After the first round of the Premier League, the FutFanatico team caught up with former Manchester United and England defender, Paul Parker, who gave his take on the Red Devils’ performance, the problems plaguing them and why Graham Potter of Brighton should be valued more.
What should be Erik ten Hag’s main takeaway from that loss to Brighton?
Now we’ve seen the problems of Manchester United.
During the pre-season, he didn’t see the many problems that Manchester United have got. But he knew about the problems, but he didn’t actually see them. And the big problem is when they play football. And I think he saw what Manchester United have been dealing with for the last two or three seasons. It was virtually almost a similar team that had been going out for the last couple of seasons at least, and he just saw the strengths before, but now he saw more of the weaknesses of those players.
He’s got to work really, really hard to get what he wants, even though I still think he’s ‘flogging a dead horse’. We’ve seen so many managers who have tried it. And I just think the way that football club is set up, it is a very, very difficult mould to get out of.
Everything was suggested that he was going to stand firm about how he wanted things to be done. I think everyone believed it would happen because he signed his contract. So that suggested to everyone that he’s got what he wanted. But I think we’re seeing that maybe he hasn’t. They are still at the moment chasing a player (Frenkie De Jong) that now seem like he wants to go to Chelsea, where he would put himself in a position where he is not going to be guaranteed regular football, because Chelsea have got so many players like him already.
Could any other manager do anything different with what’s at the club?
No. They’ve had what seemed like good managers. Managers who have won things. Well-branded managers as well. But the problem is the club.
The club is in such a precarious position at this moment in time. As we’ve seen, on so many occasions, and everyone thought this time, it’s going to be different. It’s no different.
Maybe Manchester United could do something weird and wonderful moving forward from here. They could go out and get players who are up to the standard rather than just the people they buy just to get different names in, just to appease people because they’re bringing in players. It’s the same old story.
Any silver linings from the loss?
No. There’s too many players who are in deep sleep at the moment and you can’t wake them up. I don’t have to name any of the players but there’s too many players who have been through too many managers, and a different manager is not going to change them. I think everyone saw that at the weekend. Same players, a little bit of a spark but still doing what they did before. These players need to go somewhere else to find out whether or not they want to play football anymore. Those players will have a rude awakening when they go to another club.
Erik ten Hag needs to press players in who want to achieve something in a Manchester United shirt, knowing the rewards they get if I were to go and achieve big things for the club. The rewards are so big. And then you have to go and do it again and again and that’s the challenge. His players haven’t got that in them. They haven’t got that drive in them. And that makes such a difference.
What did you make of Christian Eriksen’s performance against Brighton?
I think his performance was what you could expect from an Eriksen. He’s always looking to get the ball, looking to get the ball in good areas in between players. Always looking for a positive forward pass; a progressive pass. But the problem is, you’re only as good as the people around you. And that’s what he found. He found that it just wasn’t right.
The midfield is in disarray. (Bruno) Fernandes is the one at the moment who is in the shadows because of the performances of Scott McTominay and Fred. They’re the ones who are taking the brunt of it. Fernandes is getting away with it because of previous performances.
If Manchester United are going to progress, it needs now an eighty percent change in midfield. It does need virtually a whole midfield.
Manchester United are looking to get Adrian Rabiot to strengthen the midfield. Think he’d be the next ‘Roy Keane’ that they desperately need?
They need something different. They need somebody who’s got a point to prove. Everyone is throwing up a wall of hate against him at the moment because everyone is looking at his history.
I think, if you would have looked at the same things in 1992 when Eric Cantona come to Manchester United. The only thing he was living off was the season with Leeds and winning the league and winning Championship; the last league Championship and beating Manchester United to that title as well. That’s all Eric had in his locker. So Manchester United fans could have been saying that about him then.
I don’t think you can really judge him straight away. Some people find their home. Eric Cantona found his home. He was a maverick and he found a sheriff in Sir Alex Ferguson, who was willing to leave the jail door open for him. And that’s called good management. So maybe if he gets managed right you can get more.
You have to remember, Manchester United at this moment in time cannot go and get a player with incredible stats. They would cost them eighty to eighty million plus, and then they’re not going to want to come to Manchester United.
Manchester United at the moment shopping, instead of shopping at Hugo Boss, they’re shopping at Primark. That’s where they are at the moment because of the levels of performance they’re showing on the pitch and the way the club is run.
Every fan out there has got to understand that they have to improve players. They may have to find those kinds of players who are in not a good place and revitalise them.
Could this be why Manchester United is targeting Marko Arnautovic?
