There was lots to be drawn from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first official press conference of the summer, even aside from the obvious Paul Pogba headlines.
There was a huge amount for him to discuss. And such are the issues encompassing Manchester United right now, you could feasibly pick out central midfield, centre-back, striker or goalkeeper as potential ‘problem areas’ for him to solve this summer. Solskjaer addressed each one — in some regard — during the intriguing Perth press briefing.
But it was the subtext rather than the Norwegian’s business-like comments that provided the most intrigue.
And putting Pogba to one side, it is the centre-back situation that most catches the eye. It has been another frustrating summer for United in their quest to bolster that region; they’ve seen a £70million bid for Harry Maguire rejected, while Victor Lindelof’s agent has made noises about a potential surprise switch to Barcelona.
United need to keep Lindelof, sign Maguire (or another top class centre-back), while ideally offloading someone like Marcos Rojo. But their defensive utopia is a long way away right now, as Solskjaer suggested.
“We’re still in the market looking to do some business, as I’ve said before,” Solskjaer said. “But we’re patient, we’re Man United, we don’t have to sell and don’t have to overpay either. You have to have the right players at the right price.”
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That comment suggests United may be unwilling to lodge another huge bid for Maguire, amid suggestions that Leicester want a fee in excess of the £75million Liverpool paid for Virgil van Dijk 18 months ago.
It also contained a nod towards the Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situations — with United not keen to sell either star but also that they have prices for fringe players like Rojo. It has been claimed United want as much as £25million for the Argentinian.
“And if you look at the squad we’ve got now, there are so many good players anyway,” Solskjaer added.
“I’m sure with a good pre-season behind us — that’s the main thing now — the ones who are here are working hard want to improve.”
When it comes to centre-back, Solskjaer simply must see an improvement in the likes of Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Bailly has the ability to be a credible option for the Reds in the centre of defence, and thus save the need to spend millions on a newcomer, but he needs consistency and to remain injury-free.
Smalling and Jones have often been figures of fun among United fans because of their inconsistent form, but both will have Solskjaer’s belief in the short-term at least.
The one admission made by the boss was on selling players, however, with Rojo and Matteo Darmian likely to head up a list of exits this summer. Alexis Sanchez is another who could depart and Solskjaer admitted that United have found it difficult to find buyers for some players.
“I can see your point,” Solskjaer said when asked why United haven’t sold anyone yet, with only Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia leaving on free transfers.
“But doing business in the football market is not going to be a quick fix overnight. And we have players here who I trust.
“And I’m coaching and managing them here, the business side of it is you have to be in the market and, as I said, we don’t have any offers for our players.”
Typically understated, loyal to his current players and calm about the future — it was a vintage Solskjaer press conference. But in terms of centre-back, United need to see movement both in and out this summer to have a fighting chance in the upcoming campaign, and Solskjaer will privately know that all too well.