Ahead of a busy schedule for Manchester United, we sat down with former Manchester United and England defender, Paul Parker. He discussed their need for a striker, Pochettino and Harry Kane, how Ralf Rangnick should be appointed permanent manger to stabilise the club and get them out of their current struggles. Further, he talks about Youri Tielemans to Manchester United, Paul Pogba’s return, developing young players and looks ahead to the Atletico Madrid fixtures.
Manchester United have struggled to find the net in their last few games. This issue needs a long term solution and the club is looking to bring in all kinds of strikers according to rumours. Is there any Premier League striker that fits the bill, or should they look abroad?
“If there’s anything here (in the Premier League), it’s going to cost a lot of money because no one wants to sell to Manchester United in the UK.”
“If they are gonna get somebody, what are they gonna get and what is gonna fit – two very difficult things cause at the moment, United don’t know where they are.”
“You can talk about all the different formations that have been tried or maybe they are thinking of trying. Formations are only as good as the people playing in the formations. United haven’t been playing good in any formation.”
“If anything, they’ve had a good 20-25 mins as they did against Southampton but that was down to Southampton’s naivety and the fact that they were going forward. They were away at Old Trafford and they got a little bit silly thinking that they could take advantage of how poor United are and attack them but it allowed United’s better players to go the other way. Once they (Southampton) sorted it out, they dealt with it, the last 10-15 mins of the first half, they were the better team of the second half.”
“I don’t really know what Man United are looking for. I know what the intention is and they haven’t got the players to do it. To turn them around it’s gonna be a big problem.”
“And finding the right striker – at the end of last season, (Edinson) Cavani was the striker. Very unselfish in his runs, there were a lot of players getting joy from playing with him. He was leading the line as the saying goes. They haven’t got that any more.”
“As much as they’ve got a superstar up front, he’s 37 years of age and if he doesn’t score a goal, he looks 37 years of age. That is the problem. He’s not playing on the last man, he can’t run in behind as he used to. When he does come into midfield, he doesn’t add anything to midfield, so I don’t know why he’s allowed to do that.”
“They really need to look at something different to what they’re trying to do. The problem is they can’t really. The fact of Ronaldo coming to the club makes it very difficult for the manager to leave him out because I just worry what kind of a person he would be if he was left out and if it was said – it isn’t gonna work. In this current climate, could he affect the dressing room that much if he isn’t playing games.”
If Mauricio Pochettino joins Manchester United, could he bring Harry Kane with him to the club?
“Harry Kane was vice captain of Spurs, because he’s Harry Kane, not because of his leadership ability, when (Mauricio) Pochettino was at Spurs. But Pochettino’s supposed to have lost the dressing room at Spurs. That’s one of the reasons why he was ousted from there. I don’t know if Kane was one of the people leading that, so I don’t really know the relationship between Harry Kane and Pochettino.”
“But the way Harry Kane has been playing, or how he wants to play for club and country, doesn’t suit Manchester United. They want a centre-forward who wants to be a centre-forward, not a centre-forward who wants to drop in midfield and talk about how many assists he makes or propping up great passes. That’s the problem, so why go and pay over £100 million (what City allegedly were paying). Then you’ve got his big wages and look at how old he is.”
“Are Man Utd going from the fryer to the frying pan if they go and bring Harry Kane, another so-called superstar signing, another PR machine. I think a lot of Man Utd fans would want someone there who’s hungry, someone who’s showing something and they can make him even better.”
“Man Utd need an Andy Cole – he was a good striker when he was at Newcastle, incredible. But they made him a better striker. Andy Cole would say he became a better striker when he came to Man Utd. Ruud van Nistelrooy became a better striker when he came to Man Utd. Dwight Yorke became a better player when he came to Manchester United.”
“A lot of it was because they played with better players, better creative players, more players who could improvise. But they improved, the strikers for Manchester United and the ones after, did the same.”
“To go out and just spend money on a Harry Kane, who in theory, is a finished article now with everything he’s doing, I think that’s a faux economy in my opinion for them to go and do that.”
“And we’ve seen already when Man Utd have gone and got a player that Man City have wanted – (Alexis) Sanchez, even Ronaldo – it hasn’t worked out.”
There’s talk of the locker room losing trust in Ralf Rangnick and his staff. The assistant coach, Chris Armas, was referred to as ‘Ted Lasso’ by the players. How do Man Utd come out of this toxic situation?
“The best way out of it, really, is implement the present person as manager. Say he’s the manager and give him a rod of steel in his hand to use, or to shift him on and bring in someone else as manager and allow him to do what he wants, even if its gonna upset players, its gonna upset fans.”