I’ve actually seen him play at the back end of the season for Bologna. He’s very much the same player who left West Ham and decided that he wanted to win things in China.
At his peak, he was never up to the level of Manchester United. But it could be where Manchester United are, he could be somebody who comes in and makes a difference because he’s aggressive. He’s got a fight, he can fight for everything. He shows his frustration a hell of a lot, if he doesn’t get what he wants, if he doesn’t get the right delivery.
I really don’t know, but a lot of people are criticising it. But again, you have to kind of open the curtains and you have to sometimes let the sun shine through because of Manchester United are not in a good place at the moment. They might not be able to get what they want in a player. Because that one player may not want to come to a minefield of a football club or Manchester United can’t afford him.
What do you think is Fred’s best position on the pitch?
I’ve got a lot of time for Fred because he doesn’t go missing. When he makes a mistake, he still goes looking. He wants to go and get in the ball game and make up for that mistake.
I think if you put Fred in and around good quality midfield players, you’ll see a different kind of Fred. Because he’ll definitely play with more confidence even though he hasn’t got caught yet. He’s never really shown a confidence problem because he hasn’t gone missing when he’s having a poor game. He could go in there and you’re limited to his strengths, which is going around, intimidating players, getting around close, getting their head down so they can’t play those match-winning passes, getting close, getting really, really close to people and really affecting them.
He has to be around the right players. Because I think sometimes Fred has tried to take things on, which is not his strength and for me, that shows courage as well for the player. Willingness to take things on, knowing that he has to because he hasn’t got the players around him who can go and do that, like he used to have at Shakhtar.
He never stopped working. Never stopped working. So Fred, to me, is someone who I just believe could still make a difference with more with better quality players around him.
Do you see unfulfilled potential in Scott McTominay?
Scott McTominay doesn’t play in a team that’s gonna go and achieve big things. And that’s the truth of it. When people have come out and talked about all these different managers picking him. I think they’ve just seen that he runs around, he works hard, he pumps his badge and that’s it really.
And if that’s the levels that Manchester United fans think is good enough; there are ones who think it’s good enough to do that and they’ve even talked about him being a future captain because he runs around and works hard and is passionate about the club. If those qualities, if they come into that, then Manchester United are definitely going in the wrong direction if that’s what makes a Manchester United captain.It’s quite disrespectful to the likes of Brian Robsons and the Roy Keanes, to be perfectly honest. That doesn’t make any sense to me.
Do you think Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would be a better option in midfield?
It has been talked about for over two seasons now and it hasn’t materialised, and you have to ask yourself why? Why hasn’t it materialised? Is it because he’s content and happy living in Rome? It’s about him, is he willing? You know, he’s content at Lazio. Is he up for a challenge? And at the moment, you would say Manchester United’s a big challenge.
When you talk about someone like him and (Adrien) Rabiot as a player, you have to say they are vast improvements on Scott McTominay.
The best British player you got at the moment in the Premier League who plays that role better than anybody, hundred percent is Declan Rice. Very rarely looks like he’s gonna get booked, but makes more tackles and interceptions than anybody at the moment, and he’s playing for a team like West Ham who are fighting to get a Europa League spot again this season. Scott McTominay is in a team that everyone talks about should be in the Champions League.
There’s talk that ten Hag is not being backed by the board, because of him not getting the players he wants. Do you think that has some truth in it?
A lot of people have said now, that they wouldn’t be surprised if he was just to walk away, it has come from some of the main vocal people at Manchester United. A few of them, that if there’s anything going on at Manchester United, I listen to their opinions more than the other ninety-nine.
They said they wouldn’t blame him and they would never hold it against him if he was to walk away at this moment in time, after what happened at the weekend. Because in a way, that was an embarrassment for him what happened at the weekend. A total total embarrassment.
People have asked if he only picked that team to prove a point. Like, why did Luke Shaw start? I can’t work that out. (Diogo) Dalot at right back, you say to yourself; no that’s not right. He didn’t pick (Raphaël) Varane. So there’s something still amiss and wrong where I thought there was a chance things were going in the right direction.
There’s always going to be bumps but at the moment it started with bumps. At the moment, they are growing into mountains for Manchester United. It’s a very, very difficult start. He needs help, he needs a signing before the weekend just to lift the players, give them a little bit of belief that a quality player’s coming in. They need that De Jong-type one. Something like that before the Liverpool game. Something that’s going to change the whole thing at Old Trafford to lift the fans. That’s when they (the fans) have faith in the board. They’ll even get great faith in the manager because they see that he improves the squad by bringing in a better player to improve an area. And that’s what the fans want to see and that’s what they need at the moment. If they go past the first of September with what they’ve got now, then poof; it’s gonna be like living in Finland, it’s gonna be dark dark clouds over Old Trafford week in week out.
