United’s foundations at risk unless Solskjaer rids club of ‘weeds’
London — Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said prior to Sunday’s humiliating 4-0 thrashing by Everton there would not be wholesale changes to Manchester United personnel in the close season, but Gary Neville, for one, believes he should think again.
United’s millionaire stars such as Paul Pogba and David de Gea put up a display described by the British media on Monday as “abject”, “an apology” for a performance, with the team derided as being generally “rudderless” and “spineless”.
However, while it came five years to the day when a 2-0 defeat by the same opponents cost David Moyes his job, it is not Solskjaer who is being targeted but the underperforming Pogba and his teammates.
The World Cup-winning midfielder, after a series of encouraging performances when Solskjaer first assumed the reins in December, has returned to being the nonexistent presence so often the focus of Jose Mourinho’s ire — although it was the Portuguese coach who was sacrificed.
His and Nemanja Matic’s failure to shore up midfield has been a contributing factor to United’s miserable run of six defeats in their last eight games and five successive away losses, their worst run on the road since 1981.
Seldom can a Manchester derby — they host title-chasing City on Wednesday — have been less eagerly anticipated by United fans.
Neville, United to the core and an integral member of Alex Ferguson’s side that accrued eight Premier League crowns and two Champions League trophies, was excoriating in his criticism of the players.
“If you’ve got weeds in the garden, you’ve got to get rid of them,” said Neville, who has become a respected pundit for Sky Sports. “There’s some Japanese knotweed at that football club and it’s attacking the foundations of the house. It needs dealing with properly. I don’t need to name names, you know who they are.”
Former England international midfielder Jermaine Jenas, who has also turned to punditry since hanging up his boots, turned on the players as well. The 36-year-old said such is the negativity in the team that even the younger talents have been sucked into the vortex of supine performances.
“They showed no heart, no desire and no will to win. They were woeful,” Jenas wrote in his column for the BBC website. “Everyone was guilty. Even Marcus Rashford, who has got one of the best attitudes of anyone at the club, got sucked in by what I would describe as a vacuum of negativity.”
United fans may be wondering if the board jumped the gun in giving Solskjaer the job on a permanent basis — as the subsequent results appear to be reflective more of his unsuccessful stint in charge of Cardiff.
Indeed, just as his and the team’s fortunes have dipped, the man who was seen as his major rival for the job has seen his stock rise. Mauricio Pochettino’s star has sparkled again thanks to Tottenham’s epic win over Manchester City in the Champions League.
But Neville has been slow to criticise his former teammate Solskjaer. The man dubbed “Red Nev” after he led a players’ strike with England due to their anger over Rio Ferdinand being dropped because of a missed drugs test, took to the barricades when another unloved former United boss, Louis van Gaal, criticised Solskjaer a few weeks ago.
Van Gaal said Solskjaer was like Mourinho in parking the bus and relying on the counter-attack, only he was more popular because the results were going in his favour.
“Ole has brought in a level of happiness and excitement back to the fans,” retorted Neville. “At least that’s something because, to be fair, it has been difficult in the last three or four years to watch what we’ve seen.”
Even Neville might be rethinking that statement in the wake of Sunday’s humiliation.