Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has warned Ed Woodward and Manchester United’s players that their 15-match unbeaten streak is not evidence that the club have “cracked it”.
The United manager echoed Gary Neville’s claims in the wake of Tuesday’s 3-0 hammering of Brighton that the club still has much work to do, on and off the pitch, to become credible title challengers to Liverpool and Manchester City.
Warning that the race for Champions League qualification was likely to go down to the final day of the season, Solskjaer urged his squad and the club’s board not to get complacent by finishing strongly, and then delivering in the transfer market.
United – who face relegation-threatened Bournemouth at Old Trafford this afternoon – trail the newly crowned champions, Liverpool, by 34 points.
“Gary is right in a lot of things he says and of course we cannot think we’re there,” the United manager said. “If you look at the table, we’re nowhere near where we should be.
“Consistency has to be improved and we still have to improve on many aspects of the game. Gary’s right – there’s definitely not going to be any complacency and thinking, ‘We’ve cracked it!’ because we’ve got so much to do.
“It’s an enjoyable journey. We can see improvements but, yes, we need to make one or two – or more – very good decisions. It’s going to be an important summer, definitely.”
Neville, the former United captain, believes Solskjaer still needs another three or four quality additions before his team may be in a position to compete with Liverpool and City. Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund winger, and the Aston Villa playmaker, Jack Grealish, are among United’s targets.
Solskjaer said he does not anticipate “a lot of big transfers” and was uncertain about “how the market is going to be”, but the manager, who said recently that he would prefer a “hole” in his squad than an “a---hole”, believes it is essential United only keep and sign players with the right mentality and character.
“You’ve got to be a certain type of character for me. I’m very old school in my values,” he said. “I’m not going to rant and rave. I’d rather open the door or close the door – either in or out.
“Players who want to sign – if they don’t feel right as a person – you close the door; players who are inside, who don’t feel right and don’t want to contribute to the team ethos and don’t have the betterment of the team at heart, then you open the door and let them leave. It’s a constant process. What you do every day, that will decide if you’re going to be part of Man United or not. I hope and believe I will always stay true to my principles and values of that.”
Attacking midfielder, Angel Gomes, 19, has just elected to leave United as a free agent after refusing to sign a new contract and the Birmingham City midfielder, Jude Bellingham, is on the verge of joining Borussia Dortmund instead of a move to Old Trafford. But Solskjaer said young players had to make decisions they feel most comfortable with.
“Any young player needs to make a decision they’re comfortable with – where can he make an impact,” Solskjaer said. “If you’re 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, they’re important decisions for them.
“We’ve got some examples of players taking a chance, moving away from big clubs to smaller clubs and it hasn’t worked. That’s a chance, a risk they take, instead of being in the club they’ve gone through.
“Some players do really well. I was happy with the path I took as a player. I was 22 before I went to Molde, 23 when I came to United. John Arne Riise [the former Liverpool defender] who comes from a similar area [in Norway] to me went to Monaco when he was 16 and we both won the Champions League as players so there are different roads that lead to the destination.”
United have a favourable run-in on paper, starting against Bournemouth, who have lost six of their past seven league matches. But Solskjaer was quick to shoot down any overconfidence and warned his players they had much to prove.
“I’ve seen lots of quotes that we have an easy run-in,” he said. “But the next five games – Bournemouth we lost to at their place, Aston Villa we drew with at Old Trafford, Southampton we drew to, we lost to Palace and lost to West Ham – there are teams we’ve got a point to prove against and we have to improve on our last performance.”
United currently trail third-placed Leicester City, who they face at the King Power Stadium on the final day, by three points and Solskjaer is predicting a nip-and-tuck race to the finish with Brendan Rodgers’ side, Chelsea and Wolves.
“I think the last round is going to be vital – you’ve got Chelsea versus Wolverhampton and us against Leicester – so there might be a three-point advantage for us or for Leicester and it’s still an important game,” he said.
“I can’t see the difference between us and Leicester being a lot more than three points either way, the same with Chelsea and Wolverhampton. So it’s looking exciting, it’s a short space of time. There are so many games so lots of things can happen but, yes, I think it will go down to the last game.”