Manchester United fan Brian Murphy took it upon himself to arrange an interview with former Manchester United player and Class of ’92 member Ben Thornley.
Exclusively to Stretty News, Thornley speaks about United’s new signings, Paul Pogba staying beyond the European transfer deadline, and the importance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer understanding the club’s ethos.
Thornley wants United to win the Europa League again this season but, at the same time, he notes how it’s been a long six-years without a Premier League title.
Read the full Q&A below.
A long summer has finally ended, one where the fanbase was a bit split over the transfer business! What’s your thoughts on the signings we’ve made, and the outgoings in Lukaku & Herrera?
I understand fans’ frustration in the time it took to get signings ‘over the line’ but I really feel the ones we’ve made are excellent! Harry Maguire, barring-dare I say it, Virgil van Dijk has proved to be the best around and a centre half was high on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s agenda.
He is established on the international stage too and in him we have a top quality centre-back who reads the game, rarely gets caught out of position, has the ability to carry the ball from the back — really good distribution and a dominant force in the air in both boxes.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a full back who enjoys defending. He’s quick, has a rangy style which allows him to make impeccably timed challenges and, more often than not, he’ll make his tackles with his weaker foot-his left-highly unorthodox yet very effective. He can also join in in the opposition half-vital for the way it looks like Solskjaer wants to play. A great signing who is going to be very difficult-as a left sided forward-to get past.
Daniel James has also hit the ground running. It’s so important as a striker at a new club, especially when its Man United, to score your first goal. I was surprised to see him score in Cardiff in front of his home fans in the last friendly against Milan and then to score at Old Trafford on your debut must have been a dream come true. He has pace to burn that will inevitably cause defenders trouble but he has to just ‘polish up’ on his final delivery – he’s only young and he’s working with some of the best (young) coaches around as well as a young manager, who can definitely teach him a thing or two about how to finish. You can’t buy pace like he’s got very often and he will be taught the best time to use it and how!
I know that we didn’t buy a midfielder (with Herrera and Fellaini departing it looked like a void we probably needed to fill), but after seeing the quality we have in the U23’s (Chong, Garner, Gomes, Levitt) as well as Mason Greenwood who is a top striker — plus others like Brandon Williams, Ethan Laird and Lee O’Connor not too far behind. I’m confident that the youthful look the manager is going for will, in time, prove that this potential void can and will be filled.
Harry Maguire, big money brings big pressure, Rio had the same situation when he signed, how do you see Harry handling the demands of being the main man in the defence of a club the size of United?
Harry Maguire will only prosper and improve at the club. He seems like a very laid back sort of a guy but is under no illusions what it’s going take to be a success at this club. He has the physical prowess, he doesn’t get flustered under pressure which indicates he has the mentality issue under control too. A big part of playing for Man United is being able to cope week in week out with the physical demands of playing at the top level whilst making sure you are mentally prepared when you visit hostile surroundings like Anfield or vociferous European grounds that are extremely unforgiving. I thought Solskjaer might name him the team captain but I suppose David de Gea was the logical choice if he didn’t think Ashley Young would be playing as much this year. Maguire is a potential leader for the future.
Dan James’ arrival from Swansea appeared to most as “one for the future” but it seems like this may not be the case. A goal on his debut at home to Chelsea, after Ole has trusted him to be involved, must show a lot of faith in him from the manager. Is it still a bit early for him, or is he ready?
I think Daniel James is ready. He’s fearless and his pace will worry the speediest of defenders. Whether he’s a starter or from off the bench, he has to be included at some point. Work to do on his final ball but that will come through coaching. An exciting player to watch and another one who helps bring the average age down to below 25!
As a midfielder yourself, taking a look at our current midfield contingent, what’s your feelings on it? A lot of fans believe we’re too weak in midfield, and missing a central midfielder in particular. Can Pogba and McTominay forge a partnership worth talking about, or will Pogba fly off into the sun before the window is totally shut and leave us severely lacking?