Ten Hag is being blamed for pursuing de Jong who never wanted to join in the first place. What’s your take on this?
I’m just gonna believe that he knows that the player wants to come to him. That’s what I’m still believing. The only way I can see that he’s got involved with him, was because of his relationship with him as his player before. That relationship was still carried on despite the player leaving. There’s that respect there between them but he knows the player wants to come, but he believes or hopes that he can sort out the financial issues to leave Barca and to come to Manchester United happy.
Do you think Victor Lindelof gets in the team ahead of Maguire, Martinez or a fit Varane? If not, should he consider a move?
No, he’s not. And I’m disappointed to have to say that. Wish I could think of reasons why he can get in there but these names are above him.
I think if you looked over last season, he was Manchester United’s best defender. He was the most consistent defender throughout the horrific season without a shadow of a doubt. He had to take the brunt of blame in the previous season. The season before last, when all of a sudden, last season he showed that now he wasn’t really the issue, he was the best defender.
Despite the way he conducted himself, everyone talked about Harry Maguire and how good he is on the ball. No, it wasn’t Harry Maguire. Lindelöf was the better defender with or without the ball. He was the one who was trying to organise.
I think everyone was surprised about what Ten Hag did, when he said that ‘Harry Maguire is my captain’, because now that puts pressure on him to play Maguire. He’s got Varane now so then if he plays Varane, he’s got to put Harry Maguire to the left.
But he’s got his own player from Ajax (Lisandro Martinez) who’s a very very good centre half. I like the way he plays. He’s always gonna play in the major games. So it’s about the right hand side, where Ten Hag, if he drops Harry Maguire now, people are gonna question him; ‘but he’s your captain, you made him your captain’.
With Raphaël Varane and Lisandro Martinez you got two footballing centre-halfs. And if you’re Manchester United and you’ve got a proper challenging team; you’ve got a midfield that can compete with any midfield in the top six, with or without the ball, and you’ve got two footballing centre halfs,that’s when you’re on the verge of doing good things.
Does Graham Potter deserve more recognition for his managerial ability?
I just find it absolutely embarrassing that he never got offered the opportunity to talk to Everton. His name never got mentioned with Everton. If you’d mention his name to Evertonians, now they’d have all gone yes. When they mentioned Frank Lampard, they were all shaking heads going no, no. And they’re mostly still doing that now.
Graham Potter has got a great relationship with the owner of Brighton. A seriously good relationship. I think he values the club with the signings he makes. Look at those players. You figure out how much they cost, all those players in there.
Lewis Dunk, homegrown. Would you say there’s not much of a difference between him and Harry Maguire, and what you get out of him? No one ever calls him a footballing centre half but he is. But he plays for Brighton and not Manchester United.
We’ve seen the way what he does, the way they play football. He gets players that he coaches and improves. He’s improved the team, he’s improved the football club. It has given the football club a stature, he’s given the football club a name, but he doesn’t get mentioned for any big job in this country.
People are starting to put his name for the England job. Because it’s straightaway saying (Gareth) Southgate isn’t good enough. But Graham Potter doesn’t leave Brighton and go and manage England. What a waste of talent that is to go and do that. He manages Brighton every single day. That’s the difference. You can’t go and manage England and improve individuals. You have to go there and listen to club managers telling you that their players can only play five minutes, because they’ll get tired.
So for managing England, it’s a no no.
Managing a big club, he should be given that opportunity, but only if he’s allowed to bring in any players. I’m quite sure he doesn’t want to work with big prima-donnas. He doesn’t want that. Look at what he’s got Brighton, he’s got players who want to improve, who’re using Brighton as a stepping stone to move on. And that might be his strength of managing. That might just be his strength, he might not want a bigger club, he just might be content to do that; to improve individuals and then to move them on to finance a club and it’s a great business structure.
For his next job, if he does get off to the big club, he would do so much homework to make sure that he could manage them and use the finances to the what he’s got at Brighton. And he’s got to be able to buy who he wants and not to buy based on strength for their prowess on social media and how much they can get in a club shop. He buys because the most important thing about football is performances and results on the football pitch, not how many shirts you sell. That comes from good performances and winning games, not by spending eighty millions, eighty million pounds on a player who doesn’t really want to work hard.