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Why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should consider a Manchester United backroom staff shake up

The frustration for most Manchester United fans as the club enters the midpoint of the January transfer window is that the Reds are yet to invest in the playing squad. In over a year of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuild, only three players have been signed, and even they were seen to be overly long and drawn out. 

Solskjaer and those behind the scenes will continue to toe the line that only the right types will be brought in and that it is incredibly hard to bring in new talent to the club in the month of January. However, it might be an easier task to acquire the right new first team coaches for the manager to work with. Solskjaer is still learning on the job and has a squad not currently able to perform consistently, so could new ideas on the training ground lead to a sustained upturn in form? 

After David De Gea’s mistakes against Everton and Watford in December, United drafted in Craig Mawson from Burnley as a new assistant first team goalkeeping coach just before the new year. De Gea’s form in the past 12 months has been questionable but a turnaround in fortune in 2020 for the Spaniard could be the example to form a new focus on recruitment for the club.

The likes of Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna have been part of Solskjaer’s team since he arrived, although there were rumours that Phelan was to take over the role of technical director in the summer.  Since their appointments full time, fans are yet to see a substantial style of play emerging and as ever these days, managers and coaches are quick to be compared, especially with those at rival clubs. After watching Leeds United at Arsenal in the FA Cup, many wondered how Marcelo Bielsa and his staff could make a Championship team so comfortable in possession.

The truth is simply that United’s coaching staff don’t have the experience yet. In particularly Carrick, who only retired from football in May 2018 and McKenna, who prior to Jose Mourinho’s final season in charge, had only managed United and Tottenham Hotspur’s under 18’s. Although Carrick and McKenna have received backing from players, when results aren’t forthcoming, inevitably most will start to doubt their ideas.

On the other hand, a decade ago Phelan was part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s backroom staff that won three titles in five seasons and reached two Champions League finals before his departure in 2013. Since then however, he has endured a disastrous spell as manager at Hull City. There’s no doubt that Phelan was and still could be a good coach, but it’s questionable whether or not he is still in touch with the modern footballer and the game’s tactics.

Shortly after Phelan was sacked at Hull, it was revealed that the average Premier League manager lasts 91 games, with a win percentage of 30%. Solskjaer currently is on 61 matches as United manager, although currently has a better win percentage of 49%. Concerningly, this has decreased significantly ever since he was appointed permanently and could well reach the average by the end of the season. When Solskjaer came in originally, his ideas were fresh and it breathed new life into the squad who had clearly became tired of Mourinho’s approach.

To survive at United, Solskjaer will need to borrow some ideas from the great Sir Alex Ferguson, who consistently changed his coaches every few seasons to keep all aspects of training innovative. Ferguson moved from Steve McClaren to Carlos Queiroz and then onto Phelan almost seamlessly with continued success, while his changes in coaching staff often signified the dawning of a new team. From what we hear, Solskjaer isn’t going anywhere and Ed Woodward has total faith in him. For Solskjaer to be afforded the time to build his own teams however, he may have to constantly rebuild his own backroom staff.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

Manchester United may not have replaced Michael Carrick but there is a gem from within who could fill the void

Manchester United have a problem in midfield this summer which requires strengthening, according to Danny Murphy on talkSPORT. The former Liverpool and England midfielder has suggested that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has work to do in replacing Michael Carrick, who retired at the end of the 2017/18 season, becoming a coach at the club.

Carrick signed for United from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2006 for a fee of £14 million, which could have risen to £18.6 million. The combative midfielder played for the club for 12 seasons before hanging up his boots and becoming a coach under Jose Mourinho and continuing under Solskjaer. Carrick was the reason United’s midfield has depth.

During his career at the club, as a player, Carrick won five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, six FA Community Shields, one UEFA Champions League, one UEFA Europa League and one FIFA Club World Cup – only the UEFA Super Cup is missing from his list of honours. A great career for a great midfielder.

During the summer, United were linked with many midfielders, failing to sign a single one. Having sold Marouane Fellaini in January and with Ander Herrera leaving as a free agent in the summer, it was expected that at least two central midfielders would be signed. However, that did not happen. Solskjaer’s side may have wanted to make signing though.

For the duration of the summer, Solskjaer was linked to Newcastle United midfielder Sean Longstaff, a connection that was mocked by supposed supporters of the club on Twitter. It would seem that supporters think United should be signing experienced world class players, ignoring the fact that Longstaff has the skills to be a great player.

Former Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez one stated that Longstaff was like Carrick but with more mobility and more in the tank. If only some supposed United supporters looked forwards instead of always looking back, they might understand the game a bit more. There is little point buying ready-made players, helping to develop younger players works.

Carrick was a deep-lying midfielder, one that did not rely on pace, stamina, physical attributes, box-to-box play or tackling like a typical midfielder. Instead, Carrick relied on his reading of the game, helping him to anticipate attacking threats from the opposition. This helped him and all the teams he played for. Carrick has been praised by legends of the game, including Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Xavi and Xabi Alonso.

Longstaff is a born leader, he has perfect his passing to the best of his abilities, he gets stuck into the game and has his entire career ahead of him. You should be able to see why Longstaff was linked to United and why Newcastle seemed to put a huge price tag on the player this summer, seemingly wanting to keep him. Speaking about United’s midfield, Murphy told talkSPORT:

“And then of course in the middle of the park I’m still not sure that it’s the right balance.

“I think they need another, I keep saying it, Michael Carrick, but where do you find a Michael Carrick?

“But that type, someone who can sit in there, [Paul] Pogba likes to go forward and do his bit, someone who can sit in there.

“[Scott] McTominay’s a good player but he’s not someone that can dictate tempo like Carrick did. They’ve never replaced him as far as I’m concerned.”

United though, have a player of their own who could help strengthen the midfield and add something Carrick-esque in the centre of the pitch. His name is James Garner. The 18-year-old has made his first team debut for United but has yet to play a considerable amount of minutes at a competitive level. He was involved in the clubs summer pre-season tour.

Garner has started to establish himself in the U23 squad this season, under Neil Wood and Quinton Fortune, playing all 360 minutes of action with United beating Rotherham United 2-0, West Bromwich Albion 5-0, Reading 2-0, and Newcastle United 4-0, showing his ability and more importantly his development at a higher level than U18 football.

Garner has four goals and one assist at this level this season, scoring a brace against West Brom, once against Reading and Newcastle, getting his assist against Rotherham in the EFL Trophy. Garner may not be ready to be considered for the first team right now but during the course of the season, if he continues on this trajectory, the world could be his oyster.

copyright: JW