“Go in there, and make big decisions and see what happens after. Because at the moment, things like these stories are coming out and are relatively true. There’s someone out there who wants to let people know what’s happening, give out their opinions.”
“The person doing it doesn’t realize how much it is affecting fans and the players cause they’ve seen it.”
“I’m sure the players in the dressing room know who that player is.”
“If a player has talked to a ‘good friend’, then obviously he’s not a ‘good friend’, he’s somebody looking to make a name for himself by telling other people to make himself sound more relevant.”
“Or it’s a load of rubbish, which I don’t think it is.”
“I look at the players and there isn’t many of them you can trust to go and do a job properly on the football pitch. To trust them maybe not to come out and say anything or give opinions on things to people, that’s something that’s possible, with what’s going on. What football has become, because of social media, everybody is a source and everyone’s got a story to tell.”
“And it’s a good story to tell about a big club where things aren’t going right. Every big club has gone through what Manchester United are going through at this moment in time. They’ve been through it when things get leaked.”
“Not much gets leaked when things are going well for a football club. But at the moment everyone’s got a story to tell about Man Utd. It’s a shame but it’s a fact of life cause life is a cycle and football is definitely a cycle.”
Yet another midfielder linked to Man Utd is Youri Tielemans of Leicester City, who could join for a discounted price. Your thoughts on the Belgian fitting in at Man Utd? The pros and cons of having him?
“He’s quite inconsistent, to be perfectly honest. Scorer of a few good goals. He hasn’t really caught me, however.”
“When Leicester were doing well, he was doing well. When Leicester need him, at this moment in time, he’s disappeared, in certain ways. That worries me.”
“A lot of the fans are questioning him, the fact he hasn’t given them enough this season, his head’s been turned. When you know clubs are interested in you, you make sure you go out there and prove it, you know, that you’re honest, you a give hundred percent in every game, if someone wants you. You prove to them that you’re the right signing rather than virtually giving up and playing like you don’t want to get injured in case you miss out on the move.”
“Man Utd need more than that (Tielemans). It’s not just going to be one midfield player. If they go and sign a top central midfield player, his first question should be – ‘who do you sign to complement me’. And the other person should be saying exactly the same and then go – ‘yes’.”
“If a player signs for Man Utd now and they ask that question and the club says – ‘no, just you’, then that player should suddenly go – ‘no, I think it needs more.’ That’s what he should say, he can’t do it all on his own.”
“When we talk about dominating the ball, we’re talking about looking creative with it as well, you’re gonna make something happen and pull people about. Not passing for the sake of it and call it dominating the ball.”
“Dominating the ball with progression – they don’t do that, they cannot do that at the moment.”
“Strange as it may seem, Fred’s being missed in that midfield. He’s being missed because he can make yards up, he gets around the park, he threatens the ball, nips in, wins little challenges, he upsets the game, breaks play up in certain ways.”
He’s not going to go out as the greatest midfielder Manchester United have ever had but one thing about him is that he never goes missing.
“He’s been missed in that midfield and it seems like every time there’s a problem in there, Fred is not playing.”
“He has definitely been missed.”
“Paul Pogba has to play. So then Ralf Rangnick has got to make up his mind about who’s gonna join him. It’s gotta be somebody who can get around the park without the ball because at the moment they haven’t got no energy in that midfield. It’s one-paced, with and without the ball. Things don’t move quickly enough.”
“When we talk about Tielemans, no. Not in my opinion, is he going to the one that everyone goes, United fans go, that yes, he’s gonna make a difference in midfield. It might have a little bit of a change.”
“I have said about it too many times for Man Utd, they get a player, they get a manager and it’s all up and then it comes tumbling down. The only time they’re consistent is when they’re down in the negative area.”
With Paul Pogba’s return to midfield, are things looking better for the Manchester United midfield or is it more of the same?
“It’s pretty much the same to be honest.“
“If you look at a lot of Manchester United fans or ex-pros, then they have given up really. They don’t want the same thing about Paul Pogba. I personally don’t. If he does something positive, you are hoping that he can continue it. But you know in yourself that there is a chance that he can go and do something that can let you down and himself down. It’s just a big, big problem.”
“With this issue of him and a new contract, a statement should be made. Cause his contract runs out this summer. He’s either gonna go or he is not going to go. And they should come out and make a statement. Making a statement that says he is going to go, but if he’s willing to give 100% and try everything, then fine. But if you can’t see enough and if he’s not doing that (giving 100%), because he’s worried about injuries, then you can’t play him and you make a statement saying that he is going. And that’s it. Put that whole thing to bed.”
“I could imagine in that dressing room, it’s that kind of thing, where you have players in there that are going to want a bit more, because they are going to be around longer.”
