On more than one occasion during the last eight months, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has publicly outlined the size, grandeur and requirements of life at Manchester United. For the Norwegian, United is a byword for the highest standards; Old Trafford is a place where only the best is good enough.
A barnstorming and historic run of results which punctuated the Norwegian’s opening 17 games in charge (14 wins, two draws and a solitary defeat negated by an unbelievable second leg comeback against Paris St Germain) turned around a sloppy opening to the 2018/19 campaign. However, the manner with which those results tailed off, with just two wins in the final 12 games of the season, fell well below the standards required by the club and its supporters.
In addition to revamping his playing squad, with fledgling speedsters Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James recruited to inject much-needed youthful vim and vigour to the roster, Solskjaer has also set about an overhaul of coaching staff behind the scenes. Who better to restore standards than those who are already products of the environment?
As well as retaining former United midfielders Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and Mark Dempsey as his assistant manager, first-team coach and technical coach respectively, Solskjaer has brought back former Reds goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis and ex-defender Michael Clegg, who rose through the club’s Academy system before making 24 appearances for the club in the 1990s. The former is now senior goalkeeping coach while the latter will be the first team’s strength and power coach, charged with helping raise the squad’s general fitness levels.
Thanks for the nice comments Steve – it’s a honour to be back at the club I love and one of the best club in the world. It’s certainly the job of my dreams 👌 https://t.co/2L3sTxbHyy
— Michael Clegg (@mikeclegg_msc) July 5, 2019
“We’ve got some ex-Manchester United people,” Solskjaer told United’s official website. “We’ve got Mike Clegg, who I played with. I worked under his dad [Mick] when he was a coach in the gym here. We’ve got Richard who I have worked with before for seven or eight years, so I’m really close to him. They know what the club is about and what I’m about. They are great people for me to bring in.”
The overhaul hasn’t just been restricted to the senior staff, with United’s youth setup also looking close to home with its summer activity. From the coming season, the Reds’ Under-23s will be led by Academy graduate Neil Wood and former South Africa midfielder Quinton Fortune, who notched 126 appearances in six seasons as a Red. They will work closely with another familiar face, Nicky Butt, who has been head of the club’s Academy since 2016.
"It's the best place in the world for me."
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) July 31, 2019
There is no complexity behind the series of appointments: each is designed to help restore internal standards throughout the club’s playing ladder. The return of Butt came at a time when United’s U18s were under intense scrutiny; since his appointment, the Reds’ youth team have undergone a dramatic turnaround in fortunes and some of the most highly regarded youngsters in the game are currently pushing for inclusion in Solskjaer’s first team squad.
When United upset the odds to oust PSG from last season’s Champions League seven of the Reds’ 18-man squad were Academy products. The U23s will continue to be a useful proving ground for such talents as they look to prove that they have what it takes to be United players. All along the way, they will be guided through the system by people who have been before them and can show them the requirements. At Old Trafford, that means meeting the highest standards.
About the author:
Steve is Features Editor at Manchester United. Since joining the club in 2003, Steve has interviewed the great and good of United’s history, including iconic figures from yesteryear such as Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, right up to modern legends like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney. During his career, Steve has also written and co-written several books on United, while contributing pieces to the Blizzard, the Football Association and various other media outlets.