Paul Ince on Man United’s recruitment, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Pogba
Manchester United have had a storming start to their Champions League campaign, beating both Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig in their opening two games.
But their recent home defeat to Arsenal has re-opened the discussion on United’s progress since appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019.
We spoke exclusively with former Red Devils’ captain Paul Ince about Man United’s recruitment, Solskjaer’s future and much more.
On Man United’s problems
I’ve always spoken about United’s style of football the way they’re playing, the manager. I just feel that this is something that’s been going on for a while.
They’ve been inconsistent for a while now – even before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over. Then they went on that great run and it was hard not to give him the job after that.
I do think the board panicked though. All the fans were singing his name, ordering the club to give him the job and they did. I think they should’ve waited until the end of the season. Let him have it as interim manager until the end of the season then see who’s out there, who the best man is for the job.
I’m not suggesting Solskjaer isn’t the best man for the job and securing third place last season was a great achievement. But I look at United now compared to when I played and we had a presence. Teams were frightened of us. We already had teams beaten before we walked out onto the pitch.
Whether it was at home or away, teams were frightened of Manchester United. I don’t see that now. Clubs look at them and think they can take points from the game. We saw it against Arsenal, where United were woeful. We’ve seen Crystal Palace do it. Something’s not quite right.
I still think United finish in the top six this season. It’s that inconsistency that’s the problem. You look at the way they played against PSG and you think they should absolutely be in the top four.
But you look at how they played against Arsenal and think they’d be lucky to finish in the top six! That’s the way it is at Manchester United at the minute. A lot of things aren’t clicking at this moment in time but there’s still a long way to go this season and I think United can expect to be right up there at the end of the campaign.
On Man United’s recruitment
They’ve spent £40 million on Donny Van de Beek and they’re not playing him. I don’t know why they signed him. Maybe there’s a situation where Paul Pogba could be going at the end of the season and Van de Beek could come in.
But if you’ve spent £40 million on a player, you put him in the team. No disrespect to Fred, he’s OK. He doesn’t score goals, he doesn’t set up goals. Midfield players are supposed to score goals. Even when you watch him shoot – he can’t shoot!
That’s why you spend money on players, but then you’ve got to put them in the team. Bruno Fernandes came in and was straight in the team. Van de Beek must be sat there thinking ‘what have I done?’
Recruitment at United has been really poor even though they’ve always had money to buy players. If you bring players in for those big amounts and you’re not playing them but the team is winning, then great.
When you don’t play them and the team isn’t getting results, people will start questioning Solskjaer about recruitment and results. Those two factors combined are going to put pressure on the United boss. Recruitment and results.
There are so many players out there who could have come into that Man United team. You look at Thomas Partey and Raul Jimenez for example.
Last season United needed to bring in a striker and they go and get Odion Ighalo from China. What was that about? Go and spend £40 million on Jimenez. He’s a proven striker, a scorer. You know, and then they go and get Edinson Cavani who will hardly play.
You’ve got to look at the structure, the recruitment, the scouting system and think ‘what are they looking at?’ There’s a lot of good players out there, top, top players. Go and get these players. But they haven’t.
If you’re going to spend the money, put them in the team. I’m not having this ‘you’ve got to give them time’ – you’ve got to put them in straight away if you’re going to spend that money. Why would you spend £40m on a player who you’re going to just stick on the bench?
Solskjaer will have wanted these players. As recruitment goes, he will have had a list of players and number one targets, number two targets, if you can’t get number one then go for number two, and so on.
He will have sat down with Ed Woodward, because Ed Woodward doesn’t know about football. He’s a commercial man. He’s done ever so well and generated a lot of money for the club.
But as far as football is concerned, he doesn’t know about strikers, he doesn’t know about players. That’s why we’ve always been crying out for a Director of Football, which they still haven’t got. Solskjaer will have made these decisions.
Ultimately, he would’ve said he wanted Van de Beek. The club has backed him. They’ve given him the players he’s asked for. Compare that with Jose Mourinho – he wanted a couple of centre-halves and didn’t get backed, and that’s one of the disappointments Mourinho was talking about.
If you want the player and the club buy them – play the player. If you don’t play him and the club have backed you, and you’re sitting where you are in the league – granted it’s early doors – you put yourself under pressure, and that’s where Solskjaer is right now –under pressure.
On Solskjaer & Pochettino speculation
I hope Solskjaer lasts the season, because it means United are doing well, and as ex-Man United captain, I want them to do well. Let’s get that straight. I want them challenging.
This is a great time for a Manchester United, a Tottenham or an Arsenal to win the title – this season in these weird times. It’s a great time for United to challenge for the title but they’re going completely the other way.
I hope they’re up there, I really do. But if you’re not winning games, you’re putting pressure on yourself. I wouldn’t want any manager to lose their job, but that’s how it is.
I don’t like to talk about mangers when they’re in the job. I’m sure Solskjaer has heard enough talk about Mauricio Pochettino in the last year. But the fact of the matter is as a manager, you’re always going to get criticised.
But at Manchester United you’re at the biggest club in the world. Everyone wants to know what’s going on there. You’re always on the back pages of the papers. As a manager or as a player at Manchester United you’re always going to get criticised, and Solskjaer knows that as much as anyone.
When the criticism begins, that’s when other managers’ names are being talked about. He’s heard it all before with Pochettino last season, so he knows he’s got to keep on winning. And he did that last year, so credit to him for that.
But now, again, when results are dropping, then Pochettino’s name is going to come up again. Max Allegri is another one. You know, when you’ve got all these big names out there and you’re not getting results, you know they’re going to be linked with your job. You can’t get away from that.
Of course any manager would take the Manchester United job. You can’t turn that job down. Whether it’s Pochettino, Max Allegri, if Man United come calling, you’re taking the job. There’s no two ways about it. Solskjaer’s in the hot seat and he’s got to make sure he stays there.
Lots of things need to change at Man United. They need to look at the structure of the club, recruitment, they need a Director of Football. Things need to change.
A new manager knows that and maybe that’s something Pochettino would look at if he was to come in. But currently it’s Solskjaer’s and I hope he stays there. If performances don’t improve and results don’t come, then all that means is we’ll hear names like Pochettino and Allegri a lot more.
Hopefully it’s not the case and I want Solskjaer and Manchester United to do well. But when you look at the performance on Sunday, it hardly fills you with confidence, and it makes the next game so, so important. And if they lose that next game, again, those two names are going to crop up.
On Paul Pogba
I love Pogba. I think he’s a world class player on his day. We saw that at Juventus. But since he’s come to Manchester United it’s been nothing but problems.
Under Jose Mourinho and things with his agent, there’s always something. His performances haven’t been up to scratch, the fans have almost gone against him.
If I was playing with him, I’d be saying ‘listen, you just go out there and play. Go out there and start performing. Once you start performing like you should be performing, then you can talk about wanting to sign for Real Madrid, because at the moment you can’t even get into the Man United side.’
If I’m Paul Pogba, I’m sitting on the bench thinking ‘hang on, I’ve got Fred, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes all playing in midfield and I’m sat on the bench? There’s got to be something wrong with me.’
Man United is not about Paul Pogba.