“I really don’t know how silly football is going to be. To allow him, with his performances, to go out and still get a big club. Surely it’s only so far being a world cup winner will get you, before people start questioning what’s happening in your headspace really.”
“Do you think that you have done it now, because you got that medal, and you don’t have to push on anymore and you can live off of that. Are you really going to show up, for this football club, wherever he goes next? Because at the moment, he’s not doing that for Manchester United.”
“Sir Alex must be in that stand shaking his head saying; ‘I tried to tell them. I made it obvious when I made him go’. He is back. Wasn’t going to be right for the football club. It’s absolutely incredible that someone has been at Manchester United for so long, when their performances have been so far below par.”
Youngsters like Hannibal Mejbri and Zidane Iqbal have shown promise. How much should Man Utd focus on their development? Should United try to incorporate them like Arsenal have done with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe?
“When you have young players, you want to bring them in at the right time; when things are going well and you got the right players. Just going in there, going to compliment each other, going to get looked after. But that doesn’t work at the moment, because there’s a lot of selfish players in there who play for themselves, and I don’t think they are getting the help that is needed, and that could send them backwards.”
“Looking at (Mikel) Arteta and what he has done, when he brought those young players in, he took out what he saw as his bad apples. The ones he couldn’t control, the ones who weren’t consistent. The ones who were playing for themselves. And I think he pushed them out and brought in those young players, and then he played them, and he played them.”
“The problem at the moment with Ralf Rangnick is that he doesn’t play them. He hasn’t maybe played enough of them to get a chance to see if they can improve. Because you improve quicker if you are surrounded by better and more experienced players.”
“Look at Elanga. If I’m him, I’m asking ‘why am I not playing regularly? How does Macrus Rashford play in front of me? When I’ve played the games that I’ve been given, I’ve played well. When I look at them, you still persist and you give me 5 minutes-10 minutes’. He’s the player who should be in that team and starting games now. It’s not his fault that Manchester United paid over the odds for Sancho. But United should go out and play him. That might bug him up, Sancho, to show a little bit more. Rashford hasn’t been there. For a long, long time. He should just be taken out of it completely and Elanga should play in front of him.”
“The time now is to find out about the young players, if you are going to get hard work out of them. If you are going to get someone who wants to play, if you are going to get application out of them and a guaranteed work ethic, you gotta play them in front of those in that position, because the majority of them haven’t been doing it. Definitely haven’t been doing it. That’s why United are where they are. If it wasn’t for the goalkeeper, they would be sitting a lot lower. Their ‘shots against’ is terrible for a club of their standards.”
Manchester United is playing Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. A notorious tough team to beat. What do you expect from that draw?
“They have to try and dominate the ball. And they haven’t done that all season. We know that creativity wise they are poor. Atletico are a defensive unit in the way they play. Not as strong as they have been of yesteryear. They have definitely changed with the change in personnel. They are not as strong, but still a tough nut to crack.“
“Simeone has got a very strong side. He’s got a very ‘streetwise’ team. They know how to look out for each other. They know how to close a game off. It’s such an important game for Manchester United. For me it has come at a wrong time. They didn’t need Atletico Madrid to play against. This game needed to be a “one-off” for Manchester United, instead of over two legs.”
“It’s one Manchester United fans will look forward to, because Atletico Madrid is deemed a big team in Europe now for what they have achieved over many many seasons. I really don’t know how Manchester United is going to get through this stage. If Manchester United are trying to close it up, and with how they (Atletico Madrid) plays, this could be one of the most boring games in the world.”
“You just look at the United backline and you think to yourself ‘Antoine Griezmann’. How are they going to deal with him? Raphael Varane will have a good idea, but he can’t do it on his own. He cannot do it on his own. So I don’t know what they are going to do regarding that game. He’s got two games to sort this out. If he is going to make changes in central defence, he can’t just do a random one. He’s got the Brighton and Leeds games to sort it out prior to that game. If he wants to stay in Europe for as long as possible, he’s really got to use the next two games to actually figure out what he’s going to do regarding that defence. Because the defence is very very poor. Too many opportunities. Too many lazy defenders. So it’s a problem.”
“Still haven’t sorted out who’s going to be the regular right or left backs. Does he make a change in that central defence. Does he bring back (Victor) Lindelöf instead of (Harry) Maguire, does he bring back Phil Jones instead of Maguire. Does he bring in (Alex) Telles, if he is fit again, instead of Luke Shaw. He (Luke Shaw) is one of them who is a lazy defender. Doesn’t want to do the work down back. Rather pull shirts all the time and give away fouls. Get yellow cards. So (Diogo) Dalot has done very well. He has had a regular run now. Never really got a run of games before.”