another 10-15 per cent."
You've got to be ruthless, the best managers in the world are ruthless. Frank and Ole have got to be ruthless with their boards.
Key to Manchester United and Chelsea bridging the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City in Neville's eyes is whether Solskjaer and Lampard and able to develop a ruthlessness in their dealing with their respective boards and their operation in the transfer market.
"When Manchester United are reflecting on this season they should say 'yes' - recruitment is better, performances in the last part of the season are better, youth in the team is good," Neville said.
"But when they ask the question whether they are at the quality they need to be, the answer is 'no'. As a Manchester United fan, ex-player, pundit or commentator, they are still a long way off winning a title and they have to keep going in the right direction and push.
"When Liverpool got nearly there, they spent £150m on Alisson and Virgil van Dijk. Manchester City invested £150m in full-backs when Guardiola didn't win in his first season and a goalkeeper.
"Solskjaer needs to spend money, but not recklessly. There needs to be a right winger, there needs to be a challenge at centre-forward, at left-back, definitely at goalkeeper and they need a centre-back, a top centre-back who can bring that level of domination to a defence like Virgil van Dijk does at Liverpool, like Vincent Kompany did when Manchester City were winning titles.
"If you look at every team that's won titles, they all have dominant centre-backs and great goalkeepers - Alisson, Van Dijk, Vincent Kompany, Ederson, John Terry, Petr Cech, Jaap Stam, Steve Bruce, Peter Schmeichel, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, David Seaman - and Manchester United need great centre-back and goalkeeper.
"I don't think Harry Maguire hasn't had a good season; I just think he needs a partner. That's not being unfair on Victor Lindelof, who may need a partner as well. He and Maguire are both good defenders, but I think United need a centre-back as well.
"You've got to be ruthless, the best managers in the world are ruthless. Frank and Ole have got to be ruthless with their boards."
That ruthlessness could first be displayed in how Solskjaer and Lampard handle the futures of goalkeepers David de Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga.
After a catalogue of errors cost Manchester United a place in the FA Cup final, De Gea repaid the faith showed in him by Solskjaer by keeping two clean sheets in their final two Premier League games, whereas Kepa was left out of Chelsea's victory over Wolves.
"Kepa is not good enough, he hasn't demonstrated that he is good enough yet," Neville said. "De Gea has been good enough.
"I was nervous about him in his first year or two at Manchester United but then he did prove to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world for four or five years. In the last 18 months he's been riddled with mistakes and only Solskjaer can make that decision over the goalkeeper.
"What I would say about that decision is that Solskjaer has to be decisive and ruthless with that decision, he's got to think about himself and the club. If he thinks De Gea is going to return to the level he was at before, stick with him.
"Before the West Ham game I was 50-50 whether Solskjaer would drop him. When I found out he was playing, I said before the game in my interview that the only time you would be able to prove whether that was the right decision or not would be on Sunday at 6pm.
"We're here and it looks like he's made the right decision because leaving De Gea out on Wednesday now would have been a massive signal to everybody that Solskjaer was getting him out of the club.
"He's still got that decision in his hands, but he's at least got through that until the end of the season. De Gea hasn't put a foot wrong in the two matches."