Jose Mourinho said it would happen. Louis van Gaal said it would happen and David Moyes said it would happen. The wheels have finally fallen off Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s Manchester United revival. His first 13 games were remarkably successful and the last few games virtually a disaster apart from the historic win in Paris in the Champion’s League. Seven losses in their last nine games is more associated with Huddersfield and Fulham who have both been relegated already. The embarrassing 0-4 loss against Everton left the United manager apologising to the fans and his board of directors.
The problem is that Solskjaer, when asked what the problem is, could not find an answer. “I don’t know, you have to ask the players,” was hardly a managerial reply. What he should recognise is that United have not moved on as a club since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Even Mourinho could not handle the club’s hierarchy and when he was not allowed to bring in the players he wanted he sulked and fought the board of directors and lost and was fired. Now Solskjaer has realised there are many United players on big salaries who have to be moved on to other clubs and a totally new recruitment programme introduced. He has to fight for this or he will fail completely because many of the high earning players are simply not good enough.
Solskjaer admitted that even under his management motivation has slackened off. I watched the United team when they came off the bus at Everton. There was Paul Pogba sauntering along wearing the finest and most expensive tracksuit and trainers with a hugely expensive personal stereo and he was plugged in, chilled out and in his own world. One thing he wasn’t, was hyped up and ready for battle. The problem is that he never came out of his own personal world and went missing in the game. If he lost the ball in his own half of the field did he run back to defend? No, he walked around as though he wasn’t part of the game. And he wasn’t the only guilty one. Earning £250k-a-week demands that you give more to your team and its supporters. Matic and Fred could easily have been replaced by a couple of ball boys who would have been more effective.
Solskjaer said: “I want my team to be the hardest working in the league. That’s what we were under Sir Alex and we ran more than any other team every single week. I am going to be successful here and there are players who will not be part of that success because they do not deserve to be. There is no place to hide on a pitch during a game.”
United put on a more solid performance against derby rivals Manchester City but in the end, were no match for the Blue’s pure quality and went down 0-2. Former United full-back and now TV pundit Gary Neville said after the Everton game, “If you have weeds in your garden you have to get rid of them.”
I know for a fact that Solskjaer is quite capable of changing his image of Mr Nice Guy to Mr Ruthless and I know several players will soon realise they cannot hide and will be gone if they don’t show 100% effort and respect for the proud United Red badge of courage. I have been told that the management of the club are talking to the owners and are seriously considering giving Solskjaer authority to sign his own preferred players.
It is about time a United manager was shown this kind of confidence because regrettably some of the current players brought in mainly because of management influence do not have the quality needed and they will be on their way out of Old Trafford this summer as Solskjaer wields his axe.
Time to respect Rafa and Newcastle
Technically Rafa Benitez’s last game in charge of Newcastle will be away at Fulham because his contract expires on June 30th. Fans are camping outside the ground with banners and posters aimed at keeping their manager. They admire and totally support Benitez who they recognise is responsible for keeping them in the Premier League despite poor treatment from club owner Mike Ashley. The problem is that three weeks ago Rafa gave the management a list of things he needed to stay at the club.
As I write this column he has still not received a reply. Benitez, 59 years of age, is paid £6million per year but his problem is not with his salary. He wants money to invest in players capable of playing at the highest level and improved training facilities which are below Premier League standards.
A man who has won the Champion’s League, the FA Cup, Spanish La Liga and the Uefa Cup demands respect. However, Managing Director Lee Charnley is defiant and says, “Has a player turned around and said, ‘I’m not signing for Newcastle United because of the training facilities? No. Did it stop us finishing tenth? No.
Did it stop us getting out of the Championship? No. Did it stop us from finishing tenth last season? No.” The point is Mr Charnley, it is your manager who achieved all of these things because he is brilliant at his job and with his pedigree and love of the fans he wants the club to push on to become one of the best. If you don’t go with him Mr Charnley you will lose one of the very best in the game and very soon will find yourself back in the Championship League.
Zidane and Bale about to go head to head
Zinedine Zidane, for whatever reason, is not a big fan of Gareth Bale. To me, Gareth is one of the most gifted players I have ever seen but Zidane does not see it that way. Bale earns a massive £500k-a-week and Zidane knows that with that sort of money he can attract any player he wants. Bale has 3 years left on his contract and my insiders at Madrid tell me it is going to be a battle between the two because Zidane doesn’t want Bale but the player himself says he will not leave. Bale hinted this week that if the right financial package came from another club, which matches his current salary, he might look at it but otherwise, he is staying. There are only a small handful of clubs in world football who could afford that kind of money. Zidane wants Chelsea’s Eden Hazard as everyone knows and Bale’s salary would be perfect to lure him to Spain.
Stones reassured with higher pay
I saw Manchester City’s John Stones smiling at training this week after a worrying time which has seen him start the last four of five City games on the bench. After injury, he could not reclaim his place by starting ahead of Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany. However, manager Pep Guardiola has reassured Stones that he is very much part of City’s future and this week increased his weekly salary from £129k to £180k. I think I might smile a bit if someone offered me that kind of salary! Stones still has three seasons left of his 6-year contract and he is still only 24 years old.
Emery believes in his strikers
Despite Arsenal’s hiccups against Everton and Wolves, manager Unai Emery is convinced he has the right combination in Alexandre Lafayette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to keep the Gunners scoring. The Premier’s third and fourth places are up for grabs and along with them, qualification for the Champion’s League next season. Emery said: “They can be anything they want. I have worked with pairings like them and these two are up there. I had at Valencia Villa, Morientes and Soldado and I had Mbappe and Cavani at Paris St-Germain and in Lacazette and Aubameyang it is perfect. My ambition is to have a team with quality strikers and I have that. I am very, very demanding and I am very pleased with these two.” In a frank admission, Emery also said that he needs to make himself better known around the Premier League. He said, I am well known in Spain and in France but I need to get to know the fans and people better here. That is something for me to work on for next season.”
Carroll’s time at Hammers is finished
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini has finally given up on relying on his formidable frontline striker Andy Carroll. His current injury has ruled him out of action for the rest of the season and the club have told me they are not intending to trigger a two-year extension when his contract expires in two months. He currently earns £80k a week. Carroll’s likely destination will be the American MLS league although this is speculative. Freeing up a £4million salary gives the Hammer’s manager an option to pursue his aim to change his attacking options. Further funds will be available because it is possible Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez will also be sold. Carroll moved to Liverpool from Newcastle in 2011 and he was the eighth most expensive player in the world at £35million. He left for the Hammers at a reduced fee of £15.5million but his time at the London club has been blighted by constant injuries and he has started no more than 15 matches in each of the past six seasons.
Diego Costa up to his old tricks
Chelsea’s ex-naughty boy Diego Costa is at it again. He has told his club Atletico Madrid he will not train after being fined for a recent outburst in temper at a loss to Barcelona. The Spanish La Ligations has also banned him for eight games for verbally abusing referee Jesus Gil Manzano on April 6th. My contacts at Atletico tell me the manager Diego Simeone and the board of directors are furious with Costa because he will miss the rest of the season and they did not sign him from Chelsea to sit in the stands watching the game. It has also been hinted to me that Simeone might consider letting Costa go from the club because he is so angry. I guess Leopards never change their spots!