No-one has a divine right to play for Manchester United. I don’t care who you are. If you’re performing to the best of your ability and you make the team, then you play. But there are too many Manchester United players not playing at the top level this season.
Anthony Martial was outstanding in parts last year, but this season he’s not on the ball. You could say the same about Wayne Rooney, or any number of the midfielders. It might be that they’re failing to understand Jose Mourinho’s ideas, or they’re struggling to play the style he wants. Everyone can jump the gun and say ‘drop Rooney’ because he’s a stand out high profile player who isn’t performing, but if you drop him who do you play instead? There’s no-one at Manchester United who is better than him as a number 10.
In midfield there are players better than Wayne Rooney, but at number 10? No chance.
Wayne Rooney shouldn’t be in midfield. End of. You’re talking about England’s greatest goalscorer, and you’re wasting him in midfield. When he plays that position he comes too deep to get on the ball, and you really need him in the final third. He has to play as a number 10 instead – but the question will be whether him and Zlatan Ibrahimovic complement each other. They both want to come short for the ball and neither of them are going to spin in behind defenders and look for a ball over the top. Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero at Manchester City are all trying to get in behind the back four – but that’s not happening at United. Neither Rooney or Zlatan have the pace to do that. It’s great signing Zlatan, but Mourinho needs to find a system to get the best out of ‘Zlats’ and Rooney.
Are United in crisis? Jose Mourinho has lost three competitive games on the spin for the first time in 14 years, but is it a crisis? I don’t think so. People are making a mountain out of a molehill. It’s Manchester United, so when things start going wrong everybody wants to jump on board and criticise them. But you’re five games into the season, so talk of a crisis is ridiculous.
Clearly they’re not playing well and clearly Jose Mourinho doesn’t know his best team yet. United are missing that consistency, and until you get a settled side you’re going to get mixed results. It’s not helping when across the road Manchester City are flying under Pep Guardiola. Jose Mourinho is one of the greatest managers of all time and he will get it right. He just needs to take time to find out the best position of his players and the system that gets the best out of them. At the moment he isn’t at that stage yet. Once they get settled however they’ll be a serious force.
Sir Alex Ferguson never hung his washing out in public. He might have a go at the team in public, but he’d never slaughter an individual. It was a different story in the changing room of course. If you weren’t performing well you’d get it with both barrels, but the next day he’d be your best mate. There’s a fine line there. Managers nowadays seem more likely to hang players in the press – Mourinho did it recently with those Luke Shaw comments – but you have to be careful because some players don’t have the character to deal with it.
When I first started playing at Manchester United in 1989/89 our league form was diabolical, but Fergie knew he was building something and he knew it would take time. He wasn’t having a go at us every time we got beat. That could be the same with Mourinho. The problem is, when Mourinho does finally get it right City could already be far ahead of them in the league. But the club have to look forward to the next three, four, five years. They need to be patient.
I got it really bad off Ferguson on one occasion. In March in 1991, Norwich were up challenging for the league and we were beating them 3-0 away from home. Just before the end of the game I decided to go on a bit of a dribble and I lost the ball. It didn’t matter, we were 3-0 up. At the end of the game everyone was in the changing room shaking hands and congratulating each other. Fergie came in and started having a right go at me. He was saying ‘Who do you think you are? You’re not a winger. You’re a midfielder. You just get it, and give it.’ I couldn’t believe it. I thought hang on a minute, we’ve won 3-0 here, f*** this. Sir Alex turned around and said ‘I don’t care. You know your standards and you know your job.’ We argued for about 10 minutes and all the lads were delighted watching me and Fergie go at it. But when I look back on it Sir Alex was right. Standards are standards. If you’re 3-0 up you should be trying to win 4-0 or 5-0. Stick to your job and do it to the best of your ability. That’s what you want at Manchester United.
There’s obviously a lot more pressure on United going into Saturday’s home game with Leicester. You can accept Manchester United getting beat, everyone gets beat at some stage, but you can’t accept the manner of their defeats. The club has prided itself on their bounce-back-ability but that hasn’t happened recently. That is the most worrying element of this run. Football is very fickle. You win one game and you’re great, you lose one and you’re under pressure. That’s the way it is at the minute. However to lose three league games on the spin is a serious concern. It won’t be easy, and it’s a tough game, but if United want to get the critics off their back they need to put in a huge performance.
This has become a must-win game.