Manchester

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revisionism from Manchester United fans is missing the point – Dominic Booth

They were helped by Anthony Martial, whose interview with a French media outlet about his ongoing United ups, downs and injury struggles, was ammunition for those supporters who like to dig out former managers way after their tenures have ended. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the line of fire.

The last two seasons, I have regularly played injured,” said Martial. “I could not accelerate the four months following the Covid season. Coach Solskjaer tells me he needs me, so I play. And I got set on fire [criticised]. The coach never bothered to tell the media.”

Martial would later use the word “treachery” to describe Solskjaer's treatment of him. Shortly after the interview's publication, some supporters dug out some quotes from Marcus Rashford on the same issue that the former United boss allegedly encouraged his key players to play through injury.

After the Europa League final defeat on penalties in May 2021, Rashford was asked if he thought the United squad could go the extra step and win a major trophy. He said: “I'm 100 per cent sure, because… sacrifice. To win big trophies you have to show sacrifice.

“I could walk you into the dressing room and show you five, six, seven players and me as well who've had injuries. Here, here from September, the beginning of the season. And we all stay together as a unit and we fight to be successful as a club.”

The quotes were taken slightly of context, but that doesn't tend to matter on Twitter when there's an argument to be made. Martial and Rashford weren't alone, some said, with Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire all cited as apparent examples of players Solskjaer played unnecessarily when they were injured. Many argued the after-effects of such a policy are still being felt now.

Yet there are several problems with trying to blame Solskjaer for such (justified) concerns. Firstly, a football manager is not a physio and any club's medical team has the power to overrule the coaching staff if the injury is serious enough; it happens regularly.

Secondly, what Rashford goes on to say in his 2021 interview is and this has been omitted from many recent tweets on the subject is that “when Ole came in, there was a process and the players, we believe in that process”. So although it's unarguable that Rashford carried a shoulder injury throughout that 2020/21 campaign, he had his own say in declaring himself fit time after time, not just Solskjaer.

The fact several players were hungry enough to play through the pain barrier on multiple occasions for Solskjaer is a testament to the belief he bred in the squad and goes a long way to explaining how they finished second in the Premier League and came within a whisker of a major European trophy. It's an attitude United greats of the past like Roy Keane and Bryan Robson have championed.

Yet the third factor in Solskjaer's favour goes right to the very root of United's problems since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement and it surrounds recruitment.

In the summer of 2019, United sanctioned the exits of forwards Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to Inter Milan and replaced them with a left-winger from Swansea, in the shape of Daniel James. That same summer, the club coveted the signings of Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice, viewed as two of the most exciting homegrown English talents on the market, and vital to filling voids on United's right wing and in central midfield.

It took United two years to sign one of them, the other still eludes them to this day. So Solskjaer was left with a threadbare squad for 2019/20 and finished third.

The next summer, United accepted they needed an elite No.9 and high calibre attacking midfielder. They got Edinson Cavani, a 33-year-old free transfer cast-off from PSG, and Donny van de Beek, a player Solskjaer ostensibly didn't want. The club failed to provide him with his top targets Sancho and Jack Grealish.

So if the Norwegian ended up leaning heavily on the likes of Rashford and Martial between 2019 and 2021, it was because the club didn't source the right signings to support them. And if Solskjaer continually attracted criticism for playing Fred and Scott McTominay in midfield together, it was because the recruitment department never found him an elite defensive midfielder to replace them.

What's more, Rashford and Martial undoubtedly played their best football under Solskjaer, by anyone's yardstick. Rashford scored 22 United goals in 2019/20 and Martial 23 both enjoying career best goal-scoring seasons.