We have to hope that Pogba will stay! Paul Pogba with his head in the right place and playing for the team is going to be imperative to any success in winning leagues or trophies. In McTominay, he has the perfect foil-someone that will do the legwork allowing Paul to express himself and join in up top whilst obviously not neglecting his defensive duties. He is the best I’ve seen at being able to switch play unbelievably accurately, with both feet. An incredible gift yet sometimes he just tries to ‘pirouette’ once too often and concedes possession, which is something you cannot afford to do at this level and something he’ll have to eradicate from his game. An all-round superb midfielder and we all just want to see it more often because he can be a joy to watch.
Lukaku leaves a gap in goal scoring in the side, although he wasn’t the most fashionable striker we’ve seen at Old Trafford, it’s hard to deny he got goals. Are we looking at a situation where we need to replace them goals through multiple players, or is it time for Martial and Rashford to finally step up and become more high scoring players?
Romelu Lukaku just didn’t fit Solskjaer’s philosophy of how he wants the team to play. Simple! He’s gone for youth, pace and high energy levels and, although Lukaku was quick, he wasn’t ‘sharp’, I think a noticeable difference is that the pre-season has worked wonders for the overall fitness of the team.
Having said all that, he did score goals so now Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have to prove that letting him go was not a mistake… They’ve both started the season really well and if they can both reach double figure, if not 20 plus, and other players weigh in with their fair share too then we have a real chance of being up there because I’m certain with the defence we now have, opposition goals will have to be worked very hard for!
How do you see the season faring as a whole? City look incredibly strong again and Liverpool don’t look like they’re taking the foot off the gas either, with Spurs splashing the cash too. Can we realistically compete, or just the rebuild continue and a focus on getting back to Champions League football is what lies ahead this season?
Optimism says we’ll win all before us but you have to be realistic! Having improved our performances thus far – along with results and the acquisitions – would absolutely suggest so. We know (sadly) City will still probably be the team to beat but Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal are all very strong and even Chelsea under Lampard will, I think, come good.
Throw Leicester, Wolves and Everton (not sure but they’ve spent a lot and will be looking for a return on their investment) into the equation and you’ve got a really exciting league but yes, Champions League football has to be a priority and I think, although may be still a bit short of winning the league, this is a fantastic opportunity to reclaim that and winning a trophy won’t harm the cause either.
I think it’s fair to say Ole’s going to come under the spotlight in a big way this season, with what appears to be his change of direction for the club in regards transfers, team mentality, style and attitude, but managing United you’re judged on results, and probably a lot harsher than you would at other clubs. Can he pull it off, and make the changes needed to bring the club back to the direction we all want it to go in, and do you see him being successful?
I love Solskjaer but I’m biased because I knew him as a player. He’s had experience of management but not at this level. It probably raised a few eyebrows when he was appointed but few could argue with the results and performances he achieved immediately after taking the seat.
However, the same group of players took their feet off the gas completely in the last 2 months so that is something — as a manager at any level — he has to get to the bottom of and fathom out why there was such a downturn in April and May? He understands the ethos of Man United and what it takes to achieve success and I know that he has the respect of all the players, but I also know that despite (still) his youthful appearance (I want some of his moisturiser!) and cheery exterior, he will by no means suffer fools! I hope he does succeed and if he keeps employing what he believes in then both he and the team will do just that.
With the Europa League being a direct route into the Champions League, is it important to focus on this, as José did previously, or would you prefer we focus on domestic challenges and use the Europa as more of a chance to give fringe/youth players a chance to prove themselves in competitive football, similar to how the league cup is used?
Winning the Europa League again would be a major bonus. It’s a tough trophy to win — not because of the quality, although undoubtedly there will be some very good teams in there — but because of the travelling and the number of games you have to play to win it. I believe the domestic league is the one we want — 6 years is a long time for Man United to have not won the Premier League but-even if we fall short, I’d rather see an assault on that this time.
Last but not least, can you see United going for anyone in January, do you think that maybe there was a deal that didn’t get over the line in the summer, but we could have it sorted by the next window. Possibly Bruno Fernandes?
I can’t see us signing anyone in January but that depends on injuries and suspensions I suppose… It’s too early to tell but if we did then it needs to be the right fit and someone who wants to play for the club! Until then I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone connected with Man United — players, coaches and backroom staff — the very best for the season and be rest assured we fans, of which I’m definitely one, are 100% behind you to the very last! COYR 👍🏻
A big thank you to Brian for conducting the interview and to Ben for taking the time to answer each of the questions.
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