Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists Paul Pogba still has the desire to play for Manchester United despite his agent claiming the midfielder is “unhappy” at Old Trafford and “needs a change of scenery”.
Mino Raiola’s remarks were published on the eve of United’s crucial Champions League encounter at RB Leipzig, a match they lost to finish third in Group H and drop into the Europa League knockouts.
Gary Neville criticised the “terrible timing” of the comments and urged Pogba to release his own statement if he was in disagreement with Raiola, while fellow Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher told the club to “get rid” of the 27-year-old.
Speaking after the 3-2 Leipzig defeat, in which Pogba came off the bench to score United’s second, Solskjaer said Raiola should realise “this is a team sport and we work together”.
Ahead of the derby at home to Manchester City on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, Solskjaer stressed Pogba has remained professional during training – unlike some players who have since departed.
“I think I said during the week, of course, that this is a team game. Paul is part of this team, he’s very focused on contributing when he’s here,” Solskjaer said.
“He’s got a hunger, an appetite to play. He wants to play, he wants to train. There have been other players that have refused to train or play, they’re not here anymore of course, but Paul has not once done that. He’s just focused on performing when he gets the chance.
“That’s the good thing about Paul. He has got the quality, but has also got the desire to do well when he comes on, like he did against Leipzig – he did have a positive impact.
“The short answer: he’s part of the squad tomorrow.”
‘I can handle the setbacks’
Meanwhile, Solskjaer was quizzed on his own future given United’s Champions League exit earlier this week, which has coincided with an impressive run of four straight Premier League wins.
Solskjaer feels his side are getting “better and better” as he edges towards two years at the helm – his first game was a 5-1 win at Cardiff on December 22, 2018 – and the Norwegian said he is still confident in his own ability to handle setbacks.
“There’s always pressure on you when you manage Manchester United,” he said. “That’s something I had to think about when I accepted the role. Do I have what it takes to be in such a situation, can you handle setbacks, can you handle success. I think I can, and I think I can in a good way.
“I’ve got a great staff around me, fantastic staff that I use as sparring partners for discussions. Even the conversation with the club, it goes on all the time, it’s a continuous open dialogue.
“When you come to work the next day and see the quality of players you have, you want to work with them.”
Ole’s De Gea backing
Solskjaer also backed David de Gea after his costly error against Leipzig, which came before the Spaniard was one of 10 goalkeepers named on the FIFPro World XI shortlist.
“I think David is a top goalkeeper, of course I do,” Solskjaer said. “Rightly so. He’s on lists for being on the best goalkeeper in Europe. He’s handled criticism before, he’s handled setbacks before, he’s a man we really rely on, and hopefully he’s not affected by criticism, and I don’t think he will be because every goal a goalkeeper concedes you’d be disappointed with.”
Asked if De Gea is undroppable as Dean Henderson pushes for a start, Solskjaer added: “Of course you want every player to play well and feel that you have competition. I have competition in every single position. David knows Dean is a fantastic ‘keeper. Dean knows David is fantastic. The two of them are fighting for one spot. It’s maybe different for the outfielders who can play in different positions.
“As a manager you want all the players to feel ‘I have to perform’ to really move this team and myself forward.”
There was plenty wrong with Manchester United’s 3-2 defeat away to RB Leipzig which ended their Champions League involvement on Tuesday, from a sluggish start to wasted chances and defensive lapses. But could David de Gea’s poor attempt to keep out the third goal cost him his starting spot?
The Spanish goalkeeper didn’t cover himself in glory with his attempt to block Justin Kluivert’s decisive close-range finish and with Dean Henderson putting pressure on United’s long-term No 1, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be set to make a big call ahead of United’s clash with Manchester City on Saturday.
Henderson replaced De Gea against Southampton when he picked up a knock and played all 90 minutes in last weekend’s 3-1 win over West Ham. Sky Sports News James Cooper – appearing on the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast – now believes there is a real chance 23-year-old Henderson could be handed a first-team place for the derby.
Sky Sports columnist Paul Merson:
For me, this is a massive football match. I would say that if he doesn’t get through this, that could be it. I think it’s make or break for Ole. That is, unless Man Utd have a different plan, and think differently about this club than everyone else.
Do Man Utd want anyone else? Are they comfortable with this situation? They run the show, there’s no pressure, do they like that? Do the people who run Man Utd think they are the biggest club in football? Do they think like me, or do they think ‘we’re not that team anymore’?
Would Zinedine Zidane be in a job today if Real Madrid hadn’t made the last 16 of the Champions League? Definitely not. They would have gone off the idea that they are the biggest club in the world, and would have made that decision.
I’d love to know whether those people running Manchester United are happy where they are. I don’t get that feeling from the board that they believe they’re the biggest team in the world.